The phone rings, the front desk handles the call, you go about performing dentistry and seldom give those perfunctory phone duties a second thought. Except, perhaps, when you happen to overhear a response from your front desk employee that troubles you or you start to wonder why new patient numbers are weak. Then you might begin to question just how those perfunctory phone duties are handled. Unfortunately, if yours is like many practices, they are probably not handled well.
Dental teams grossly underestimate the expectations of potential new patients. While many of today’s patients are demanding, they also are intelligent. And intelligent patients are the best patients. They do their homework. They are more likely to appreciate excellent dental care. They are at least familiar with some of the options available in dentistry, and they are genuinely open to learning more. And that is where dental teams often fail to meet the prospective patients’ expectations.
Take the example of Mrs. Carolyn S. Her dentist is retiring and she is looking for another practice. She calls your office on Monday morning. She would like information sent to her home about you, the office, and what your practice has to offer. She’s also interested in any literature on whitening and implant dentistry. Mrs. S. is a professional. Any service purchased whether it’s service for her car, her home, or her oral health is purchased only after careful research and evaluation.
Linda, your Business Coordinator, is busy with a number of things on this Monday morning including Mrs. S.’s inquiry. She quickly jots down her name and address and promises to mail the information out ASAP. As soon as possible, in this case is about three months later when Linda happens to stumble upon the scrap piece of paper with her note to send Mrs. S. practice info, brochures on whitening, and information on implants. Prospective new patient Mrs. S. is long gone.
All the superior dentistry you have to offer cannot make up for a lack of follow through on the part of your staff. The experience that prospective new patient has when they call your office is the make it or break it opportunity. It doesn’t matter if they know you personally. It doesn’t matter if they’ve heard you’re fantastic from their colleague or personally seen your work and been wowed by it. If the front desk is too busy to take the time to make the prospective patient feel valued and welcome, if the material they request is never received, if they simply don’t get the impression that their investment in your practice will be appreciated, they are not likely to bother making the appointment.
For most practices, just being aware of how prospective new patient inquires are handled is a big step in the right direction. Start paying attention. Keep a list of the types of inquiries the practice is receiving and discuss how the office responds to these. If patients are requesting information that you don’t have readily available, establish a timeline to develop and/or purchase the necessary informational materials. Establish a protocol for handling all inquiries, including calls from new patients seeking appointments, calls from prospective patients seeking information on the doctor, the practice, procedures offered, etc.
Prospective patients who request information should be sent the material the day the request is made – not the next, not at the end of the week, not when the business team gets around to it – the day they ask for it. Consider including additional information about the practice, such as the doctor’s commitment to providing the best possible care for patients. Information emphasizing specific qualities about the practice that set it apart from others, such as, the extremely high infection control standards, dentistry for the entire family, painless dentistry techniques, cosmetic dentistry, a commitment to never make the patient wait more than 5-10 minutes, etc.
The prospective new patient has given you permission to market your practice, to educate and inform them. They expect it and they want to know what you have to offer. Make the most of it.
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