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09.02.05 Issue #182
On Hold? Silence isn’t Golden

Sally McKenzie, CEO
The McKenzie Company

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Wanna know how to tick off about 60% of your calling patients? Actually, you are already doing a darn good job of this without any extra instruction from me. In fact, it’s pretty much standard operating procedure in practice after practice across the country. What’s more, most of you have mastered this technique so well you can usually accomplish it in about 30 seconds or less.

Thirty seconds – seems like no time at all, yet when you are waiting for something to happen - be it sitting in the drive through lane at the fast food joint, waiting for the results of a medical test, idling at a stoplight, or stuck on the telephone waiting on hold in silence - 30 seconds is an eternity. And the majority of callers – your patients – won’t sit and wait for long. In that short half-a-minute time span, your practice is likely to exasperate 60% of callers. In fact, after a mere 17 seconds of silence callers are annoyed.

Even worse, more than half of those tossed into on-hold oblivion will not give you the chance to prove you or your team is worth their wait. In fact, a survey of 10,000 callers found that of those who were placed on silent hold for just one minute, more than half hung up. And how can you blame them, you know what it’s like. The deafening silence of “on hold” screams that time is slipping by and there are much more important things to do than sit and wait for someone, anyone, to retrieve you from this state of telecommunication limbo.

But what are you supposed to do? Placing callers on hold is a necessary element in any business, so how can you keep the patient on-hold holding on? While you may consider on-hold music to be a step in the right direction, your idea of beautiful melodies may be my idea of fingernails across a chalk board. And if you happen to forget to pay those licensing fees to air the local radio station or music CDs then you’re breaking the law. Instead of pushing your patients’ buttons, try piquing their interests. Use the opportunity to educate them about you and your services.

Overwhelmingly, callers who receive information while they are on hold will stay on the line. In fact, 98% will not only remain on the line, they will estimate their wait time to be considerably less. What’s more, they are willing to wait up to three minutes longer – now there is a captivated audience. But they won’t sit and listen to just anything. A generic catch-all message can fast become audio wallpaper that is as much an annoyance as that continuous loop of elevator music.

Use on-hold to hold your caller’s attention. For example, during the on-hold message educate patients about the doctor, where she/he went to school, what continuing education programs he/she recently completed. Give a synopsis of special services such as whitening or veneers that the practice may offer. Note continuing education programs that employees have recently completed. Use the messages to talk about what doctor and team do best, such as offering the gentlest dentistry, comprehensive services, a spa-like atmosphere, etc. As a team, evaluate what you do well and share that information with callers. Work with a reputable company, such as On-Hold Messaging, which specializes in on-hold messages that are tailored specifically for your practice. The company you choose should help you pinpoint the most effective messages for your callers and ensure that the content is kept current and captivating.

Break the silence for your patients, it’s certainly not golden for your practice. Next week, what does your phone communication say about your skills and your services?

If you have any question or comments, please email Sally McKenzie at

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Oct. 14 Riverside, CA Riverside Implant Study Group 951-279-7847 Top Issues Sally McKenzie
Oct. 20-21 Santa Barbara, CA Dental Education Lab 877-777-6151 Max. Prod. Sally McKenzie
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Nov. 18-19 Griffin, GA Endo Magic Root Camp 877-478-9748 Top Issues Sally McKenzie
Dec. 1 Cincinnati, OH Cincinnati Dental Society 513-984-3443 Breakdown Sally McKenzie

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