A phone call is often the very first interaction a prospective new patient has with your practice; it’s also one of the only ways you will personally communicate with existing patients between dental appointments. It should come as no surprise then, that many of the impressions you’re going to create (or change) will happen over the phone.
Like most dental practices, the people answering the phone will be multi-tasking. There may be patients in the reception area, at checkout, or walking up to the front desk for assistance at the time a call comes in. Balancing each of these interactions is like a carefully learned dance; the more you practice, the smoother and more prepared it will look.
Here are a few thinks to keep in mind:
1. TAKE NOTES
As good of a memory as you think you have, trying to remember the details of a call that happened earlier in the day isn’t always possible. Take notes during every call; write down the caller’s name, why they’re calling, and what needs to be done for them next. Try to repeat the caller’s name back to them at some point in the conversation (even if it’s when you’re about to end the call) to help create a deeper connection between the patient as an individual and your practice.
2. MAKE AN APPOINTMENT
Is someone calling about a sore tooth? Are they just requesting information about cleaning prices? Do they have a current treatment plan on file? Every call to your office is an invitation to request them to schedule an appointment…don’t let them get off of the phone without suggesting as much! Even if they’re calling for something else, you can always turn the conversation around into giving them a reason why they need an appointment.
For example, Mrs. Smith is calling because her husband’s denture broke. You could say “I’m so sorry to hear that, Mrs. Smith. I see you are both due for checkups anyway, let’s go ahead and just set you both up for an exam and we’ll check Mr. Smith’s denture while you’re both here to see what we can do to fix it. Are you available tomorrow morning?”
3. SMILE WHILE YOU’RE TALKING
Most likely you’ve heard this one before, but it’s true: if you’re smiling while you’re talking, people can tell on the other end of the phone. In high school, I did a stint as a telemarketer and we actually were given a mirror to keep on our desk so we could make sure we were smiling. It really works! Our tone of voice is just as important as our facial gestures, and when someone is calling from across town, all they can do is hear you talk. People who smile create an impression of genuine concern and trustworthiness.
4. NOBODY IS BEYOND ANSWERING THE PHONE
Every phone call needs to be picked up within three rings. Being in the sterilization room, lab, or somewhere else doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for answering. If the assistant or hygienist has stepped out of the operatory for some reason at a given moment while the phone happens to be ringing off the hook, they need to pick it up and follow the previously listed instructions! The same goes for the office manager. Front desk personnel should be answering 95% of the calls, but there will always be exceptions to the rule when things get busy.
5. OFFER A FREE CONSULTATION INSTEAD OF AN “OVER THE PHONE” QUOTE.
We all know that dental service prices vary based on the unique needs of our patients, but patients don’t always understand that. In fact, they frequently think the dentist is hiding prices on purpose. If someone wants a price on a particular service, explain to them that it depends on things like the extent of care that is needed, and the time involved. Offer a chance for them to have a complimentary, no-pressure consultation to get a firmer estimate on the type of treatment they’re looking for.
6. ANSWER THE PHONE OVER LUNCH
It actually hurts my head when I call a dental practice and get a recording they are “out for lunch”. Any prospective patient calling your office at that time is hanging up and calling the next dentist. Think about not only what you’ve lost by not setting an appointment for that patient, but the potential lost lifetime value of that patient. Such a simple fix! Stagger lunch hour for your front desk or receptionist team. Many patients call during lunch hour, because it’s the only time they’re able to. If possible, have one of your receptionist take an early or late lunch, then work your normal closed lunch time to answer the phone, so that you can connect with all of the potential patients that will be calling at that time.
7. ANSWER THE PHONE CORRECTLY
Generic answering phrases can easily roll off the tongue, but they don’t create the personal connection that a dentist’s office deserves. Be sure to add a friendly flair by using your name, like “Harvest Valley Dental, this is Cathy, how can I help you?” vs. “Dentist’s office…” and then wait for them to respond.
8. YOUR “LIVE” PATIENTS COME FIRST
Once someone is already in your practice, they need all of your attention. If for any reason your conversation needs to be interrupted by a phone call, answer the phone and ask them to hold for just a moment while you check a patient out, and then return to the call as promptly as possible.
A lot of dental professionals get into a routine of saying the same phrases all day, day after day… phone calls can be similar. Review these basic rules on your own and as a team, to help keep everyone at their peak performance!
Do you want to take a deeper dive into Phone Skills Training for you and your team? Learn about AADOM’s online course HERE.