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
Interested in speaking to me about your practice concerns? Email email@example.com
Competing with Corporate
This afternoon I received a glossy, four-color mailing from a new multi-state corporate dental office opening in our city of 100,000 people. I had been watching the progress of the physical office setting for about two months. It is in a building on one of the busiest highways through town in a space that had been vacant for about four years. The entire building was gutted and remodeled, the parking lot was repaved and striped, and a huge lighted sign with alternating pictures, images, and “special offers” was erected. There are two sections of the building. One for adults and a separate entrance for “the kids”. It sits between two fast food restaurants. This area of town already has about thirty dentists within a five-mile radius.
The mailing featured smiling, attractive people of all ages. It turns out that the photos and copy from the mailing matches their easy-to-navigate website; same pictures, same colors. Here is the information they included:
Crowns in two hours - No more waiting if you need a crown. Our office can prepare and attach your new crown in just a few hours because we use state-of-the-art computer design technology. Your crown is made here on site!
All this advertising is bound to create some interest for this office. Here’s the thing. Most of the existing dentists here already offer most, if not all, of the items mentioned in this mailing. Your office probably does as well. The question is: do people know about it? If not, why not? Will patients be attracted to this type of marketing and office setting and not to yours simply because of good advertising?
Word-of-mouth is a powerful marketing tool, but your office might need more. In this world of increasingly corporate-owned dental offices, here are some things you can do to be sure that potential patients know about you and your practice.
Take a look at your website. Attracting young patients is so important for new as well as mature practices. Young people use the internet to the exclusion of many other types of information sources. Is your website easy to navigate? Is it colorful and attractive? Do you offer the capability to fill out forms or request appointments? Do you offer other types of information such as short articles on dental treatment or answers to common questions? Do you list what you offer such as digital x-rays, intra-oral photos, same-day crowns, and treatment for children? Do you mention that you can help with insurance forms or arrange for a credit plan? Your web-site is vital. Be sure that it reflects the practice in the most positive light and gives plenty of information!
What about a mail-delivered advertising piece? Many disdain direct mail as “advertising from the past.” However, a colorful piece that briefly showcases what you offer and directs potential patients to your coordinated website can be effective. It should feature pictures and short copy. Too much “reading” will land your piece directly in the rubbish.
Dealing with insurance and offering credit plans. Signage for your office indicating that your staff can help patients with insurance or direct them to potential avenues to help them pay for what they need is a plus. It can be tasteful, not tacky. Many patients want the dentistry you offer, but worry about how to pay for it.
Does your office have curb-appeal? Realtors are known for advising individuals trying to sell their homes to spruce up the exterior. Regardless of where your office is located, there may be things that can be done to make it more attractive. Clean windows and doors, parking lot and sidewalk trash pickup on a daily basis, fresh paint and new signage, even container flowers at the entrance can make a difference and are not expensive. People are attracted to clean, fresh, and colorful.
Ask for help.No one can know all things. If you feel overwhelmed in the area of marketing or practice improvement, there is help available.
Corporate dentistry is here and individual practices are forced to compete. The good news is that many patients want to come to an individually owned office; if they know about you and what you offer. Make sure that they do!
Carol Tekavec RDH is the Director of Hygiene for McKenzie Management. Carol can improve your hygiene department in just one day of training “in your office.” Interested in knowing more about how to improve your hygiene department? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Team with Four Captains
A Team with Four Captains - that’s the structure of the 2014 United States World Cup Team. Quite unusual and their diffused leadership certainly will be dissected regardless of the final outcome in this year’s tournament. Although I’m not familiar with all the intricacies of international ‘football’, I do know that there is a ‘science’ of leadership in sports…and business. While there can be multiple leaders, they must be unified and aligned to succeed.
Leadership is an increasingly difficult balancing act for one individual. When you multiply the equation by adding Partners and Associates, things get more complex. Most practitioners who expand their business do not grasp the necessity of shifting the way they work. They remain myopic and continue to operate under the impression that their partner(s) will behave the same as them – they assume that the Associates know they aren’t in charge, so there is no need to worry about them.
But lack of communication, collaboration and coordination are instantly visible to employees and often to patients. Without trust and cohesiveness among the leadership team, they cannot accomplish what they came together to do. The lack of ‘team-ness’ at the top can, and often does, produce a huge obstacle to practice success.
Dental partnerships often consist of independent individuals who enjoy competing. That’s how they got to the top. They rarely know how to deal with conflict constructively, and often choose to avoid it. Disagreements don’t get resolved. Hidden agendas prevail. Dysfunction at the top filters down quickly.
If your staff often wonders what’s going on or you feel like your practice is headed in five different directions, perhaps it’s time to look at your ‘executive team’ and focus on process issues. Well-functioning teams discuss issues, such as how well the group is working together, how decisions are being reached, and how well the group is interacting.
Practice success requires a solid vision or Direction, the Alignment of resources to manifest that vision, and a Commitment by all involved to making that vision a reality. Central to this process is the collaboration of the leadership team in a way that leverages the contributions, opinions, and experiences of each partner. Here are some keys to establishing a stronger co-leadership in your practice.
Build relationships. Take time to get to know one another. By creating connections you will look forward to talking and planning together. This is the ‘foundation’, the single most important aspect of the co-leadership model. You have to trust your co-leader! Two or more leaders working together will surely have their differences in leadership style, and they will not always agree or share the same perceptions or interpretations. But when there is mutual respect and trust between them, they will be able to work cooperatively instead of competitively.
Decide how decisions will be made. Agreeing on how to make decisions is a critical component of effective co-leadership. No matter how well “matched” co-leaders are, there are bound to be times that consensus cannot be reached. For example, in a family business where two siblings are co-leaders, the one with expertise in computers has the final say on equipment purchases if there is a disagreement. They both support that decision. Co-leadership requires a win-win frame of mind. It isn’t Bob’s or Jane’s decision; it’s OUR decision.
Conduct effective and efficient meetings. Begin each meeting with an understanding of what must be accomplished and end with an action plan - who will do what by when. Having open lines of communication (phone, emails, face-to-face) is one of the things that makes co-leadership work. Prepare agendas and circulate in advance. Keep meeting notes and distribute the minutes to everyone afterwards.
Learn to avoid being ‘triangled’. One of the biggest problems that co-leaders face parallels what parents encounter. That is, Junior asks Mom if he can sleep over at a friend’s house because he knows she will say ‘yes’ and Dad will say ‘no’. When you are aligned with your co-leaders, you present a united front. It’s good for employees because it conveys psychological safety and that enables them to focus on their work. And it’s good for the practice because you don’t get side-tracked by irrelevant issues. Make it a point to check with one another when important issues come up. This improves the credibility and the respect of the leadership team. You can’t be divided.
Co-leadership can be extremely powerful and effective. When it works, then one plus one equals more than two! But remember, even when there are multiple leaders, there can only be one team.
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at email@example.com
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