What’s Really Being Said on the Phone?
Down the street and around the corner is a little Italian place. It’s a peculiar service mix – part grocer, part diner, part bar, and part private party place. While I’ve often wondered if the owners are trying to be too many things to too many people, what I know is they have the best homemade meat sauce around and their lasagna is amazing.
It is family owned and operated by Maria, her husband, and their two daughters. Daughter “Jessica” is 20-something and always wears a smile. She can tell you anything you want to know and a lot that you don’t about everything the grocer/diner/bar has to offer. Whether on the phone or in person, she’s going to address you as honey, sweetie, kiddo, and nearly every other term of endearment that you can imagine during the conversation.
As they say, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Jessica talks to customers the way her mother does. The difference: The ample, Italian matriarch of the establishment can get away with it, Jessica cannot. She means well. But to virtually anyone over the age of 12, the honey-sweetie routine quickly becomes an annoying distraction, which could easily be misinterpreted as condescending.
It is yet another reminder that regardless of the business, every employee who interacts with customers must master a specific set of communication skills. These go well beyond the vague generalities of “be helpful and courteous.” Certainly, in Jessica’s mind, she is extremely helpful and couldn’t be more courteous. But Jessica is utterly oblivious to the “nails on a chalkboard” effect of her well-intentioned approach.
How do your employees come across to patients? In many cases, the in-person interactions score far better than those over the phone. Well-intentioned employees can unwittingly come across as short, distracted, insincere, rushed, or even rude on the phone. Oftentimes, it comes down to their attitude. Dental teams commonly view the phone with disdain. It is an annoying interruption to more important things. Few realize the powerful impact of this “annoyance” on the total success of the practice. Dentists typically give little thought to the phone. It rings, someone picks up, handles the call, and that’s it.
Then there’s the patient. If they are calling your practice it’s because they are looking to you and your team for help. They may be in pain and need emergency care. They may be new to the area and would like to find a dental home. They may need to schedule an overdue cleaning appointment. They may need to get their child in for a required school dental exam. Regardless of the reason, current and prospective patients are calling with needs and hopes.
They hope the person on the other end will be friendly and understanding. They hope the employee can take care of their situation promptly. They hope that the person who answers the phone will have the answers to their questions. They hope that they will feel good about calling your office.
How well does your team measure up? You think you have a pretty good idea, but until you’ve heard both sides of the conversation, you really don’t know. I recommend you get educated. Dentistry is no stranger to the concept of “mystery patients” as dentists have become increasingly aware of the critical impact that those seemingly small practice/patient exchanges have on the bottom line.
McKenzie Management offers telephone assessments to evaluate the effectiveness of a dental team’s telephone skills on a number of occasions, enabling you to identify exactly what you and your team can do to create immediate positive results. We’ve found that in most cases, once they hear how they actually come across, employees are very receptive to telephone training, which is completed easily over the phone or Internet. Moreover, they have a much better grasp on the value of their role as the patient’s first point of contact. The experience helps both doctors and employees to better understand and appreciate the value of guided or scripted telephone conversations.
Most importantly, the process is often an eye opener for both doctor and staff. That awareness alone encourages improvement and helps prevent further loss of patients and revenues. Are weak or poor phone skills costing you and your practice tens of thousands of dollars? Find out.
Next week, 6 must-have telephone skills for every employee.
For more information on this topic and more, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
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Business Cards and Building Your Practice
Dental business training would not be complete without touching on the subject of both external and internal marketing for the practice. Most practices are looking for new patients and ways to attract new patients. The focus on designing a great website with search engine optimization and social media optimization so that potential patients can find you is paramount in today’s highly competitive dental market place. Visibility, accessibility and affordability are keys to patient acceptance of the services that you have to offer. It surprises me that so many dentists and their employees do not carry on them one of the most critical branding tools available - the business card.
Whether designed by professional marketing specialists as part of your branding toolbox or designed by yourself, the business card as a powerful marketing tool is often overlooked. Much of your business comes from personal interaction and communication. Many dental practices are solo or small group practices and lend themselves to word-of-mouth or personal referrals for the majority of their growth. Websites, direct mail, brochures and media/print advertising are all part of the marketing arsenal, but none of these offer the one-on-one personal connection of a great business card at the moment you are introduced to someone for the first time.
Fundamentally, you want the following on your business card:
• Readable font of 12-pt type or larger - use restraint with fancy fonts and scripts
This is the first side of the card; do not leave the second side blank. After looking at many business cards for dentists, the following are some ideas for making the best use of the second side:
• A map to the practice
On your professional business card, do not put any information about a charge for broken appointments or about billing or insurance. That information can be available on the website. Your policy for appointment cancellations should be on the appointment card not the business card.
Take a stack of business cards with you wherever you go. Have business cards for all staff that have been with you more than 90 days and encourage them to hand them out. Have some in the glove compartment of your car, briefcase, purse or wallet. Send them out in thank-you cards or post treatment follow-up cards or reports. The following are opportunities to drop a card:
• Out to lunch or dinner
Anywhere people gather or where you are being introduced to someone new is an opportunity to hand people your card. Everyone needs a dentist at some time, and your card is an invitation to call.
I recently attended an event at a friend’s home and was introduced to two women whose husbands were dentists in the area. After a lively conversation about both of them needing to be busier, I asked for their cards. Neither one had their husband’s business cards with them. “The cards are at the office,” was the reply. That is usually where I find them too, sitting in a card holder at the front desk.
McKenzie Management has professional business training courses to teach you how to bring your practice to a new level and attract and keep more new patients. Call today and get started building the practice of your dreams.
Do You Have Communication Stop Signs in Your Office?
We all know that one of the primary components of a successful practice is communication. But what is communication? Written, verbal, and non-verbal are all common forms of communication in a dental office. But more important than what forms of communication are being used is how they are used - and what may be keeping your practice from achieving open and positive communication.
Even simple messages that are placed on your desk should include the date the message was written, who wrote it and what the details are. If the message is a phone message, it should also include the caller’s name, their telephone number and the reason for their call. How many times have you had a sticky note placed on the monitor in your office that said “Call Bob Jones”? Teach your team how to take messages for you if you aren’t using a voice mailbox.
Treatment plan estimates should have a disclaimer regarding their expiration. Include the possibility that the proposed treatment may change during the course of treatment, which the patient will be informed of at the time. Your financial options forms should include the treatment proposed, three options for payment including CareCredit with 0% interest, as well as the consequences of non-payment, making sure that you follow the guidelines of your state pertaining to interest, collection fee, etc.
The messaging options on some of the practice management software can be helpful. It also requires one to be able to turn and see the message and then type a response when necessary. This can be a challenge.
And what about how information is communicated among your team members? With the help of temperament testing, verbal communication can be made more clearly and with no conflicting emotions when the team understands the importance of using words such as “we” opposed to “you”, and “I feel” opposed to “you are”. Inappropriate words are hurtful and long-lasting when the message could have been delivered in a more “user-friendly” manner.
It is so important for business team members to have a smile on their face when they answer the phone, as a smile can be “heard” in their voice to the caller. The proper inflection as well as sincerity of the message is also important in order to make that caller feel cared for. Do you listen to your business assistant answer the phone? Does she or he have a script, such as “Thank you for calling Dr. Gooddentist’s office. This is Mary. How may I help you today?” Saying “morning” or “afternoon” can be difficult when the phones are ringing off the hook and one must remember if it is really morning or afternoon. Make it easier by changing the message. Wireless walkie-talkies are encouraged for efficient and effective communication among all the team members.
Of course, there is also the “let’s just not talk about it at all” form of non-verbal communication. Maybe the problem will go away, the tasks will simply get done by some wand waving, or the team can simply read my mind! Take time at your next monthly meeting to discuss ways of improving inter-office communication. Review your written forms and messages. Use more “we” instead of “I” and use “feel” instead of “think”. I “feel” that it will be time well spent.
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