Recently, I was craving tacos. I was in a pinch for time, so I decided to call ahead and place an order over the phone.
After I dialed the number, I was instantly told, “Thanks for calling. Please hold.” I then waited for about 20 minutes. I wanted to time it out perfectly to where once I got closer to their location it would be ready for pickup, but I arrived to the taco shop while still on hold.
I decided to go inside anyway and place the order in person. They were well-staffed, so I called again while in line to observe their phone process. Keep in mind there were only about three to four people ahead of me in line, at a maximum.
I watched the phone ring off the hook for a few minutes with plenty of employees available to take it. They heard it. They saw it. They ignored it. No, they weren’t just sitting around. They were busy. But they didn’t make the phone as much of a priority as the customers in front of them.
Furthermore, the customers in line were already buyers, or extremely close to purchasing. They’d already made up their minds that this taco shop was where they were going to receive their meal and make a payment.
But as someone who was just recently on the other end of the phone, I was still weighing a decision on whether I’d do business with the restaurant. Luckily for those who benefit from the shop’s profitability, I was severely craving their salivating food, so I decided to go in.
What if I hadn’t been a previous visitor, though? Not only would I think the company’s phone processes were a mess, I’d likely also think their customer experience, business organization, and, quite frankly, the most detrimental—food—also needed solving.
The Phone in Your Office
This is a common but unfortunate practice not only in the convenience food industry, but in the dental sphere, too. Picture yourself as a fly on the wall in your office. The phone is ringing incessantly. On the other end of the line, a prospective patient needs to be addressed. And on your side, a frazzled receptionist ignores every ring because of the patient physically in front of him or her.
You can only imagine how neglected this makes your caller feel.
As humans, it’s our nature to try and accomplish everything right in front of us, from overseeing the practice management software to assisting someone who just walked in and taking another patient’s payment. These are all common duties of the front desk. Regardless of those duties, it’s important to focus on the phone just as much (or perhaps more) as your in-office patients, as each caller is possibly a patient you haven’t captured yet.
If a similar situation is occurring at your dental practice or group—as in frustrated callers are hanging up on hold, or never connecting with a friendly, helpful staff member who can help—this initial negative perception of your office can ultimately break the bank, completely dismantle your appointment books, and disrupt patient experience.
From working closely with more than 5,000 dental practices and consulting them on proper phone etiquette and processes, here are three recommended solutions to this common pitfall in the dental profession.
First, encourage front desk employees to prioritize the phone. Remember, it’s the patient on the other end of the line who’s still in the deciding phase to be treated by your team, not the one already in the office for an appointment. Moreover, every ring that sounds throughout your four walls is potential revenue on the line. Each patient’s phone call is worth hundreds of dollars.
Not only does a ringing phone correlate with added appointments and revenue, it also means people trust your services and want to work with your team. Utilize that ringing phone as a resource to get more people through your doors and returning constantly. The phone is the one tool already available at your fingertips that you don’t need to spend more money on to see positive results.
Second, prioritize communicating with patients. Answer rate is important. But once you have picking up the phone down, strive to focus on connection rate. Connection means sending all of your callers to someone who can help them, whether that means addressing questions or scheduling the service. Some tangible connection best practices I’d recommend are:
- Ensure the front desk is well-staffed at all times to handle the phone. This might require adjusting work schedules a bit and staffing more phone handlers during high call volume hours.
- Implement a phone tree (also called a bridge or IVR) or answering service that helps ensure your callers are helped faster.
- Treat voicemail as a final resort, but when you do receive voicemail messages, encourage your staff to return those calls as soon as possible.
Finally, carry out the phone prioritization mindset. Many front desk staff members feel uncomfortable regarding the phone. They may not see it as an avenue for growth. Or, worse, they do, but it’s not a priority for them to salvage every appointment opportunity phone call.
To help combat this mindset, hold one-on-one meetings where you discuss how important it is to handle the phone well, especially when it comes to appointment-related calls. Providing specific phone scripts in regards to scenario and playing positive examples of phone calls during group staff meetings are powerful mechanisms to remind everyone within your practice that each ring represents real revenue.
A good way to do this is by always inviting the caller in for a visit, being knowledgeable regarding the service discussed, dwindling the appointment offer to two dates and times to reduce decision fatigue, and making the new patient feel as comfortable as possible prior to appointment arrival.
It’s easy to forget that the ringing object in front of you holds just as much value (and in some cases, more!) than the person standing across your front desk. Each caller is an opportunity your practice hasn’t captured or helped yet, as well as a chance to showcase how helpful, caring, and knowledgeable your team is.
Don’t let the phone ring off the hook like my experience at the taco shop. Prioritize the power it has for your appointment rates, patient experience, marketing performance, referrals and reviews, and more.
Mr. Johnson is a senior account executive at Call Box. Doctors and owners call Corey to increase their bottom line through enhancing the patient experience over the phone and converting more opportunities. Corey earned his MBA from the University of Delaware and graduated from the University of North Carolina, where he studied how the power of data can affect organizational change. To learn more about Call Box and our innovative tools to help your practice leverage the phone, visit callbox.com/dental or call (833) 259-9484.