What’s Really Being Said on the Phone?
Down the street and around the corner is a little Italian place. It’s a peculiar service mix – part grocer, part diner, part bar, and part private party place. While I’ve often wondered if the owners are trying to be too many things to too many people, what I know is they have the best homemade meat sauce around and their lasagna is amazing.
It is family owned and operated by Maria, her husband, and their two daughters. Daughter “Jessica” is 20-something and always wears a smile. She can tell you anything you want to know and a lot that you don’t about everything the grocer/diner/bar has to offer. Whether on the phone or in person, she’s going to address you as honey, sweetie, kiddo, and nearly every other term of endearment that you can imagine during the conversation.
As they say, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Jessica talks to customers the way her mother does. The difference: The ample, Italian matriarch of the establishment can get away with it, Jessica cannot. She means well. But to virtually anyone over the age of 12, the honey-sweetie routine quickly becomes an annoying distraction, which could easily be misinterpreted as condescending.
It is yet another reminder that regardless of the business, every employee who interacts with customers must master a specific set of communication skills. These go well beyond the vague generalities of “be helpful and courteous.” Certainly, in Jessica’s mind, she is extremely helpful and couldn’t be more courteous. But Jessica is utterly oblivious to the “nails on a chalkboard” effect of her well-intentioned approach.
How do your employees come across to patients? In many cases, the in-person interactions score far better than those over the phone. Well-intentioned employees can unwittingly come across as short, distracted, insincere, rushed, or even rude on the phone. Oftentimes, it comes down to their attitude. Dental teams commonly view the phone with disdain. It is an annoying interruption to more important things. Few realize the powerful impact of this “annoyance” on the total success of the practice. Dentists typically give little thought to the phone. It rings, someone picks up, handles the call, and that’s it.
Then there’s the patient. If they are calling your practice it’s because they are looking to you and your team for help. They may be in pain and need emergency care. They may be new to the area and would like to find a dental home. They may need to schedule an overdue cleaning appointment. They may need to get their child in for a required school dental exam. Regardless of the reason, current and prospective patients are calling with needs and hopes.
They hope the person on the other end will be friendly and understanding. They hope the employee can take care of their situation promptly. They hope that the person who answers the phone will have the answers to their questions. They hope that they will feel good about calling your office.
How well does your team measure up? You think you have a pretty good idea, but until you’ve heard both sides of the conversation, you really don’t know. I recommend you get educated. Dentistry is no stranger to the concept of “mystery patients” as dentists have become increasingly aware of the critical impact that those seemingly small practice/patient exchanges have on the bottom line.
McKenzie Management offers telephone assessments to evaluate the effectiveness of a dental team’s telephone skills on a number of occasions, enabling you to identify exactly what you and your team can do to create immediate positive results. We’ve found that in most cases, once they hear how they actually come across, employees are very receptive to telephone training, which is completed easily over the phone or Internet. Moreover, they have a much better grasp on the value of their role as the patient’s first point of contact. The experience helps both doctors and employees to better understand and appreciate the value of guided or scripted telephone conversations.
Most importantly, the process is often an eye opener for both doctor and staff. That awareness alone encourages improvement and helps prevent further loss of patients and revenues. Are weak or poor phone skills costing you and your practice tens of thousands of dollars? Find out.
Next week, 6 must-have telephone skills for every employee.
For more information on this topic and more, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
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