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09.09.05 Issue #183
Does Your Practice ‘Ring’ of Success?

Sally McKenzie, CEO
The McKenzie Company

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“Good afternoon, doctor’s office.” It’s the first impression of your practice. In a matter of just a few words the person answering your phones has created an image in the caller’s mind and set the tone for how the patient views you and your team. When was the last time you listened to how your phones are answered? Or, better yet, had a friend call during a busy time of day and report back to you how their call was received?

Too many practices underestimate the power of the telephone and the profound impact just a few words and the tone in which they are delivered have on current and prospective patients. Answer the following questions and determine if all lines are open or if your number should no longer be in service.

How many rings does the caller have to sit through before someone will pick up?
After 2 rings, patients are wondering if the office is closed. A real human being should answer your phone by the second ring or it should go into your voice-mail system (NOT an answering machine) by the 4th ring. (Unplug your answering machine and sell it in the garage sale. They are outdated, sound embarrassingly unprofessional, and ring of the ultra-cheap. Voice mail is affordable, professional, and messages can be quickly and easily changed.)

How does your team answer the office phone?
The best approach is, “Thank you for calling Dr. Brown’s office. This is Amy. How may I direct your call?” This standard greeting gives the caller information and provides immediate assistance to address their specific concern.

At what point do you get the patient’s name and phone number?
As soon as the patient is finished talking (never interrupt), the patient’s name and phone number should be reinforced if they have been given. If they have not, name and number should be requested. Obtaining the patient’s name will often secure a commitment from them if they are uncertain about whether they should schedule an appointment. Also request the patient’s address.

Have you ever said, “Please hold” to a caller?
Never put a caller on-hold without asking for their permission, and waiting for their response. “Mrs. Jones, may I put you on hold while I check on that?” How many times have you placed a call to a business and been clicked almost immediately into hold? You cannot even utter a grunt without being cut-off. Putting customers on hold without their consent is rude and inconsiderate.

How long do patients typically have to wait on hold?
Studies show that after only 17 seconds, callers on hold become annoyed. How many patients have you irritated today? However, the patient is far more understanding if the front office employee explains why the patient is being asked to hold and provides the estimated time required. Knowing beforehand how long they can expect to wait reduces the chance of annoyance. Another option is to offer to call the person back within a brief and specific time period.

Do you provide patients information while they are on hold?
Educating the patient is essential in reinforcing the importance of professional dental care as well as informing patients about other services the practice provides. Use specially developed informative messages to tell callers about you, your team, and the services you provide. “On-Hold Messaging” allows you to choose specific messages for your needs such as promoting veneers, or porcelain inlays, or the importance of sealants for young children. You have the flexibility to change your message as often as you like. Most important, studies show callers will happily wait on-hold for more than three minutes if they are listening to useful information.

When you’re talking on the phone and a visitor walks in, who gets priority?
The patient who kept their appointment and is waiting to be greeted gets your attention. That means you need to interrupt the caller. The quickest way to get that caller’s attention is to say their name. “Mr. Smith, I have a patient who just walked in, may I ask you to hold for a moment?” Wait for their agreement. Then acknowledge the patient, tell them you’ll be a moment and wrap-up your telephone conversation.

Cut the line on sloppy phone etiquette, otherwise … “You have reached a number that has been disconnected or is no longer in service.”

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

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McKenzie Management's Seminar Schedule
2005 Location Sponsor Information Topic Speaker
Sept. 9-11 San Francisco, CA California Dental Association 916-443-0505 Successes Sally McKenzie
Sept. 22 El Paso, TX El Paso Dental Society 877-777-6151 Breakdown Sally McKenzie
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
Nov. 10-11 Santa Barbara, CA Dental Education Lab 877-777-6151 Max. Prod. Sally McKenzie
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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