Do Your Callers Get Compassion or Condescension?
Remember the parable about six blind men and an elephant? Each touched a different part of the pachyderm and walked away with very different impressions of what it really was. All were correct in what they had experienced but each was wrong in his understanding of the whole.
Telephone communication can be much like the experience of the six blind men. Neither party to the conversation has the entire picture. Staff rarely have the full picture when patients call. They must do their best to interpret the signs, signals, and messages that they receive during the telephone transaction. Sometimes these are loud and clear, other times they are vague and distant.
The business employee can’t see the stress that the caller is under. “Dale” is a single dad trying to juggle a full-time job and the needs of three children. He hopes the dental office staff understand that he really can’t take off work three different times to bring his children in for separate appointments. He needs to talk to someone who isn’t going to tell him that his request can’t be accommodated for months, unless he’s willing to be flexible. Flexibility is not something Dale has the luxury of enjoying. “Helen” is an elderly woman who has trouble hearing. She needs to talk to someone who will be patient with her. “Tara” has 10 minutes to get her appointment scheduled while on break. She doesn’t have time for chitchat. Each patient brings his/her own stresses and challenges to every phone call they place to your practice.
Below are what I consider to be the Top 5 most important skills for ensuring a positive practice/patient interaction every time you pick up the phone.
1. Listen. Stop talking and listen. When you really listen to the patients, you are focused on what they are telling you. You’re not thinking about what you are going to say to them as soon as they pause to take a breath, or what you have to do as soon as you can get them off the phone. Listen to the tone of their voice as well as the words they choose. When the caller is in a hurry, don’t take it personally. It’s not directed toward you. It’s reflective of their situation. Remember they need your help and they need it now.
2. Be patient. Don’t finish the patients’ sentences for them because you have more things on your plate than just this phone call. It will take some a little longer than others to explain what they need. But your patience will pay dividends in the relationship the practice builds with the patients.
3. Effectively answer the questions. A patient calls and asks: “Do you have any Saturday openings?” This is not an invitation to explain the history of the schedule or your personal opinions. “No, we used to be open on Saturdays, but we had so many no-shows and cancellations that it just wasn’t worth it. We were all giving up our Saturday mornings for nothing.”
Instead, answer the question and choose positive language. “We have several convenient patient times available through the week including early morning appointments beginning at 7 am on Mondays and Wednesdays and evening appointments on Tuesdays and Thursdays.” This is much more effective than answering the question “Do you have Saturday appointments?” with “No.”
4. Know the products and services that the doctor provides. Be prepared to answer key questions about such services as crowns, fillings, implants, dentures, partials, whitening, veneers, patient financing, and insurance accepted by the practice, to name a few. Create “FAQ” (frequently asked question) sheets, so that patients and prospective patients can get prompt answers to basic questions.
5. Stay calm. If the patient is upset, the worst thing you can do is react emotionally or become defensive. Remember, the caller is contacting your practice because s/he needs help, not an attitude. The patient may not understand the charges on their bill. They may be in pain because of a dental emergency. They may be upset because they just learned they need specific paperwork completed to receive their insurance reimbursement. Again, like the six men and the elephant, you won’t have the complete picture as to why they are upset. Remain calm, listen, and give them the time they need to explain their situation.
6. Find out how you come across on the phone. It will open your eyes to a whole new world of better patient service. Telephone Evaluations are a great way to assess where your office stands.
For more information on this topic and more, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
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