In the 27 years that we’ve been operating 1-800-DENTIST, the biggest challenge has been what happens with the referral once we pass it on to the dental practice. In case you don’t know, we operate our nationwide call center 24/7, and we do a live transfer to the member dentist whenever we can. Time and again we can tell that the attitude of that receptionist, or the questions she may ask initially, will determine if that new patient is going to show up.
But the first problem is getting practices to answer the phone. In my book I mention that, based on our experience, an average of 25% of calls will go to voicemail. I’m talking about when the office is open! Every practice manager I meet tells me that number is actually low! I had this verified once again last week when a manager of a large group practice told me that they had recorded several thousand in-coming calls, and found that almost 40% went to voicemail. Yikes! But their analysis went further. They also discovered that, with first-time callers, 67% never called back!
Those are staggering statistics.
So here’s a thought on how to improve your patient flow. PICK UP THE PHONE!!!!! This isn’t Business 101, it’s Business Step One! This isn’t good service for your new patients or your existing ones.
Okay, now that I have that out of my system, the true challenge lies in what happens after your receptionist picks up the phone. Sadly, it is the least trained position in the office and from a production standpoint one of the most critical. Most dentists have some sense of how many new patients don’t show up for their first appointment. What they don’t know is how many potential patients were lost in that initial conversation. But I assure you it’s as staggering a number as the 67% who didn’t call back after going to voicemail.
So how do you improve and train your front desk team? Simple. I mentioned before about the group practice that recorded thousands of calls. That is the key: recording the incoming calls. This is where your coaching material will come from, because they, and you, need to hear what they’re saying, and more importantly, how they’re saying it. When you record the calls team members can hear that they didn’t have a smile in their voice, or sounded impatient, or judged the patient too quickly as not being a good fit for the practice. (You can tell that???) Or that they talked for twenty minutes and never asked the patient if they wanted an appointment.
And a whole bunch of even scarier things. My friend Gary Takacs told me about one receptionist who, when asked if the practice did in-office whitening, replied, “We do, but it hurts a lot!”
Remember, don’t use the recordings just to criticize your team. That will discourage them. Use it for coaching, and employ a 2-1 ratio in positive-to-negative comments. In other words, point out two times they did something right for every time you point out something wrong. I believe people want to get better at their jobs, but often don’t know how. This will help tremendously. And if they don’t want coaching or don’t want to get better, that position is too critical to keep them there.
Beyond that, you want to train your team to use proper technique on the phone to improve their skills. This will show up almost immediately in production. We offer recording and training to new 1-800-DENTIST members, but there are also three terrific services that I know of that train the front desk team: Rhonda Savage at Miles Global, Lynette Conway at The Gold Measure and Jay Geier’s Scheduling Institute.
The front desk is a mission-critical position. Hire well, pay well and train well, and the dividends will be vast.
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Thanks Fred. An excellent article once again. You really know your stuff.
Thanks, Mark. I try my best!
Fred, I agree with you that a lot of dental offices see the phone ringing as an interruption, whereas it is an opportunity to assist and serve and satisfy someone with a dental need.
World Class Dental Customer Service begins with whatever gets your patients and potential patients to pick up the phone and call. The way your phone calls are handled is a continuation of this image of Customer Service you wish to publicly project.
Our office gets people who are ringing around, well they ring back and it’s because we were so nice, they say…
That’s the image you need to project…kind and helpful