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9 Ways to Improve Telephone Techniques
By Sally McKenzie, CEO

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The phone rings. The office assistant finally answers, clearly annoyed by the disruption. Before even finding out what the caller needs, she asks him to call back in 15 minutes. He does, then she puts him on hold for another 10 minutes before finally asking how she can help. Problem is, the patient is long gone before she returns to the line, and is likely already on the phone with another practice.

This is no way to handle practice phone calls, unless of course you enjoy annoying potential and current patients and sending business to your competitors. When patients call your practice, they don’t want to be put on hold before they even get the chance to say hello, and they certainly don’t want to call back only to find out you still don’t have time for them. They want to talk with a friendly, helpful person who is happy to take their call and schedule their appointment or answer their question.

Unfortunately, many dental practices don’t recognize the importance of telephone techniques and the growth opportunities every phone call represents. Instead they see phone calls as a disruption and would prefer to handle them as quickly as possible so they can go about their day. This attitude is likely costing these practices thousands of dollars in lost revenue each year.

While this is frustrating, it doesn’t have to be your practice’s fate. With a little training, your team members can drastically improve their telephone techniques. Here are nine tips to help you get started.

1. Don’t look at phone calls as disruptions. When patients call, they can tell if they’re bothering the person who answers the phone. They hear the sighs and notice the long pauses. The distracted team member who just wants to get off the phone not only comes off as rude, their attitude screams “I don’t value your call or your business,” which is a great way to guarantee patients never call again. 

Make sure your team members understand that properly answering phone calls directly relates to practice growth. They must focus on providing friendly, helpful customer service to every potential and current patient who calls.

2. Listen to the caller. No matter how busy your day is, you have to take the time to listen to patients when they call your practice. Don’t just wait for your turn to talk as you try to figure out how you’re going to get them off the phone. Instead, focus on what they’re telling you. Think about how you can help, and address any concerns or problems they might have. Take the opportunity to make a connection, and the patient on the other end of the phone will notice and appreciate those efforts.

3. Be patient. As tempting as it might be, don’t finish patients’ sentences for them. They’ll know you’re just trying to rush them off the phone. Give them the time they need to explain their situation, and then tell them how your practice can help. The phone call might take a little longer, but it will pay off in the long run.

4. Don’t put up road blocks. Never tell a patient “no” or “I can’t.” If a patient is looking for evening hours that you don’t offer, explain the flexible early morning hours you have available on Wednesdays and Fridays. Work with patients to find a solution to perceived barriers and get them on the schedule.

5. Speak clearly and effectively. Remember, speaking traits that are barely noticeable in person can be very pronounced over the phone. Train employees to speak clearly, professionally and enthusiastically. Team members should answer the phone as if they were welcoming the person face-to-face, and that means greeting callers with a smile.

6. Know the practice’s products and services. When patients call your practice, they often have questions about the services you provide. If the team member who picks up can’t answer those questions, patients will see that as a huge red flag. Make sure team members can confidently talk about popular services such as crowns, fillings, implants, partials, veneers, whitening, insurance and patient financing. Consider creating a frequently asked questions sheet that team members can refer to when speaking with patients.

7. Keep your cool. When an angry patient calls your practice, you can’t react emotionally or get defensive. Remember that it’s not personal. If you stay calm and focus on helping to solve the problem, whether the caller is in pain and needs emergency dental care or doesn’t understand the charges on a recent bill, these patients will likely cool down before the conversation is over. Give them plenty of time to explain the situation and then do what you can to help.

8. Develop scripts. Take the time to develop phone scripts for a variety of situations. This will help team members know exactly what to say to patients when they call, no matter the reason, without fumbling for the right words. But remember that patients want to have a normal conversation. Team members should deliver the scripts naturally, while giving patients a consistent message that spells out the facts clearly and concisely.

9. Keep your word. When you tell a patient that you or another team member will call back before noon with information they requested, call back before noon. If you forget and call back three days later, chances are another practice already provided the information.

Now that you know how to improve your telephone techniques, it’s time to find out where your office stands. Consider my Recorded Telephone Evaluation to find out how you come across over the phone. You’ll likely be surprised by the results, but knowing your weaknesses will help you improve telephone communication, and that will only mean good things for your practice and your bottom line.

For additional information on this topic and more, visit my blog: The Lighter Side

Interested in speaking to me about your practice concerns? Email sallymck@mckenziemgmt.com
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