February 2016
Volume 7, Issue 2

Inconsistency: A Deal Breaker

Take steps to ensure that your cases are done right the first time

By Susan van Kinsbergen, CDT

In recent years, I have been going to the gym three times a week to work out with a trainer and have found the consistency of the regimen to be very beneficial to my fitness level. The visible change in my appearance has been very rewarding and motivating. However, my current job now requires almost constant travel, leaving only one day a week with my trainer. Unfortunately, that means most of the time spent with him is concentrating on warm-up and stretching exercises to relieve the stiffness from hours spent in airplane seats. Whether conditioning your physical fitness or the health of your business, consistency plays an important role in the success of your efforts.

The primary business goal of any dental laboratory is to sell restorations and make money. If the restorative product consistently meets the expectations of the client, the laboratory will most likely do well. Clinicians don’t like surprises! When they open the laboratory box, they want the restoration inside to fit and function correctly every time and the patient in and out of the chair quickly so they can move on to the next patient.

Since most laboratories are in the business of mass customization, meeting the clinician’s expectations on every case is always a challenge. If the laboratory is consistent with the basics — contacts, occlusion, margins, and shade, for example — the clinician will seat the crown.

Quality Control

So how do we ensure that every restoration leaving the laboratory will maintain the level of consistency we know our clients demand?

The first step is hiring a confident and strong Quality Control (QC) technician. This person must set a high standard and uphold it. The most important qualification for the position is, of course, consistency. The ideal QC candidate has demonstrated an ability to tirelessly maintain the laboratory’s standards in his or her own work. This is crucial because this person will be reviewing a large quantity of cases and will be responsible for catching any mistakes or quality issues before each case leaves the building. The QC person must hold other technicians accountable for consistency by returning cases that do not meet the laboratory’s standards; allowing the QC technician to fix other technicians’ work is a crucial mistake, because it is a slippery slope. While each individual case might be easier for the QC technician to fix themselves, repeatedly doing this will cause a bottleneck in the production flow, and the technicians’ skill level and quality of work will suffer. If QC needs to fix something, then the technician should be watching so that he or she can learn how to correct the mistake and fabricate consistently better restorations.

Set a High Standard With Accountability

Human nature is to work at the lowest level of the range of acceptability. The QC technician’s responsibility is to make it clear to the rest of the team what the range of acceptability is, and when their work is below that threshold.

If they are consistently held accountable, technicians will produce better work more productively, the QC bench will send the cases out more quickly, and the product will be more consistent. Once consistency is achieved, measuring the performance of your production will be much easier because there will be fewer outliers.

Case tracking, billing, and other related areas of customer service also require care and attention to detail to ensure that consistency is a top priority. The plethora of new products and processes available on the market has made data entry and case tracking complex tasks in the dental laboratory. These logistics can become even more challenging when a laboratory outsources some or all phases of fabrication, which introduces more variables and complexities. Having a consistent protocol will ensure that the correct product is fabricated, the case goes out on time, and the dentist is billed correctly.

Follow Through

Consistency must start at the top. Owners and managers: Do what you say you’re going to do. If you introduce a new initiative or project, it is crucial to follow through. Be consistent, and the team will follow your lead. If you allow a particular project to fizzle out, your team likely will perceive that you do not deem your projects to be important, and they will treat each other, their cases, and even customers the same way. Developing your team so that it helps you is crucial. Delegate tasks and hold your team accountable for their part of each process. The success of any project hinges on being consistent and following through.

Susan Van Kinsbergen, CDT, is the owner of SvK Consulting in Newport Beach, California.

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