Communicating with customers is a basic survival skill for any business. Since you want to develop a thriving business, it requires more than having only basic survival skills. The management of the phones in your dental practice is the front line to winning the war that exists between you and your competition when attracting and retaining patients.
How the team manages our patients in these conversations over the phone can be the difference between success and failure. How is your practice establishing the rate of success of this critical interaction? Many times we hear from our clients, “we are good in that area,” and when asked “how do you know?” the doctors indicate that they really don’t know.
All businesses have a “point of entry” for a customer/client; whether it be a face-to-face interaction, an online interface, or a phone conversation, they must verify the success or failure of the interaction. With a phone call, this can be managed in various ways: recording (verify your state laws), call sharing or surveying of patients. Consider that this team member is the liaison between that person actually becoming and remaining a patient; this is a critical component and generally an area of the practice that is often overlooked when it comes to skills training and quality control measures.
1. Prepare for the call
This seems quite basic, yet it is one of the things in which many practices fall short. First, have everything at your fingertips that you need to have a successful call: pen, phone slip, computer work station and outlined responsibilities by a team member.
Which team member is first in line to answer the phone and on how many rings? Establishing the protocol with how your practice will manage the phones is one of the most important standard operating practices that your team must agree to and monitor. Preparing for the call also encompasses the attitude and demeanor of the person that is answering the phone – a smile or frown is felt over the phone!
2. Get to know your audience
Team members must be energetic, happy, engaged, knowledgeable and timely. In getting to know your audience (patient), introduce yourself in a manner that stands out from the competition. Use language that makes the practice unique, represents the spirit of your practice and reflects the level of professionalism you want to project.
Put the caller in a state of happiness immediately by speaking in an upbeat tone and a smile. It will take some work to try this type of greeting, so challenge your team to integrate for 60 days, while reporting the outcome at your next team meeting. The entire team will be surprised by the results.
“We are making people smile today at Dr. Smith’s office, this is Jane. Who do I have the pleasure of speaking with?”
Once you have the caller’s name, immediately ask them for a contact number in the event that the call gets interrupted for some reason!
Immediately begin using the caller’s name throughout the conversation. Establish the reason that they are calling and complete a patient phone slip when the details are required. Build relationship by listening intently and limiting outside distractions. If you have a patient in front of you who requires your attention, you will want to ask the patients’ permission to place them on a brief hold or call them back.
“Mary thank you for calling, I need to finish up with a patient quickly. May I place you on a brief hold? I will be back within ...” (be very accurate with your timeline when promising a brief hold)
“Mary, thank you for calling; I would like to give you my undivided attention. I have to finish up with another patient. May I call you right back, so you do not have an extended wait? I will call you back within ... Does that work for you?”
When you are having the conversation, circle back and confirm your understanding of the information by repeating what you heard. When the caller feels that they have been heard, that is when the relationship is solidified and trust is built.
“Mary, let me make sure I have all the information. I heard you say ...”
“Mary, let’s see if I understand your situation ...”
3. Be of service
After establishing the patient's desires and confirming your understanding, become the caller’s solution to the situation! Repeat the caller’s concern or request and then direct the caller to the timeline that you have available with confidence.
“Mary, you indicated that you are having terrible pain on that upper back tooth. We are going to see you immediately so that the doctor can get that pain addressed. I have made a couple of adjustments in the schedule so Dr. Smith can see you at 3:30 today. Can I tell Dr. Smith to expect you today at 3:30?” Then pause and wait for a response.
This example accomplishes several things:
- Confirms with the patient that you heard them
- Begins to establish trust
- Shows that we are taking them seriously by indicating “immediately”
- Gives hope to the patient that the pain will be addressed
- The “adjustments in the schedule” gives the patient the feeling that they are important and that you have made them a priority (you should use this language even when you put them in your templated emergency time)
- The “can I tell Dr. Smith ...” puts emphasis on the importance of this appointment with the doctor and places responsibility on this patient to show up and keep the appointment
4. Build confidence and impart knowledge
Ultimately, build value in the practice and the expertise that you have on board. People want to know that they are in good hands!
“Mary, Dr. Smith helps patients with this same type of issue all the time! You are in great hands.”
“Mary, we see this type of problem regularly. You are not alone! We will have you out of pain in no time.”
5. Set expectations
Our patients like to know what to expect and make plans. Give them information so they have confidence in your practice. Provide directions, explain how the new patient paperwork will be managed and describe how the doctor engages with patients.
“Mary, are you familiar with our location or do you need directions? We are close to (give them a landmark).” Have detailed written directions prepared (and tested for accuracy) for coming to your practice from each direction that you can easily text or email to the client. This preparation limits the efforts of the team and makes your practice look extremely helpful and prepared.
“Since the doctor will be seeing you this afternoon, we have a couple of options with your paperwork. You can visit our website when we get off the phone, or I will need you to arrive at 3:00 so the doctor can see you at your appointed time. Which works best for you?”
Handling patient calls is one of the most important interactions to master. Not only does practice make perfect, perfect practice results in perfect execution consistently! Be impeccable with the preparation and training, and the future interactions will be impactful and productive!