Phone Follies Frustrate Callers
Well, it's happened again. Just when I think practices are getting the message, I hear it all over again, and it appears to be getting worse, not better. I returned a phone call to a dentist who had contacted me with some questions about a few issues in his practice. Within seconds, I knew that this was a practice in trouble. Let me explain.
I placed the phone call and the business employee answered it on the second ring. My first thought was, good job. The phone didn’t ring several times before a human picked it up or worse yet, go into voicemail. Unfortunately, my positive encounter was pretty much over at that point. The employee rips through the perfunctory greeting as if her lips are trying to post a “best time” in the phone answering sprint competition.
I can barely understand what she said, but I am pretty sure that I heard something that sounded like, “Drs. Lord and God.” Now, I have some pretty good connections in the industry, but they are not THAT good. I hesitated for a second or two trying to register what I thought she just said. The name of the practice is “Drs. Loren and Goff.” So I politely ask “Is this Dr. Frank Loren’s office?” “Yeeesss,” she says in a low, slow, sarcastic voice. Evidently, she wanted to ensure that I clearly understood her response to what she obviously considered to be a “stupid” question.
I asked to speak to Dr. Loren as he was expecting my call. “He’s not available right now,” she snapped. There was no explanation and no offer to take a message. In fact, I had to ask her if I could leave a message for the doctor. “Just a minute I have to find a pen,” she said, clearly annoyed by my request. I have to say that this employee’s tone of voice and attitude were so rude and disrespectful that even I was taken aback, and I have encountered a multitude of rude and disrespectful employees over the years. If I had been a patient, I would have happily hung up and never called again.
I wish I could tell you that this was an isolated incident in a new, inexperienced practice, but it’s not. We find that many doctors do not monitor how employees handle the fundamentals of phone communication. Moreover, far too many practice owners fail to consider the fact that training is absolutely critical - now more than ever - for frontline employees. The employee’s handling of basic telephone communication in Dr. Loren’s practice is likely to be a significant contributor to why this practice has what the doctor terms “a few issues.”
Certainly, juggling the many demands that come with working the business side of the practice can be extremely demanding. Patients need to be checked in and checked out, they need appointments scheduled and cancelled, they have financial matters that have to be addressed, and of course, the phone is always ringing. Thus, the pressure can be significant. Some people simply cannot handle that level of stress. They do not have the temperament for it and worst of all, they often are just tossed into these positions with very little training.
First let’s review what this employee should have said when she picked up the phone. “Thank you for calling Drs. Loren and Goff. This is Barb, how may I direct your call?” Her tone of voice should be friendly and her speech unhurried. From there, I would have explained that I was calling for Dr. Loren. At that point, the employee should have said the following. “Ms. McKenzie, he is with a patient at the moment, may I take your number so that he can return your call shortly?” Or if she was in the middle of checking out a patient, she could have said, “Ms. McKenzie, I am taking care of a patient, may I place you on hold for just a moment?”
Callers expect your staff to be polite and courteous. But if you have the wrong people on the frontlines of your practice, or if they don't have the proper training, common courtesy is an afterthought for them. And it's not long before your practice becomes an afterthought to patients. Yes, we can provide your team with online telephone training in three, 30 minute sessions. Look HERE
Next week, test your telephone effectiveness.
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side.
Interested in speaking to me about your practice concerns? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Is Your Bonus Program Working For or Against You?
Human resource managers told Corporate America in years past that if they dangle a financial carrot in front of their employees, they can expect a tremendous increase in their performance. We have observed dentists paying out bonus monies when total employee costs are already beyond 27% of practice income (gross salaries 19.22%, payroll taxes and benefits 3.5%). Not only is this fiscally irresponsible, but it jeopardizes the life of the practice and the employee's job security. While some management consultants continue to tell dentists to use bonus systems, McKenzie Management believes dentists should stop using them and use non-monetary techniques that are more effective at getting desired improvements.
Bonus plans are unfair because they usually reward people equally, but the contributions to the business are not equal. What your employees give to the success of the business is different for each employee, and many times the success is just good fortune. Bonus plans cause employees to focus on money. It takes the focus away from the performance indicators of a particular job. However, employees should be “rewarded” for performance that exceeds the performance indicator of their job description.
Step 1 - Daily Goal
Step 2 - Determine a Budget for your Goal
Step 3 - Establish How to Calculate the Goals
Step 4 - Reward Plan
Step 5 - Keep it Simple, Sir
The Ping Pong Reward
At your morning meeting, it is announced by the Schedule and Hygiene Coordinator how many providers (doctors and hygienists) reached their daily production goal on the previous day. If 2 providers reached their goal, then 2 balls are drawn from the container. As each ball is drawn, the value of the ball is entered on a log that is used to keep track of the dollar amount that is being drawn. Be sure to replace the ball once it is drawn so the chances of drawing the balls with the higher face value are always the same. If no providers made goal, then no balls are drawn. At the end of the month or when the pool reaches a pre-determined value, the pool is paid out, dividing it up among the team based on their hours or days worked. If there is a part time employee that works, they will receive a proportional amount.
As you can see, this is not a large amount of money to the office but it provides a way to celebrate each day that the practice reaches the goals established for the providers. Many dentists are not good “motivators” so this allows the doctor to participate indirectly without having to be a “cheerleader.”
The “mystery ball” is placed in the container at the doctor’s discretion and can be taken out at any time, as well. For example, let’s say that for the entire week, each provider made their production goal. The doctor may assign a value to the mystery ball Monday morning and state that the value is $100. It is placed in the container and if it is drawn, the $100 is added to the pool. The doctor may then remove the ball and use it at another time. Some offices elect to leave the “mystery ball” in if their doctor is not as participatory as they would like!
Have Fun! That is what rewards are all about.
Dental Insurance Benefits
It is approaching that time of year when dental insurance benefits are there for patients to use, but their procrastination about paying the co-payments have kept them out of the treatment room. An email or letter campaign is in order to remind those with diagnosed treatment to “use it or lose it” with regard to their $1,000 to $2,000 in allotted benefit dollars. When you consider that about 34% of the population without dental insurance visit the dentist, versus 70% with dental insurance, it is important to market to the insured group this time of year. A follow-up phone call two weeks after the letter or email is the next step to helping patients to get appointed. Dental care is often postponed by even the most health conscious, so calling them is often appreciated.
When making outbound calls to the unscheduled, the typical response will be “Why doesn’t my dental insurance pay more on the crown?” Or, “that co-payment is too high; I am going to shop around for better coverage.” A simple response is: “Insurance companies need to make a profit and because most people use their dental insurance for professional cleanings, examinations and x-rays at least twice a year, the insurance company has to make more than they charge for their product. That is why the patient is supposed to participate in the costs at a higher percentage level for crowns than for preventive services like cleanings.”
For example: A dental insurance policy has a $1,000 per calendar year cap. The professional cleaning is $105, the exam is $65 and the x-rays range from $80-$120. Twice a year cleanings, two exams and at least one set of bitewings and you are at about $420 of the $1,000 cap. Most adults need restorative work of fillings or crowns routinely because as we live longer more maintenance is required. Children need sealants and restorative also to maintain healthy pain free mouths. On average, most people do not use all of the benefit maximum yearly because when it comes to restorative, the co-pay and deductible apply anywhere from 20-50% of the total. To patients this sounds unreasonable because the cleanings, examinations and x-rays are covered at typically 100%. After the deductible of an average of $50 they now have about $530 left of the $1,000 calendar year benefit. If a crown is needed and it costs $980-$1200 and the insurance pays 50% of the UCR, the policy has now maxed out for the year. This is a typical scenario.
Insurance companies have to charge a high enough rate to take into consideration that the product will be used by most that purchase it, but also a low enough rate to make it worth the investment to the average person. Medical insurance and dental insurance are often compared by consumers, but they are very different products. Medical insurance covers preventive services but also catastrophic medical events that could bankrupt most people. Hence the premiums for medical insurance are much higher in comparison to dental insurance premiums. Dental insurance has never been comprehensive in scope and is considered a bonus benefit like coverage for eyeglasses.
Encouraging patients to use what benefit dollars they have despite the fact that they have out of pocket costs is a communication challenge and can be frustrating to all involved. Waiting and postponing care for years has never been an option for good dental health, but many people do it. At some point everyone needs dental care, even the edentulous. If you have kept in contact with your patients, show them you care and want to help them - when it comes time for them to see a dentist, they will think of you.
Your message can read:
Dear Patient (Name),
This is a courtesy reminder that you may have dental insurance benefits left to use toward the recommended dental services from your examination on (date). We know that you value your health and excellent dental care, and we are here to serve you when you are ready to schedule your appointment. Your dental insurance benefits for this year will expire on 12/31/12 and do not roll over to the next year. Please call us soon to schedule to avoid the holiday rush. Have a wonderful summer.
Best to you,
To learn more about communicating with success, enroll today in the Dental Front Office Training here at McKenzie Management.
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