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8.22.08 Issue #337 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

Is It The Economy Or Your Front Line That’s Costing You?
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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I know that many of you are concerned about the current economy and the impact you think it could have on your practice. Although it’s easy to fall into the trap of worrying about outside circumstances, the fact is that dentistry is largely recession resistant. Patients still need oral health care; they still have teeth that break, cavities that need to be filled, crowns that need to be diagnosed, etc.

In reality, if patients are not in the chair, the problem probably isn’t so much the economy or some other outside force as it is your practice. That may be a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s actually some of the best news you could get because it’s within your power to fix. Read on.

Let me tell you about Mary Ellen. Her experience is illustrative of what is going on in practice after practice across the country. She’s been working in Dr. Sullivan’s office for about nine months. Mary Ellen is a hard worker. She is very task-oriented and pays excellent attention to detail. Sounds like the type of person you’d like in your own practice, right? Well she would be, were it not for one seemingly small, but significant, shortcoming. She absolutely hates the telephone.

In her view, it is a constant interruption. The people who call always take forever to get to the point. They are never happy with what she has to offer. They have a gazillion insurance questions, millions of treatment questions and umpteen other issues and problems that she doesn’t really know how to address intelligently. As far as Mary Ellen is concerned, the job would be perfect if it weren’t for that ringing, whining telephone.

However, ask her how she thinks she comes across to patients and she’ll shrug her shoulders and confidently assert that her customer/patient service skills are just fine.

And why do you suppose new patient numbers are down, no-shows are up and production is shrinking in this practice? I can almost guarantee that it has little to do with the price of gas. Rather it’s far more likely a result of the fact that Mary Ellen has not had a shred of telephone skills training.

I see this issue time and again in dental practices. The dentist looks at the open appointment times, dwindling new patient numbers and sinking production figures, and blames them on the cost of a gallon of milk, the neighborhood, the weather, the politicians, the economy and any other outside circumstance he/she can come up with. It never occurs to him/her that the hardworking business employee who is managing check-in and checkout, answering the phones, running reports, etc., has erected the Great Wall of China between the practice and prospective patients.

And it’s not because the employees are incapable or unwilling—they simply have never been given the opportunity to learn how to maximize the telephone lines to boost new patients and production. Consequently, they have no idea how poorly they are representing the practice and you, Doctor, have no idea how many patients you’re losing.

This week, I suggest that you invest less energy worrying about what the daily headlines say and more on what your front line says on the telephone. While you’re at it, invest a mere 90 minutes in telephone skills training for the business staff. With just three 30-minute sessions, you’ll develop a top-notch telephone team ready and willing to guide new patients to your practice, handle tricky insurance questions, effectively manage those annoying price shoppers, and masterfully handle virtually any other day-to-day telephone challenge. You can then rest easy knowing your business team is well prepared to make the most of that most important production tool: the telephone.

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