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August 10th, 2022

Episode 157 – Building Patient Loyalty with Shawn Zajas (Part 1)

“If patients align with you, they will never leave for petty reasons.’” -Shawn Zajas

How are you different from the dentist down the street? 

We really hope your answer isn’t, “I don’t know that I am.”

It’s a real challenge so many dentists face today: how do you stand out from the crowd? 

As an independent dental practice owner, you’ve already assumed a lot of risk buying and running a practice. The last thing you want to do is assume more risk in your marketing, so you end up doing what everyone else is doing. After all, fish may have the right idea, there is safety by swimming with the school. 

But if you don’t stand out, you run the risk of being seen by patients as a commodity, something expendable.

We here at Everyday Practices Dental Podcast believe you deserve to attract and retain patients who want the services you provide and are loyal to your practice. Today we are joined by Shawn Zajas from Zana, for a fast-paced, applicable conversation about:

  • How to avoid the business chaos suffered by many dental practices
  • When it’s good to follow trends, and when it’s good to stand out
  • Leveraging the intangible things in the patient experience that builds loyalty

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Welcome to the Everyday Practices Dental podcast. I am your host Regan Robertson and if you could see me right now you would see the biggest smile on my face. Because I have with me today our co-host Dr. Chad Johnson Hello Chad. How are you?

Dr. Chad Johnson
Hello. You look like Maui sunshine.

That reminded me of the Teletubbies sunshine. Parents, there’s a little son. So put that in your heads listeners today we have a very special guest. He is a personal friend of mine and a fantastic partner in the dental industry. Shawn Zajas Welcome to our podcast, Sean.

Shawn Zajas
Wow. To think that I’m actually here with both of you guys is quite an honor. Because you both one my respect completely independent of each other. So it’s just kind of cool.

Dr. Chad Johnson
Likewise and equally, buddy.

We’re not Siamese twins who are a little, little not physically connected. Just mentally connected. Perhaps.

Shawn Zajas
You guys were doing a podcast. I was like, how is it that Dr. Johnson and Reagan? Like together? Yeah, you guys have like the best insights and it just must be. I don’t want to say entertaining but entertainment while you’ve learned

Dr. Chad Johnson was
serendipitous. I’m glad that we’re together. Sure. Yeah.

We like to provide good clean fun. So, Shawn, you are the CEO and founder of zonna and you are also a podcast host as well. Your podcast is the authentic dentist, is that correct?

Shawn Zajas
Correct. This could mislead someone to believe that I am a dentist but I’m just partnered with an amazing dentist out of the Phoenix area, Dr. Allison house, and she’s pretty much the reason why I’m still in dentistry because seven or now probably like five or six years ago, I was kind of like running into lots of dentists that I didn’t know how to connect to because everything was fine and they were just crushing it and it just seemed like they had these egos that I couldn’t get past to connect to who they were and I met Doug her house and she was just so president. Yeah and that’s where meeting you Chad like the same exact way. It’s like you’re successful, but you don’t have this ego around you you’re just really vulnerable and transparent and I just really appreciated that out of dentists. Oh, yeah,

that’s a really interesting point, Shawn, because I think I am in a little protected bubble. So coming into dentistry 11 years ago, I was immediately surrounded by PDA, dentists, and productive dentists. So my assumption was that they are all the same, they are all super focused on patient experience, patient care being the best versions of themselves that they can be humble, open, eternal, like learners always curious and the first time I went kind of outside of that environment and saw what was on the other side of the fence, I was like, oh, there is there’s there is ego at play and that makes sense. I mean, that comes with a lot of hard work and earning the doctorate and all that but it’s always surprising to see that.

So I’m glad that you are connected and your co-host is someone that is equally humble and it sounds like has all of the beautiful attributes of our productive dentist ecosystem. So you, Shawn, are very passionate about I like your podcast is called the authentic dentist, you’re really passionate about authenticity, and bringing that into this industry and one of the questions that we were kicking around right before we started recording here today was when is cleaning, not cleaning anymore? How do we differentiate dentists so that they can be seen for who they are and attract the right patients that they deserve, versus being seen as a commodity?

Shawn Zajas
Yeah, and I think ultimately, like, it’s such a challenge that dentists actually have today, right? Because if you’re, if you’re starting or, you know, I guess, let’s say fast forward, you already have debt, if you’re able to get your own practice, the last thing you want to do is assume a lot of risks. So to keep your risk down, what you do is you end up trying to follow this circle or this circle or go in this group, and you pretty much ended up doing what everybody else is doing, and yet at the same time, you’re trying to balance that with this ideal of differentiation, right? and I don’t know,

I just think it’s extremely difficult and that’s why my hat goes off to dentists and that’s really why I ended up forming zonna and coming up with what I did was because so many of my dental friends were having, like real issues with the business side of dentistry and I would always ask them, I’m like, well, please tell me like someone on your team has got an MBA, right? Like to know, and I’m like, Okay, well tell me the highest level of education, you know, whether it’s your assistant or office manager, they must have some business degree and they don’t and it’s crazy because it’s like you’re running a business. So you have clinical excellence, and then you also have small business chaos. Bring that together. Dentistry is hard, right?

Dr. Chad Johnson
Shawn? That reminds me so right when I, was 25 right out of dental school and I had the local newspaper, The Altoona Herald. They came and they were interviewed. Yep. They interviewed me on-site at my open house and they said, so, you know, to the readers, what? How would they know your practice is different from any other? and I responded? I don’t know if it is.

It’s a quote that,

Dr. Chad Johnson
I think so and because I was, I bet we need to find that because

Shawn Zajas
that’s such a great quote. How do you differentiate? I think we’re the same.

Dr. Chad Johnson
You know why it was like my thought to was like, Can I even say that I’m, you know, like different and here’s why can I say that I’m better and even it as you know, right out of school, hometown guy coming back and being like, I’m supposed to say I’m better than the dentists that are already here. I was just like, I don’t know if I am and you know, I if I am I haven’t had one day to prove it.

So it just seems so weird, you know to have but you were what you were talking about reminded me like of a school of fish and their safety in going with the school and but then at the same time, if someone said, Well, how will I know which one is your house when all the houses in the neighborhood look the exact same when, when you’re the same fish in the school of fish? and that’s when they reminded me of my story being like, I don’t know if you wouldn’t know. It’s the brown house just like 1000 other brown houses like I don’t know what to tell you. I just know the difference but then, Regan, it reminds me of the difference that came about at the 14-ish-year mark. A couple of years ago in my career when I went out of network and I was talking about zagging when other people zig and zigging when other people’s AG because it reminded me of the school of fish going opposite of them, and you’re going against the grain and you’re, you’re potentially going to get bid, but then you’re also not flowing with the, you know, the big fish biting into the school of fish. So, you know, 14

years ago or so, from them, so I follow, you know, marketing trends, obviously, and imagery and my background were in graphic design, predominantly 15 years ago, that was the era when all the big campaigns were running, and you saw the like the bowl with the goldfish, like jumping out of the bowl, and you saw the one fish swimming against the current. I mean, it really was a lot about being different. I think we have bought it really, yeah, we have really evolved past, it’s no longer about how you are different. It’s actually more about what stories are you telling that are authentic and letting people know who you are so that they can choose to be aligned with you specifically and Chad, it’s always been a hoot.

Because, as I’ve said before, your brand is really about fun, and your personality is fun. So if you go to, you know, if somebody goes to your practice, and they really want a very serious, structured, rigid experience, that is not going to be a great fit for them and that said, at the same time you offer world class dentistry. So you can also have fun and a world-class dental experience and I think that that’s something that, you know, really needs to be brought to the forefront but Shawn, to your point, you know, dentists are really exceptional at creative, exceptional at growing their craft and becoming really expert clinicians, they don’t typically have the time or the resources to become experts in branding and marketing and it is not intuitive to go hire an MBA nor is it necessarily, you know, appropriate, suitable overhead. Yeah. So from your non-dentist perspective, what do you know, from what kind of insight can you give dentists that they could be missing, and they should be taking advantage of, even if they don’t have that opportunity to bring an MBA into the practice?

Shawn Zajas
Yeah, so So a few things. You know, when you think about like, differentiation, it doesn’t mean you abandon best practices. So it’s like, there’s a whole bunch of best practices when you’re following others that are saved or time tested and it’s just almost like the wisdom of the aggregate what we’ve learned. Now, at the same exact time Reagan, like what you were saying that, that aggregate data isn’t going to tell you how to practice dentistry your way and that’s where I also think there’s a maturity to as you’re, as you’re going along, you know, everyone, when they start riding their bike, they should ride with training wheels and then once the train wheels come off, you still ride fairly conventional, not everyone arrives at the place where they’re in a BMX Park, and they’re actually experimenting to the limits of what you can do on a bicycle. In the same exact way, it’s like, if you’re just getting into dentistry, and you’re like, you’re laying a foundation, that’s one thing, follow best practices follow those was, you know, the wisdom that’s out there but at the same time know that ultimate fulfillment and ultimate differentiation is going to come from finding out how you can align your unique self like your personality, your outlook, your perspective, and infusing that into dentistry.

Because if you don’t, like the hearts gonna be missing, right and that’s at the end of the day, what a person. So going back to the commodity thing, when a patient is looking at these new patient specials, the mailbox moment that every patient experiences and they see this rock bottom new patient special, and it’s designed for one thing, it’s just the break patient loyalty, right? They either think of your services as a commodity because nothing’s that different. They don’t feel like a person, they’re not really engaged with your practice, or they see a face or a bunch of faces of your team and if they see a face in their mind, when they look at this other new patient, special, you know, you’re not a commodity to them. You’re actually practicing authentically because there’s been a connection, you know, like, like, Chad, you are who you are, and you infuse that into your whole culture and if someone doesn’t like that, or resonate, then they shouldn’t stay with you know, find a dentist that fits with them, but someone that does

Dr. Chad Johnson
kind of dies that they want me to be I want to be me.

Shawn Zajas
Right? Right and if they connect to that they’re never gonna leave you for something petty, you know, at the end of the day, we’re not trying to find a way to put a moat around our patients and never let them leave but if we do great service and do great dentistry, you don’t want someone to just leave because they didn’t feel connected. They experienced that feeling of indifference. Right? and aligning yourself with an authentic brand helps you know patients not feel indifferent when you know when they interact with your practice.

You know, Shawn, there is elements of a brand that I think dental practices could definitely the kind of put into buckets, you’ve got the visual elements of the brand, you’ve got your logo and your colors and what your office looks like and the naming conventions and all of those pieces and then you have the intangible bucket and that is the tonality and how you make people feel and the experience and then you’ve got your systems and your processes, everything that kind of ties it together as glue, your onboarding process onboarding, check in the process all of those pieces to it and it can be tricky to weave it together but it doesn’t have to be like when you mentioned the direct mailer piece and using photography, Chad, I love using it as a case study. It’s really fun. direct mailers. Right, the last one that I saw because I get Chad’s direct mailers shipped to Anacortes, Washington.

I don’t know if you ever knew that or not but you use Chad, you use an image of yourself. So anybody listening and it can feel overwhelming, Shawn to be like, How can I be authentic? How can you know, share my own personality and stuff? I like Golden Retrievers. What does that mean? We’ll just put a picture of you with the golden retriever on the direct mailer. Chad has his family on the direct mailer and to me, that’s an authentic connection, versus stock art connection that you see like on a billboard for a funeral home, and then it shows up oops, on your direct mailer, that’s a terrible correlation. You just don’t want to have those two things going together, we had over about 30 minutes away. We had, there are two billboards that sat together, and one was the funeral home, and the other was a casino advertising for fun, and it just blended together very poorly.

Dr. Chad Johnson
Now, many people say, You know what, I or even my wife when she’s grocery shopping, there’ll be like, are you Chad’s wife? They’ll be like, I haven’t met you before, but like, I get your mailers and so I almost feel like I know you like you. I’ve been on your trips or wherever you guys get those pictures done and stuff. It’s kind of funny like that.

Those were some great insights into authenticity in dentistry. Now, I don’t want to give too much away but our next episode was Sean’s major shift in how you think about even the seemingly smallest things in your practice. Until then, I want to leave you with a challenge. Go into the office and pull out some of the recent marketing pieces you’ve done and take a look at them and I want you to answer this question. If I am a patient, looking at this, am I seeing this dentist as a commodity, or a partner to my health who I connect with on an individual basis? Thanks for joining us, and we’ll see you for our next episode.

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