12.4.15 Issue #717 info@mckenziemgmt.com 1-877-777-6151 Forward This Newsletter

Laurie Hardison
Senior Consultant
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How to Keep Front Office Conversations Professional
By Laurie Hardison, Senior Consultant

You just received a call from an unhappy patient – at home. Mrs. Smith is upset because your Front Office Manager, Susan, treated her rudely while trying to collect payment for a past due bill over the phone. Susan didn’t mean to be rude, but she’d had a long day and admits to losing her patience.

Yes, Susan feels bad about what happened – but the damage is done. The patient is unhappy with the practice, and Susan is now nervous about making collections calls.

The fact is, these conversational “oops” moments can happen to anyone on your team, but you can’t simply let them slide. Whoever trips up needs more than a reprimand, especially when their usual patient skills are satisfactory.

When this happens, the team member should call the patient to apologize. In Susan’s situation, she might say something like, “Mrs. Smith, I was definitely out of line, and I apologize.” The apology should be delivered with compassion and sincerity. I suggest practicing the apology before calling to make sure it translates that way. Remember, this isn’t the time to make excuses or be overly dramatic. The team member should apologize and then drop it.

Scripts Can Help
One way to avoid these uncomfortable conversations is to create written scripts. This is a smart way to approach office communications. If Susan had been armed with a script before calling Mrs. Smith, she likely would have stayed on track instead of insulting the patient. Before team members make outbound calls, they should research the account and know the following: 

- Who is the responsible party on the account?
- Was there insurance involved in the payment?
- Was there a payment plan or other financial notes in the chart?
- Were statements received and was there a due date on the statement?
- What payment options and timelines are you willing to offer the responsible party?
- What is your mental state? Are you tired or ill? Calling tomorrow and achieving results is better than calling today and making two people uncomfortable.

Here are a few other common conversational slip-ups that can happen in the dental office and how you and your team members can avoid them:

Forgetting The Patient’s Name 
You see a lot of patients, so it’s not surprising that a team member might forget a patient name from time to time. To avoid this, take pictures of every patient and place them in the patient page in the computer. Devise a plan to associate names with faces. If your patient named Matt looks a little like Matt Damon, use that to help remember his name. It’s also a good idea to add notes about patient interests, hobbies or family to help jar your memory. Remember to say every patients’ name back to them and to engage listening skills to hear it the first time.

Using Dental Jargon
If you want patients to accept treatment, they must understand the value of the care you provide. The more educated they are about the importance of maintaining their oral health the better, but education doesn’t do patients much good if they don’t understand it.

Don’t try to impress your patients with your dental knowledge or use technical language when explaining treatment. This will only leave them feeling confused and maybe even insulted – and less likely to accept treatment. Speak on their level, and educate them on the benefits of treatment and the potential consequences of ignoring problems in their mouth.

Telling Jokes
This is dangerous territory. While you or a team member might think jokes are entertaining, there’s a good chance your patients think they’re out of line. Avoid telling jokes, or you might end up offending your patients, thus sending them to the practice down the street.

The “Tireless Talker”
Some patients like to talk, and the endless chatter can get annoying and keep team members from performing other tasks. You have to be careful here – you don’t want to offend these friendly, chatty patients. Devise a rescue plan and create a signal that alerts team members to these situations. On signal, someone should call the trapped team member on the phone, or come to the front desk to say he or she is needed in the back office.

Another option? The team member can say something like “I’ve taken far too much of your time and I have to call some patients. Perhaps we can talk at your next visit.” This gets him or her out of the conversation without hurting anyone’s feelings.

The more prepared your office is, the less likely your team members will have these “oops” moments when talking with patients. Develop scripts and practice them as a team to create clearly defined office communications. This will help you achieve positive results and provide your patients with excellent customer service – leading to satisfied, loyal patients who are happy to call your practice their dental home.

If you would like more information on how McKenzie's Consulting Coaching Programs can help you implement proven strategies, email info@mckenziemgmt.com

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