4.9.10 Issue #422 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

“What Do You Want?” and Other Telephone No-No’s
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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I was in the grocery store recently and stopped by the customer service desk to ask about a certain product that the store is frequently out of. The employee behind the counter finished up with someone else then turned to me and asked, “What do you need?” He wasn’t unfriendly, but he wasn’t friendly either. I couldn’t help but think that he clearly had other things that he wanted to get done, and I was yet another obstacle in his way. He didn’t greet me with a warm, “Hello” and ask “How can I help you, today?” Rather, he simply wanted to address whatever “need” it was and move on. His seemingly simple question said a lot more than he probably realized.

I suspect this young man is pretty efficient, and perhaps on this particular day, his list of things to do was longer than usual. Maybe someone had called in sick or didn’t show and he needed to find a replacement quickly. Maybe this was supposed to be his day off. Regardless, it was a clear reminder of how much we can convey, either positive or negative, in just a few words. I marvel at the number of dental practice employees who, like this busy grocery store clerk, give little or no thought as to how they come across to patients and customers, particularly over the phone. Consider these seemingly innocent comments from the employees who are the #1 link to your patients.

  • “We’re really busy right now. Could you just call back in an hour, and we’ll get your new patient exam scheduled right away.”
  • “Doctor requires payment at the time of service.”
  • “I have no idea how to change your appointment. Only the scheduling coordinator knows how to use the new scheduling system and she is at lunch right now.”
  • “I’m sorry, so what was it you said you wanted?”
  • And one of my all time favorites: “Doctor’s office. Please hold.” Click

There are a number of straightforward and easy steps the dental team can take to significantly improve the practice’s telephone skills. But there are four that you can implement immediately and see positive results almost as fast.

1. Answer Promptly
Insist on a two ring policy. When current and prospective patients are calling your practice during regular business hours, including lunch, they expect a human being to pick up the phone. Letting the phone go unanswered or into voicemail reinforces the avoidance reflex in patients – you didn’t answer the phone when they called; therefore, they can avoid scheduling this appointment a little, or a lot, longer.

2. Consistent Greeting
Each staff member should follow a specific and consistent protocol when answering the phone. For example: “Good morning, Dr. Rosemary’s office, Teri speaking, how may I help you?” With the prevalence of caller ID, it is likely that periodically staff will know the caller on the phone. Regardless, the greeting should always be professional. Answering the phone with a, “Hey, what’s up?” or other casual/unprofessional greeting should be strongly discouraged. Remind your staff that whether they know the caller on the phone personally or not, a proper greeting is required. 

3. FAQ Sheets
Many current and prospective patients call the practice for the same reasons such as to schedule an appointment, reschedule, cancel, inquire about a bill, ask about specific services, etc. For one month, keep a log of the most frequently asked questions and prepare answers to those questions that can be posted near every phone in the practice. This will help to ensure that virtually anyone on the team can answer fundamental questions when patients call. For more in-depth patient/practice conversations, prepare specific scripts to help ensure that whoever answers the phone gathers the necessary information from the caller.

4. Talk With A Smile
While I don’t care much for the cliché, it is true that your smile is your best accessory. A smile means everything when working with people. It conveys your personality and, most importantly, your attitude. Speaking with a smile is an essential technique in making a positive phone impression. Research has shown that callers can hear a smile in the tone of voice.  Current and prospective patients want to feel welcomed and have a sense of comfort when they call your practice. Convey that with a smile.

Next week, what your patients really hear when they call your office.

Interested in speaking to Sally about your practice concerns? Email her at sallymck@mckenziemgmt.com. Interested in having Sally speak to your dental society or study club? Click here.

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