Bungled Telephone Talk Costing You a Fortune?
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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“Well, uh, no. We can’t do that. The office policy says that you MUST pay at the time of service or within 30 days, NO exceptions.”
“We’re really busy right now. Could you just call back in an hour, please, and we’ll get your new patient exam scheduled right away.”
“I have no idea how to change your appointment. We’ve got this new computer system; no one really knows how to use it, and besides I’m just filling in for the receptionist while she runs an errand.”
As the cliché goes, if I had a nickel for every time a dental office employee alienated, irritated, or frustrated a current or prospective patient over the phone, yes, I would be a very rich woman.
You may think talk is cheap but it’s costing some practices a fortune. Dental offices severely underestimate the importance of this essential business tool. Too often employees forget that the phone is the number one link to the patients. Instead it’s often viewed as a necessary nuisance, a perpetual interruption from the “really important” work. That sense of irritation and frustration comes through loud and clear to the person on the other end of that phone line.
The business assistant, the receptionist, the practice “helper” - whoever answers the phone is the first point of contact between the practice and the patient. Make sure it’s not the last.
Typically, employees who bungle telephone talk simply don’t know the appropriate way to handle this mission critical line of communication. There is no system in place to ensure that the office’s phone procedures are not only effective but also convey the right message and tone to patients. In almost every case, weak phone skills are the result of three things: lack of training, lack of planning, lack of standard operating procedures.
Telephone duty requires skill, professionalism, confidence, and finesse but not necessarily a dental background. Make sure that those whose jobs require extensive phone communication with patients possess the necessary qualities and are trained to handle the pressures. While you’re at it, take steps to ensure that other team members who “cover the phones” don’t have you wishing you could run for cover. Prepare them to represent your practice well.
For those on the “front lines” daily, candidates with a clear voice, enthusiasm, and a positive demeanor will be more likely to succeed in this position. But, personality is not everything; the position also demands training and preparation.
Remember, on the telephone, you have only your voice. Patients cannot hear facial expressions; they cannot see non-verbal queues. They form a picture of the person answering the phone and an opinion of the professionalism of the practice based exclusively on the quality and tone of the voice and how that person comes across verbally. Telephone salespeople keep a mirror at their desks. They understand that the expression on their face is conveyed in their voice. Are you smiling and happy or stressed out and tense? Answer the phone as if you were greeting the patient face-to-face.
Once you’ve thought about your tone, consider your message. In other words, prepare before you pick up the phone. Prepared presentations ensure that the business assistant – or anyone else on phone duty - is ready to handle questions, cancellations, concerns, and many other patient matters that arise during routine phone contact. It enables the staff member to spell out the facts for the patient clearly and concisely.
The Scheduling/Business Coordinator should know the prepared presentation so well that it comes across naturally. She/he’s not speaking off the top of her head, so there is no chance for error or omission. In addition, everyone is on the same page, so to speak, as others helping out at the front desk also can rely on the scripts to convey consistent messages to patients in each phone interaction.
Next week, preparing telephone scripts, step-by-step.
Interested in speaking to Sally about your practice concerns? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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