Opportunity Rings When New Patients Call Your Dental Office

Jackie Ulasewich-Cullen


Being a marketing agency, we certainly don’t consider ourselves telephone-training consultants by any means. But as part of our marketing efforts for our clients, we’ve listened to many phone conversations with potential new patients, and we’ve picked up a thing or two.

For instance, most potential new patients call to ask about two things: how much a treatment will cost and if the practice takes their insurance. Such seemingly easy questions for anyone in the office to answer, right? Perhaps not. You may be surprised to discover that most practices don’t really know how to deal with these questions effectively.

Based on our experiences, we’ve gleaned some best practices that can help any dental office handle these types of calls professionally and in a way that will lead to more booked appointments, and we’d like to share what we’ve learned.

Arm Your Front Line

Your front-office staff is the most powerful tool in your entire office. They set the tone, build the initial relationship, and set the expectations for every patient, existing and prospective.

For the front office staff to be truly effective, they need to be prepared for whatever comes across on the phone, always projecting a cheerful and patient demeanor, whether it’s the first call in the morning or the last call at the end of an exhausting day.

This means that they should be well trained and have the right tools at their disposal to make sure every call is handled properly. Tools such as a basic phone script or flow chart with useful questions can be extremely helpful.

When the front office is prepared and knows exactly what to say, new patients will hear their confidence through the phone and be more open to making an appointment.

Get the Caller’s Name

When new patients call, their main goal is normally to get information, usually about insurance and price. And often, that is the first thing they ask. But while insurance and price are important, by no means are they the most important aspects of dentistry.

To begin building rapport right away and to steer the conversation in a positive direction, the first statement to the new patient should always be, “Thank you so much for calling today. May I get your name?”

It seems simple, but, surprisingly, many people don’t do this instinctually. Asking the patient’s name is not only a warm and friendly thing to do, it’s also the first step in taking control of the conversation.

Build Rapport

Even though patients may ask something pretty straightforward, answering right away may not always be the best strategy if the goal is to get them to book an appointment. Delaying the answer a bit and, instead, asking patients to share some information about themselves is a better way to get the desired outcome.

This doesn’t mean ignoring the question. Of course, it’s important to acknowledge the question and promise to answer it completely. But you should also let them know that for you to give them the best answer, you’d like to know a little more about them first.

Again, this is key to maintaining control of the conversation. But it also tells patients that you care about them. However, you don’t want to start bombarding callers with personal questions right away. It’s important to ask permission first to put them at ease.

Telling them that you would just like to take a moment to get to know them also speaks to the quality of your practice. Patients will quickly understand that you’re not a factory churning out patients, but a reputable and discerning dental practice.

Get the Scoop

Once you have permission to ask questions, find out what led them to your practice. First and foremost, this is a low-pressure question that immediately engages patients and gets them talking. Additionally, it allows you to conduct some in-house marketing research.

For example, it’s good to know if they’ve been referred by another patient, not only because you want to express to the caller how thrilled you are that their friend thinks so highly of your practice, but also because it gives you the opportunity to create instant rapport by paying the referring patient a nice compliment.

If, on the other hand, the new patient simply used a Google search, you can direct their attention to the practice’s excellent reviews and ask what made them choose your practice over others. This, again, shows how confident you are in the quality of your practice and also helps you understand what about your practice’s online presence makes it stand out above others.

Explore and Explain

Now that you’ve got patients talking, a good next step is to ask them about their needs. This gives you insight into their expectations, and you can address questions about cost and insurance in terms of service quality rather than just as a matter of fact.

If expense seems to be a major point, you can explain the components of specific services and educate callers a bit about the factors that go into determining your costs. You can also reassure them that your practice is in line with other providers in the area and emphasize the unique, highly personalized treatment your practice offers.

If you are a fee for service practice and the conversation turns to insurance, rather than simply answering yes or no, you can assure callers that your practice is experienced in dealing with a variety of insurance providers and will work with their insurance company to explore all their options.

You can also reset any expectations that insurance will “cover it” by explaining how dental insurance works in terms of helping patients maintain good dental health but not necessarily paying for all restorative procedures. You can then expand the conversation to include the budget-friendly financing and payment options your practice offers.

Keep the Door Open

A conversation that follows these steps allows you to establish a pleasant relationship with prospective patients right from the start, which will make them more open to booking an appointment with the first phone call. However, some patients are a little tougher and need more convincing.

If that’s the case, it is important not to get discouraged, but remain positive. Ask them what other concerns they have and reassure them that your practice takes a holistic approach to dental care—that is, you care about your patients’ overall well-being and comfort and transparency is a top value.

If they still need some time to think, then let them know you’ll be there for them if they have any additional questions. Leave the door open for them to call back, but also let them know that you would like to follow up with them in a couple of days as well. This tells callers that you’re not trying to “sell” them while also demonstrating your confidence that they won’t find a better, friendlier, or higher-quality practice anywhere else.

Our experience with various dental practices over the years has taught us that these best practices for dealing with that first phone call really do result in higher new-patient acquisition, and we recommend that every practice integrate them. Just making a few adjustments to the way you deal with first-time callers can reap huge rewards.

With more than a decade of experience in corporate dental laboratory marketing and brand development, Ms. UlasewichCullen decided to take her passion for the dental business and marketing to the next level by founding My Dental Agency. Since starting her company, she and her team have helped a wide variety of practices all over the nation focus their message, reach their target audience, and increase their sales through effective marketing campaigns. She can be reached at (800) 689-6434 or via email at jackie@mydentalagency.com.

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