SPONSORED: Investing in staff is the path to success

Sam Waley-Cohen 2A conversation with SAM WALEY-COHEN, CEO and Founder of Portman Dental Care

Portman Dental Care is a privately owned, family-run dental group established in 2009, which has since grown to 85 clinics across the United Kingdom. This growth has been possible by focussing on delivering great customer service and making sure that all the practice team, from receptionists to clinicians, are

trained and supported throughout their careers. This environment earned the company Business of the Year in Dentistry in 2017. Sam Waley-Cohen, Portman Dental Care’s founder and CEO, describes how he has built a business that will do anything it can to make sure that all patients have the best experience possible. 

How did Portman Dental Care start?

The original idea was inspired by two things. The first is the caricature that the British have terrible teeth, which is exemplified by Austin Powers, who became “shagadellic” once he had a smile makeover. I didn’t get how you could caricature the British by their bad teeth, and I didn’t believe it. I think the caricature originated when, as a sea faring nation, many sailors had scurvy. But in actual fact, the British have become increasingly aware of appearances and health, and so people make a big effort to ensure they have good teeth. There is also a general view that the UK has poor dental practices, whereas in reality we have some of the world’s leading clinicians and the general standard is very high.

The second inspiration was my own personal experience: when I was working in Paris I’d come back to the UK to see our family dentist, but it was never a great experience. It was fine, but no better than fine. So, I set up Portman Dental Care in 2009 as a business that really thinks about the patient from a customer experience perspective. I wanted our patients to have a great experience.

How do you ensure a great customer experience? 

Patient experience comes down to two things. Treating people in a caring empathetic way and the clinical experience: essentially how well the clinician communicates and how well they can do a treatment. We set out to build a company making sure our practices deliver both these things to the highest level.  We try to treat people as we would want to be treated, and our clinicians and practices will go out of their way to do so. It’s about providing a great service and looking after people. If we do that, then they’ll keep coming back. Everything we talk about and try to do comes back to building long-term relationships with our patients.

How are your clinicians and practices going out of their way to help their customers?

They really go the extra mile. We have clinicians come back from their homes when patients need to see them; we have people drive to patient’s homes because the patient has had a problem with transport; we’ve had emergencies where the team has put themselves out there and used their medical skills, even though it is outside their practice. For example, earlier this year, one of our nurses helped an older lady who had collapsed across the road from the practice. She stayed with the lady for over an hour until the ambulance arrived. This was not directly related to dentistry, but shows great community spirit. We’ve have lots of people behaving in a way that’s above and beyond what you might expect of a business. They want to be, and are, part of a community.

What training do you provide for your staff?

We’ve have something called the Portman Academy, which offers a whole range of courses, from management training and customer service to clinical skills. We’ve have lots of people doing radiology and sedation courses, as well as practice management and Alzheimer’s awareness courses. The courses are conducted by experts in face-to-face sessions, combined with supplementary online training modules.

If one of our team says that they would like to further their career in a particular direction, then we’re delighted to support them doing that. Whether that is a clinician who wants to further their training in implants or orthodontics, or whether it’s a nurse who wants to become a therapist. We’re happy to invest in people and support them as they fulfil their ambitions. Ultimately, it comes down to our philosophy and our culture, and the fact that the future of the practice is in the team’s hands. And to maintain that culture we want to support our people.

In the last decade, Portman Dental Care has gone from 1 practice to 85. How did you achieve this?

One of the main ways we’ve grown has been to acquire other dental practices. We start by finding practices that share our philosophy of providing great patient care, or sometimes they find us through personal recommendation. Either way, we work with the practice to enhance these foundations and — through recruitment, appraisal, reward and training — embed an empathetic and performance-focused culture. Most people in healthcare want to deliver long-term care centred on listening to the patient and providing the appropriate treatment for their needs. We try to ensure this ambition is supported and reinforced in everything we do. There are now 1,700 people in the company and we seem to keep going from strength to strength.

What’s next for Portman Dental Care?

Apart from continuing to grow, the real focus is developing the team — and continuing to do so without losing our way. We won the outstanding business of the year in dentistry in 2017, and we hope to continue to be the outstanding business within the communities we serve.


Back to listing