Turn that Perpetual Annoyance Into Profit
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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You’re trying to collect from Mr. Swanson and it disrupts your train of thought. You’re checking in patients lined up for their afternoon appointments and it’s buzzing at you. You’re attempting to wrap up the 25 items on your “to do” list but are constantly tethered to it. Its incessant pestering is almost more than you can tolerate. And by the end of the day, you’re ready to snip the life clean out of it. The telephone, that perpetual source of irritation, frustration and disruption, it always rings at the wrong time. For some practices, it seems the thing is just ringing non-stop. How lucky they are, yet few realize their good fortune.
When the telephone rings, it is the opportunity for the practice to shine. However, many dental teams are often so focused on silencing that annoying sound that they give little thought to how this first contact with the patient is handled.
Consequently, seemingly innocuous “greetings” like the standard you’re bothering me now go away greeting, which is typically delivered as, “Doctor’s office, please hold.” Or the why would you think I would concern myself with such trivial details response, “Uh, I don’t know.” Or the it’s your problem, not mine directive, “You’ll have to …” Or the slam the door in their face retort, “Nope, can’t do that, no appointments after 4 p.m.” Or the no I never thought it was important to actually learn proper English answer, “We ain’t open till 8 a.m.” all come across as curt, abrupt, and just plain offensive to the patient.
What’s worse, many practitioners give little thought to how their office is represented to the calling patient. In fact, when it comes to “routine” telephone duty, the all too common attitude among practices is that it’s just a perfunctory exercise requiring little skill.
Before doctors and teams dismiss the first point of contact between the practice and the patients as inconsequential, consider this: Patients’ expectations are higher today than ever before. In a single phone conversation, actually in about 15 seconds, a patient assesses the competency of doctor and team, the quality of the dentistry provided, and whether this practice deserves her business and that of her family.
If your practice is suffering the effects of poor phone communication it’s likely the result of three shortcomings, all of which are easily addressed: lack of training, lack of standard operating procedures, and lack of preparation. Take just a few steps to ensure this all-important line between you and your patients isn’t inadvertently disconnected.
First, the individuals answering the phone do not necessarily need a dental background, but they must possess enthusiasm and come across as genuine and pleasant. They should speak as if they were talking to the person face-to- face using a clear, confident voice that conveys interest.
In addition, practices should establish a standard professional greeting, for example, "Good morning. Dr. Gary Mack’s office, Julie speaking. How may I help you?" The caller should never wonder if they’ve called the right number.
Consider the speaking habits and language skills of those representing your practice. Speaking traits and grammar missteps that are imperceptible or merely ignored in casual conversation become a source of annoyance on the phone. Many people have a tendency to mumble, speak too loudly, or consistently use incorrect grammar. Others speak so softly, they are virtually impossible to understand. Consequently, for the patient, phone interaction with the dental practice becomes a chore, rather than a routine call.
Ask employees who spend considerable time handling patient calls to periodically tape record typical patient conversations and assess their speaking delivery skills. In addition, ask fellow team members to objectively critique recorded telephone presentations.
Evaluate the presentations based on the following points:
- Does the individual convey enthusiasm, helpfulness, and genuine desire to assist the caller?
- Does the business assistant show respect for the caller?
- Does the employee speak using correct grammar?
- Is the voice easy to hear, not too loud, not too soft?
- Are the words clearly articulated?
- Is the vocal tone pleasant, not gruff, shrill, or nasally?
- Is the rate of delivery comfortable – not too fast, not too slow?
Next week make the most of calls to the patient.
Interested in speaking to Sally about your practice concerns? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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