Practice Builder: Answering the Phone
Do you dread making any type of phone call to find out what is happening with a service or activity you are involved in? Do you look for an email or website or other type of alternate communication system before making the dreaded call? Have you found yourself waiting on hold for longer and longer periods of time just to find yourself dealing with yet another set of “menu choices” or “account identification requirements”? Have you ever found yourself repeatedly yelling into the receiver “REPRESENTATIVE” in an effort to finally reach a human being who might be able to deal with your issue?
Few things are as irritating as dealing with the modern invention of automated customer service. It seems we pay more for “services” only to find ourselves attempting to maneuver through a maze of phone prompts and “press 5 to hear these choices again” instead of finding an actual person who might be able to deal with our problem.
Therefore, companies who are able to provide actual human beings to answer the phone and help people deal with questions or problems are typically viewed very favorably by their clients – and these companies know to advertise the fact! When broadcasting their services in commercials, customer care companies, banking agencies, and credit cards loudly proclaim that human beings will talk to you when you call for help. They know that having an actual person answer the phone is a plus.
So, how is the phone answered in your practice?
Who is responsible for answering the phone at the office? Do you have a “recommended” way to answer, such as a phrase or statement that is routine? Do you have any automated services? Does the entire staff go to lunch at the same time leaving the phone “unmanned” or on voicemail? Is an answering service with live human beings on-call during the lunch hour and on weekends?
Here are some ideas:
Have one person responsible for answering the phone. A second person can be ready if the first person is busy. For example; Helen is “first hit” for incoming calls. Judy is “second hit”. By having a set order, both Helen and Judy know their responsibilities and are not looking at one another when the phone rings wondering whose turn it is to answer. Also, if Helen is busy with a patient, Judy knows that she is expected to answer the phone. It is a very poor practice to make a patient who is physically in the office wait while a front desk person talks on the phone. Of course, in an office with multiple lines, anyone who is available at the desk can answer to prevent the call from going to voicemail. In small offices where only one person is at the front desk, that person should answer ringing phones as quickly as possible, but take care of the patient at the desk before dealing with the call. These recommendations may seem simplistic, however, you would be surprised at how many practices have no organized method of answering the phone.
Also, everyone should know the proper verbiage to use when answering a call. For example; “Dr. Smith’s office, Carol speaking, how may I help you?” Don’t make your verbiage too long, as patients don’t want to wait. Be direct and to-the-point.
If you use voicemail, review what is being said and how calls are being returned. A suggestion; during the lunch hour you may say: “This is Dr. John Smith’s office. We are helping other patients and want to call you back. Please leave your message at the tone and we will return your call within a few minutes.” And then do it!
In the evening, the voicemail message might be: “This is Dr. John Smith’s office. Our normal office hours are 8am to 4pm Monday through Thursday. If you are calling before or after these hours, leave your message at the tone and we will call you back on the next business day. If this is an emergency, please call Dr. Howard Williams at 555-5555 for immediate assistance. If you need to change an appointment, please call during regular business hours. Thank you!”
This after-hours message gives patients the information they need concerning when the office is open, who they can contact in an emergency, and also that appointments cannot be changed by leaving a message on voicemail.
Better than having everyone leave for lunch at the same time, have a live person answer the phone during a staggered lunch hour. The more often a human being is available, the better the impression on possible patients.
Many of us spend quite a bit of money on marketing or office advertising to bring in new patients. Effective phone answering can be a practice builder and it costs very little – you already have staff manning the front desk! A potential patient will be interested in coming to you if they receive a friendly, professional greeting when they call. Your office will be way ahead of many other practices who are using automated services or who have unfriendly phone answering. “Doctors office; please hold”, is not an effective way to invite someone in to your office.
Carol Tekavec RDH is the Director of Hygiene for McKenzie Management. Carol can improve your hygiene department in just one day of training “in your office.” Interested in knowing more about how to improve your hygiene department? Email email@example.com.
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