4.16.10 Issue #423 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague


Belle DuCharme CDPMA
Instructor/Consultant
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Telephone Skills for Difficult Situations

We all know that the telephone is the lifeline to the practice. It is the patient or potential patient’s first impression of the business and often the deciding factor in making an appointment. It does not stop there in the building of patient relationships. Patient retention is also governed by how we handle the difficult situations that arise over an office policy or between the patient and a staff member. A system with scripting on how to handle problematic events is good customer service and a necessary tool for your office. 

Every caller is different. People experienced in customer service learn to recognize these differences and adjust their responses accordingly. In the dental practice, challenging calls can be attributed to the usual billing and insurance issues but can also be about treatment options, post-operative concerns and feedback on how the patient was treated by a staff member. Defining the caller’s behavior will help give an idea as how to manage the call. The basic behavior patterns are:

  1. Angry - I want an apology for the way I was treated
  2. Demanding - I want my way or I am going elsewhere
  3. Analytical - Why are you doing the treatment that way and what are the statistics to success, etc.
  4. Talkative - I need you to listen to me because I am paying for your time and I just love to talk.

Let’s take a look at The Angry Caller, who is a challenge to even the most experienced Business Coordinator. Separating yourself and not going on the defensive are important skills to learn.  Follow this course of action:

  • Listen. Let the caller vent and explain their concern in detail without being interrupted. Take notes. Don’t get caught up in their emotion - stay objective.
  • Relate. Give a generalized apology such as “Mr. Brown, I am sorry and I understand how you must feel.” This often helps to diffuse the situation.
  • Make an Offer. Offer up a solution that will solve the patient’s problem. The situation may need some research or conferring with management so you can tell the patient: “Mr. Brown, I will need to look into this situation and get back to you. Will you be available at 3:00 pm tomorrow for my call?” Always follow through with call-backs or you will have an angrier patient.

The Demanding Patients will show themselves by trying to take control of the conversation in the first sentence. They are very clear in what they want and may catch the usually very accommodating business coordinator off guard with their no-nonsense directness. They want to get down to business and want to be assured that there will be immediate call to action. Try this approach:

  • Stay on the objective path. Don’t be pulled into the caller’s emotion.
  • Listen to the venting and take note.
  • Relate by assuring the patient that there will be immediate attention to their concern.
  • Have a direct action plan to solve the problem with a timeline and a personal follow-up. The demanding patient is often seeking control over their treatment. This patient may not fully understand the treatment sequencing and may see some treatment as not important to the overall success of their treatment plan.

The Analytical Caller is focused on accuracy and wants every step of the treatment explained so that they can digest it and give value to it. They want to know the “who, what, why, when and how” of their treatment. If time was not given to this type of patient during the diagnosis and treatment-planning stage of the office visit, you can expect them to call later. If the Clinical Assistant or Treatment Coordinator is available, you can transfer this call to make sure the information is accurate or you can schedule a call-back after research is done on the patient’s proposed treatment plan.

The Talkative Callers want attention and they are usually friendly and enjoyable to speak to. You may be very busy and not able to spend the time that they want in a conversation. Use the following to remain in control:

  • Ask closed questions like “Hi Alice would you like to make an appointment?”
  • Shorten pauses between sentences so that the caller can not interrupt you.
  • Be friendly, but provide minimal response to questions and divert the caller to the objective, which is to secure an appointment. “Hi Belle, this is Gene, how is everything going? Did you hear about the Chargers game yesterday?” Answer with “Hi Gene, everything is great! No, I didn’t hear about that. How can I help you today?”

Want to improve your patient’s experience? Sign up today for McKenzie Management’s Advanced Business Training and become more skilled in patient relations.

If you would like more information on McKenzie Management’s Advanced Training Programs  to improve the performance of your team, email training@mckenziemgmt.com

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