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5.2.08 Issue #321 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

Losing Patients? Solve the Mystery
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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Oh, if only you knew … You’re busy working, working, working every day providing the best care you can for patients. From all outward appearances things seem to be just fine. Patients are in the chair, you provide care for them, you like them – well, most of them, anyway. They like you. They come back. Okay, maybe not all of them return but a lot of them do.

Actually, if you look closely, chances are very good you’ll find that not as many come back as you would like to think. In fact, your existing patient base is shrinking. But not to worry, right, because you have a steady supply of new patients coming in, or so you believe until you take a closer look. New patient numbers are dwindling as well. But why? What is happening? Where’s the disconnect?

Oftentimes, patients are lost at precisely the point where the patient experience begins – the telephone. If you were a prospective new patient calling your practice, would you schedule an appointment? Would you feel the staff is welcoming and accommodating?  Would you find your telephone experience pleasant or something you just had to endure on your way to getting in to see the doctor or hygienist? Would everyone who answers the phone be able to answer basic questions about treatment, procedures, insurance? All of those questions are critical to sustaining and building your practice, but few dentists are concerned enough to ask them.

In fact, only 12% of dentists believe the telephone has a major impact on their practice even though it is the only point of entry for new patients. And only 5% of practice staff are trained to properly handle patient phone calls. The vast majority simply wing it. Worse yet, most view the telephone as a necessary nuisance. The truth is that there are days in which if they could cut the line on your practice they would happily do so. After all, it presents a steady string of interruptions and a fair number of routine annoyances.

Yet, if poor telephone protocol causes you to lose just 20 new patients a month and each would have spent an average of $1,000 on dental care a year, that’s 240 patients and nearly a quarter of a million dollars lost.

The telephone is the only entry into the office. For new patients in particular this is precisely where they begin to assess the competency of doctor and team, the quality of the dentistry provided, and whether this practice deserves their business and that of their families. In today’s consumer-driven dental marketplace, the old cliché that you only get one chance to make a first impression couldn’t be truer.

Yet many of you have convinced yourselves that the telephone isn’t all that important, and once patients get in the door they see how really great you and your team are. From your viewpoint, the phone is just, well, the phone. Then there are those of you who simply assume that because Ann is supremely competent surely she comes across well on the phone, or because Spencer is just the nicest person you’re just certain he can handle calls beautifully. Oh, if only you knew... 

How well does your team really manage phone calls from current and prospective patients? The truth is you don’t know until you hear both sides of the conversation. McKenzie Management recently developed a 28-point telephone assessment protocol in which a professionally trained and certified “mystery shopper” calls your practice and assesses the effectiveness of your team’s telephone skills on multiple occasions. You receive a written report as well as a recording of the conversations. 

In the medical community, “mystery shoppers” have been around for several years. Dentistry is embracing the concept more and more as practices have come to realize that they are profoundly dependent upon a satisfied patient base.

The program allows you to be the fly on the wall (so to speak) and hear exactly what transpires between the caller and your employee. But most importantly, the assessment enables you to identify exactly where you and your team can make immediate improvements and see immediate positive results.

Next week, what to do when your “best” is costing you big. 

Interested in speaking to Sally about your practice concerns? Email her at
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