Is Your “Best” Costing You Big?
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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Remember the parable about the six blind men and the elephant? They each touched a different part of the elephant and walked away with very different impressions of what the elephant really was. Each of them was correct about what he had experienced but all of them were wrong in their understanding of the whole.
Telephone communication can be much like the experience of the six blind men. For the dental employee, the phone is often viewed as a constant interruption to more important job duties. Few realize the powerful impact of this “annoyance” on the total success of the practice. Dentists commonly view the phone simply as a perfunctory duty. It rings, someone answers it and schedules an appointment, and that’s it. Then there’s the patient. Their take on the phone—the only door to your practice—is considerably different. Just ask Elizabeth.
Elizabeth is new to the area, so she’s calling a few practices to inquire as to when she and her family can get in for their appointments. Elizabeth is an intelligent consumer. She has little patience for businesses that are not accommodating and friendly, and that do not put the consumer first. Let me assure you, Elizabeth is not the exception. Her attitudes are today’s norms.
When the dental employee finally answers the phone on the fifth ring, the greeting is an unenthusiastic, “Dr. Bolton’s office.” The employee doesn’t identify herself, nor does she ask how she can help the patient. Unimpressed, Elizabeth tries to keep an open mind. “Yes, I’d like to schedule an appointment for me and my two children.” Silence. The employee hesitates before she says in a discouraging tone, “Well, that’s going to be challenges because the doctor…oh, could you hold for just a minute, please?” Click. Elizabeth ignores the urge to end the call now. Instead, she waits and listens to the annoying music.
The unidentified staff member returns to the line. “I’m sorry. Now what is it that you need again?” Elizabeth grits her teeth. “An appointment for me and my two children.” “Oh yeah, that’s’ right. Now, hmmm, gosh, I don’t know when we’re going to get you in. I hope no one is having any problems because it’s going to be at least three months. But I could get one of you in on August 4 at 2 p.m. I could get someone else in on Thursday, August 21 at 11 a.m., and, let’s see, oh. Here’s an opening on August 26.” Elizabeth is shaking her head and rolling her eyes. “Can’t you get all three of us in on the same day?” “Oh sure. We could do that in December if you would like; I have plenty of openings then.” “But December is seven months away!” “I know. It’s a busy place.”
The staff member believes that she is doing the best she can. Elizabeth feels this office doesn’t care about serving new patients. The doctor, meanwhile, is oblivious to the entire exchange. As far as she can tell, the staff member handles the telephone just fine. But then again, like one of the six blind men, Dr. Bolton doesn’t have the full picture. Many dentists are blissfully unaware of how their practices are presented daily to the buying public.
This practice had one chance to win three new patients and the opportunity was lost.
It is for this reason that McKenzie Management recently began offering a 28-point telephone assessment in which a professionally trained and certified “mystery shopper” calls a practice and assesses the effectiveness of a team’s telephone skills on multiple occasions. Dentists receive a written report as well as a recording of the conversations.
The Telephone Mystery Shopper monitors several areas aspects of service, including phone etiquette, hold times and scheduling procedures, for starters. In addition, the assessment gives dentists a much clearer sense of the tone and attitude that the practice employees convey to current and prospective patients over the telephone. Moreover, this service helps practices determine the number of potential new patients they may be losing.
Oftentimes, very capable dental employees unwittingly drive new patients away because they have never been trained on how to effectively use the telephone—a practice’s most vital link to patients. In many cases, simply educating staff on effective telephone communication can significantly improve their approach. Moreover, it can prevent the loss of hundreds of patients and tens of thousands of dollars every year.
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