More new patients are calling asking about fees than ever before. This is in part because of the recession, and the number of people who have moved down on the socio-economic scale. But it’s also because people can now find the price of almost anything using their cell phone.
The other reason is they don’t know what else to ask when they call a dental practice, so they ask about cost. The average person does not know how to evaluate a dental practice with regard to clinical skills, so they at least want to find out what they’re going to be paying.
So how do you answer? Most consultants will say that you shouldn’t ever quote fees over the phone. Most front desk team members have either never heard this rule or don’t follow it. Some even offer fees without being asked.
I try to discourage receptionists from getting into money over the phone. But it really depends on what type of office you operate. I will break them down into three types:
- The high-end, high-tech practice (usually all fee-for-service)
- The PPO practice with mid-range fees
- The HMO/State aid/credit dentist practice
How to respond when you are a high-end practice:
“We don’t normally quote fees over the phone. Our dentist likes to do an evaluation of the patient and then recommend the best treatment. We don’t accept insurance because we want to offer the highest standard of care possible, and most dental coverage is insufficient for that level of treatment. We do have a wonderful office, and patients love us, and we are happy to do an evaluation at no charge to you, so you can see the dentist and the practice and decide for yourself. And we also have several financing options. Would you like to come in tomorrow?” [Your state may have different rules regarding free evaluations.]
How to respond as a PPO practice:
“Our fees are very reasonable for our area, and we do accept insurance plans and have financing options. But we really think you’d like our office, so we recommend coming in to get a free evaluation. We won’t charge you for anything without your approval, so you’ll always understand the cost ahead of time, because we know that’s important. Can you come in this afternoon?”
If they keep pressing for a dollar amount, saying things like, “I just need to know how much a crown is at your office,” then respond with this:
“It sounds like you might be looking for the least expensive dentist. That isn’t us. But we recommend coming in to see they type of practice we are and the level of care that we offer, so when you do find the lowest cost dentist you have something to compare it to. And of course we won’t charge you for the evaluation.”
If they insist on the actual dollar amount, I would give them a range, explaining that it’s impossible to do an accurate diagnosis over the phone.
How to respond when you are an HMO/State Aid practice:
“Our fees are the lowest in the area, and we accept HMO plans [or state aid], and have excellent financing options for whatever is not covered by this insurance. We don’t offer free dentistry, however, so there has to be some financial arrangement made before treatment begins. Can you come in this afternoon?”
Notice that I addressed the issue of “free dental work” right up front. It’s critical to be clear about that, as very often their expectation is that you are like the emergency room and the county or the state pays for everything. (Last year ER visits for dentistry in the US cost over $1 billion…your tax dollars at work! And it usually costs ten times more at the ER than it would in your office, and seldom is treatment completed.)
I would then tell them the cost of treatment, if they are asking about something specific like an extraction. Your business model is to be the least expensive. They’re price shopping, so if they want to pay even less than you charge, you probably don’t want them as a patient.
THE THINKING BEHIND THIS
The cost of dentistry is definitely a factor for three-quarters of Americans, so don’t be dismissive of this concern. But don’t just throw a number back at them. Very often they are really trying to find out if they will be treated fairly, and don’t know what else to ask. When you say, “our fees are reasonable for the area,” this gives them a frame of reference.
You have two goals in every call:
- shift their focus off the cost of an individual procedure
- get them in the practice.
(With the low-cost practice, your third goal is to be extremely clear that your treatments are not free.)
This is important to remember: no matter what you do or say, YOU WILL NOT GET EVERYONE IN! But you improve your chances of starting the relationship right by making it about the care you offer, not the price you charge.
Most of this language I’ve learned from the masters of communication, Linda Miles and Bernie Stoltz. But getting good at effective communication is critical to any practice. So get coaching where you need it. It will profoundly effect your results.
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So hard to not want to quote over the phone. I like Paul Homoly’s philosophy, too, about sorting out trout and catfish, when screening over the phone for patient/doctor fit. Sometimes, you have to throw back the catfish–or, better yet, never reel them in–depending on the type of practice you have–as you nicely point out.
I agree that you want to match patients to your practice, but it’s too easy to over-screen people on the phone because of all the weird stuff that does come at you. You have to remember that people are generally confused about almost every aspect of dentistry, and we’re going to change them very gradually. Paul Homoly is brilliant, of course!
Wonderful article, great suggestions! Can definitely be a balancing act between screening potential new patients, and just getting them in the door!