The short answer is: YES! It is very important to retain most, if not all, of the staff of the practice you are purchasing.
The value of the dental practice you are purchasing is largely Goodwill (see our earlier blog on Goodwill). The best way to transfer the Goodwill of the Seller to you is to have a written recommendation from the Seller and validation of that recommendation from the staff.
Here’s what often happens in dental practice sales that we broker in the St. Louis area. The letter announcing the Seller’s retirement goes out and many patients call the staff member they know best, usually the receptionist or the hygienist, and ask, “What is the new dentist like?”
You want that staff member to respond, “Oh Mrs. Smith, Dr. New is really nice. I think you will really like him/her.”
Remember, if Dr. Seller retires, his or her patients will need a new dentist. The vast majority of them will want to continue to come to the same office where they know the staff and feel comfortable. The Seller’s recommendation and a staff members affirmation will solidify that patient’s desire to stay with the practice.
Of course, it is then up to Dr. New to treat the patient in such a way to justify the recommendations he or she has been given. They may not know how good your margins are, but you want them to be able to say something like “Well, my dentist is nice to me and he/she doesn’t hurt me.”
Over a period of time, that feeling of being comfortable with the new dentist will grow into trusting the dentist’s skill and professionalism. This is retention after the sale in a nutshell, and as you can see staff retention is vital to patient retention.
So, getting the staff to stay is important, especially during those first few visits while you build a relationship with the patients.
Why would the staff want to stay? Well just like most of the patients, staff members would like to remain where they are rather than looking for a new job in another office.
If they maintain their current salaries, benefits and seniority, they will stay because they know the other staff members and how they work together. They understand the current office policies and procedures and are familiar with the equipment.
Some will leave. They may be ready to retire along with the dentist. The Seller should be able to alert you to those staff members. Some may have been traveling a long distance and are aware of a job opportunity nearer their home.
Some may leave if Dr. New makes major changes right away: changing office hours can cause child care problems for some staff members. Increasing hours may be acceptable to some but not to others.
The staff is used to the operation of the office and big changes should be implemented slowly and with “buy-in” from the staff wherever possible. Establishing trust with your staff is just as important as establishing trust with the patients.
You will undoubtedly want to make changes to the office but do that with care, wait a while before making major changes, and try to get the staff to feel part of the decision process. Many times staff members will welcome changes because they have been advocating them to the previous owner.
Sometimes you will have a “toxic” employee. What to do about that will be addressed in an upcoming blog.