My dentist has not kept up with the times. He has no website. No email. No WhatsApp. The practice can only be reached by telephone in the morning between half past seven and half past eight. Not on Friday, because then the office is closed and unreachable.
Time has also stood still in the waiting room. There are tiles on the floor, the ceiling is covered with wooden slats, and there are two wooden benches as if my dentist wants to make his patients here so painfully uncomfortable and awkward that a treatment afterward can only be better than expected. It is chilly and quiet. The only sound is the bubbling of the aquarium. The tropical fish seem to have adapted to the colorlessness of the interior, and the drabness of the dentist, a man in his sixties with pale skin, gray-blue eyes, thin gray hair, silver-rimmed glasses, and a white coat. Since the start of the pandemic, he has been shielding his face with an enormous transparent screen as if he is going to defuse an explosive at any moment or must weld two steel pipes together.
Communication is not really his thing. Visiting appointments are announced unilaterally. By mail. “You are expected on date X at time Y.” After years of experience had taught me that I could never make it on the date and time chosen by my dentist, requiring me to call and reschedule that “appointment,” I proposed scrapping the decree issued by letter altogether. Instead of spending the money on paper and stamp to mail it, save a few cents and instead have me call every six months to make an appointment that fits both the dentist’s calendar and, conveniently, mine. This suggestion is made much to the dismay of the dental assistant, a small, stocky woman in her sixties with gray hair pinned up and glasses. At home, I call her “the teaspoon lady.” She has never asked who I think of myself as. If she had, I would have quickly offered my answer: the customer. After a resentful “that’s just our system” and “you are the only one who wants this,” I managed to get them to stop the letters upon some insistence. By the grace of the dentist, I can now call every six months to make an appointment. I would rather do this online, easier for both the dentist and me. However, I have not yet dared to introduce this revolutionary step in customer contact to him, let alone his assistant, for fear of a root canal treatment without anesthesia.
Every time a follow-up appointment is necessary after a check-up visit, the following ritual takes place: the assistant takes out a large paper agenda. I take my iPhone out of my pocket. We agree on a date and time. As I type the appointment into my digital agenda, I see that the dental assistant takes an appointment note and starts writing. When she sees me tapping on my cell phone, she says sternly: “You don’t need to do that. You will receive a note.” When she has finished writing, she hands me the note. I fold it up and put it in my pocket. When I get home, I throw it away.
“Why am I still a client of this dentist?” I have wondered. It isn’t because I am a loyal customer, which I am not. I am a lazy customer. Too lazy to look for another dentist for those two visits a year. With a chance of an even stricter assistant.
Frans Reichardt | The Customer Listener