Recently a blurb appeared in the news about a sinkhole in Brooklyn, New York that swallowed an SUV. According to the Associated Press report, a city street collapsed under the vehicle, leaving it barely visible inside the large hole. Thankfully, no one was injured. Over time, the soil beneath the street had been washing away. But it wasn’t until the earth gave way that anyone realized there was a problem. Worse yet, the damage to the area transportation infrastructure likely extends well beyond that great big gaping hole.
Unfortunately, that’s frequently how it is. Oftentimes we don’t realize there’s a problem until we’re facing a crisis. We don’t see the foundation of something we depend upon washing away because outwardly everything looks fine or it’s so much a part of our routine that the possibility that some aspect of it needs to be changed or fixed never even crosses our minds.
Such complacency prevails in many practices when it comes to day-to-day patient interaction. Dental teams discuss scheduling, finances, appointments, treatment with patients day-in and day-out, yet few give any thought to how these everyday exchanges could be slowly eroding the effectiveness of the systems and the profitability of the practice. Why? Because they are “routine” and likely they’re handled with little thought or preparation. Seldom do dental teams think about the words they choose. Rarely do they consider how rephrasing a routine exchange with a patient could elicit an entirely different response. Hardly ever do they consider that the words they are choosing send an entirely different message than the one they intended to communicate.
When it comes to day-to-day patient communication, little thought or planning goes into it. Rather the focus is typically on completing the task and not necessarily on completing it effectively.
Here’s the typical scenario: Jane, the Scheduling Coordinator, is expected to confirm appointments. It’s on her “to-do” list every day, and being a task oriented person she wants to get that task done so she can enjoy the satisfaction of scratching it off the list. Jane calls Mrs. Madison and following her typical approach, the conversation goes something like this, “Good Morning, Mrs. Madison. I was just checking to see if you’ll be in for your appointment on Thursday.” Mrs. Madison, responds with “No, I need to cancel that. I will call back to reschedule.” Jane concludes with a hearty, “Thank you for letting me know,” and promptly goes on to the next call, that much closer to completing today’s tasks.
If you’ve been growing more concerned about those sinkhole-size openings in the schedule, if you’ve been puzzled by the problems with patient retention, if you’re starting to worry about cash flow and just can’t understand why things aren’t where you believe they should be, it may be time to script a different scenario for your office. Those routine exchanges between staff and patients, those perfunctory phone calls, those everyday interactions may be slowly eroding the foundation of your practice.
But be prepared for some resistance. Say the word “script” to the dental team you may well be greeted with a chorus of groans, a fair number of “you-must-be-kiddings,” as well as a smattering of sneers and sideways glances. Somewhere along the way, the idea of the script became taboo. The typical response to the mere suggestion of scripting is, “We’ll sound canned.” Or, “It won’t sound natural.” “What if I mess up my ‘lines.’?”
Not a surprising reaction, after all, you’re suggesting a change in how things are done, so resistance is to be expected. Not to mention the fact that recommending scripting indicates that something is wrong with the way staff handles patient communication now. Scripts are often mistakenly viewed as barriers to natural conversation when, in reality, they are tools for effective communication that build patient relationships and keep systems on track.
Next week, stop sinking and start scripting.
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