4.9.10 Issue #422 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

“What Do You Want?” and Other Telephone No-No’s
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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I was in the grocery store recently and stopped by the customer service desk to ask about a certain product that the store is frequently out of. The employee behind the counter finished up with someone else then turned to me and asked, “What do you need?” He wasn’t unfriendly, but he wasn’t friendly either. I couldn’t help but think that he clearly had other things that he wanted to get done, and I was yet another obstacle in his way. He didn’t greet me with a warm, “Hello” and ask “How can I help you, today?” Rather, he simply wanted to address whatever “need” it was and move on. His seemingly simple question said a lot more than he probably realized.


I suspect this young man is pretty efficient, and perhaps on this particular day, his list of things to do was longer than usual. Maybe someone had called in sick or didn’t show and he needed to find a replacement quickly. Maybe this was supposed to be his day off. Regardless, it was a clear reminder of how much we can convey, either positive or negative, in just a few words. I marvel at the number of dental practice employees who, like this busy grocery store clerk, give little or no thought as to how they come across to patients and customers, particularly over the phone. Consider these seemingly innocent comments from the employees who are the #1 link to your patients.

  • “We’re really busy right now. Could you just call back in an hour, and we’ll get your new patient exam scheduled right away.”
  • “Doctor requires payment at the time of service.”
  • “I have no idea how to change your appointment. Only the scheduling coordinator knows how to use the new scheduling system and she is at lunch right now.”
  • “I’m sorry, so what was it you said you wanted?”
  • And one of my all time favorites: “Doctor’s office. Please hold.” Click

There are a number of straightforward and easy steps the dental team can take to significantly improve the practice’s telephone skills. But there are four that you can implement immediately and see positive results almost as fast.

1. Answer Promptly
Insist on a two ring policy. When current and prospective patients are calling your practice during regular business hours, including lunch, they expect a human being to pick up the phone. Letting the phone go unanswered or into voicemail reinforces the avoidance reflex in patients – you didn’t answer the phone when they called; therefore, they can avoid scheduling this appointment a little, or a lot, longer.

2. Consistent Greeting
Each staff member should follow a specific and consistent protocol when answering the phone. For example: “Good morning, Dr. Rosemary’s office, Teri speaking, how may I help you?” With the prevalence of caller ID, it is likely that periodically staff will know the caller on the phone. Regardless, the greeting should always be professional. Answering the phone with a, “Hey, what’s up?” or other casual/unprofessional greeting should be strongly discouraged. Remind your staff that whether they know the caller on the phone personally or not, a proper greeting is required. 

3. FAQ Sheets
Many current and prospective patients call the practice for the same reasons such as to schedule an appointment, reschedule, cancel, inquire about a bill, ask about specific services, etc. For one month, keep a log of the most frequently asked questions and prepare answers to those questions that can be posted near every phone in the practice. This will help to ensure that virtually anyone on the team can answer fundamental questions when patients call. For more in-depth patient/practice conversations, prepare specific scripts to help ensure that whoever answers the phone gathers the necessary information from the caller.

4. Talk With A Smile
While I don’t care much for the cliché, it is true that your smile is your best accessory. A smile means everything when working with people. It conveys your personality and, most importantly, your attitude. Speaking with a smile is an essential technique in making a positive phone impression. Research has shown that callers can hear a smile in the tone of voice.  Current and prospective patients want to feel welcomed and have a sense of comfort when they call your practice. Convey that with a smile.

Next week, what your patients really hear when they call your office.

Interested in speaking to Sally about your practice concerns? Email her at sallymck@mckenziemgmt.com. Interested in having Sally speak to your dental society or study club? Click here.

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Dr. Nancy Haller
Dentist Coach
McKenzie Management
coach@ mckenziemgmt.com
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He’s Baaaaaack: Leadership Lessons from the
Buzz at Augusta

The eyes of the world will be on Augusta, Georgia come April 8th. It’s the first golf major of the year. More alluring than the magnolias, however, is the fact that Tiger Woods will be back. After a self-imposed 4 ½-month leave of absence, he’s chosen The Masters as the venue to return to the public stage.

As we collectively critique and analyze Woods' decision, there are no big gasps of surprise. Of course he’s picked the most pristine environment to manage the crowds and media attention. Why wouldn’t he want to take every precaution to maximize a successful return? Selecting Augusta is just plain smart! He’s protecting himself from the skeptics and critics who will try to undermine his progress. This global-icon-turned-tabloid-staple figure made a mess of his life but there’s nothing wrong with stacking the deck for the best possible outcome. Research shows that when you control the process of self-improvement you maximize the probability of success. Tiger’s handlers know that all too well.

Like golf, leadership is a performance activity. It’s about what you do as well as how you do it. It’s about your actions. Even if your reputation’s never been at stake, you face difficult challenges in your work every day. You need to be a source of strength and stability for your patients and employees in order to have a successful practice. Embracing a dynamic process and an open-minded approach to the question, "How can I get better?" leads you down the road to greater productivity and profitability.

Unfortunately, when faced with a goal to achieve, we assume we have to accomplish the goal on our own. Why do we put this pressure on ourselves? This is surely one of the biggest mistakes anyone can make! Tiger didn’t create a plan for image rebuilding single-handedly. He has an entourage of advisers. Engaging others in pursuit of your goals is crucial. In other words, control the process to ensure the best possible outcome.

Personal and professional self-improvement is your responsibility, and as such you need to consciously plan and have realistic expectations. Undoubtedly Tiger knows that he’s in for a rough ride, even if he is starting at Augusta. The journey of a thousand miles starts with one step. What key competencies will have the greatest impact on your life, career or goals? Identify one or two areas you would like to develop.

Enlist every resource you can in helping you achieve your goals. This may include books, articles, seminars or training you need to attend. List the resources that you are going to investigate to help you in your growth. Given the extreme complexity of today’s business environment, direction setting and decision making are way too big for one person to handle. Seek the help of experts who can help accelerate your learning. Determine who will advise, push, cheerlead and support you. Explain your goals to those people and invite them to help you.

If you are trying new behaviors, be sure the atmosphere is affirming and the risks are manageable. Any new behavior you try to learn (or unlearn) will initially be difficult to accomplish. Your body and mind are not used to doing things in the new way. Doing things differently feels awkward. In the beginning, you’re clumsy. Nobody likes being clumsy. Clumsy just doesn’t seem professional. It can be frustrating to feel like you’re a beginner again. Particularly if your well-oiled pattern of behavior is what allowed you to succeed in the past. To find a new ‘comfort zone’ means you need to be uncomfortable for a while. Therefore select people who will be forgiving and supportive in situations that are low-risk.

As you develop greater confidence you have to expand your field of practice… and practice, practice, practice! This means deliberately taking time each day to exercise the new behavior you want to learn. The most important factor is conscious focus for designated short specific practice sessions. Carve out periods of time to intentionally engage in the new pattern of action.

While Tiger's past golf performance has been inspiring, his comeback from this predicament will be even more inspiring. For you, times are tough right now as well. To survive through the recession means being mindful of your behaviors and aligning your actions with your practice vision. You have a choice about how you will respond. You can impact your practice in a powerful way. Plant your feet. Talk more with your employees and your patients. Include others in your decisions. Reach out for support and help. Be hopeful in your thinking and your actions. And swing away!

Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at coach@mckenziemgmt.com

Interested in having Dr. Haller speak to your dental society or study club? Click here.

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Carol Tekavec, RDH
Hygiene Consultant
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The Hygiene Profit Center

In most general practice offices, the hygienist is a “stand-alone” member of the team. This person often works alone in a treatment room and is responsible for radiographs, periodontal charting, local anesthesia, non-surgical periodontal treatment, prophys, fluoride treatments, sealants, oral hygiene education, and maintenance of instruments. In some offices, the hygienist may provide even more services such as laser disinfection of pockets and biological testing.

While hygienists are undoubtedly members of the team, their responsibilities mean that they function somewhat differently than the rest of the staff. Business personnel provide vital support, systems structure and finance implementation. Assistants provide invaluable supporting clinical services and back-up for the dentist. Hygienists, however, provide services that both support the practice and constitute a separate production and profit center for the practice. Hygienists function as separate treatment providers.

What does this mean?  For most offices, this means that the hygienist’s production has a dramatic impact on the financial health of the practice. Couple that with the ability of the hygienist to identify and support patient treatment during the course of a “recall” appointment, and it can easily be seen that a healthy hygiene department encourages patients to receive the treatment they need - therefore greatly enhancing a practice’s bottom line. 

For some hygienists, thinking about their services as a “profit center” goes against the grain. Why is this? Many hygienists are drawn to the profession because of a desire to be of service to patients. They may be aware and strongly supportive of patient care and treatment, but somewhat less cognizant about the relationship between what they do and what the office “makes.” Some may not be comfortable with any idea regarding patient treatment that they associate with “selling.”

This does not have to be the case. Core functions of a dental office include identifying and treating dental disease, plus providing information and tools to patients to prevent further deterioration of their health. These are the services patients need, and these are the services for which an office is paid. Therefore it follows that identifying, treating, and providing tools need not be perceived as selling. These activities are merely part of the function of the practice. With this in mind, there are many ways that a hygienist can truly help patients while also enhancing practice profitability.

1. New patients need to receive a complete periodontal evaluation - which may minimally include radiographs, periodontal charting, the hygienist’s assessment (either at a first or subsequent appointment) and the dentist’s exam. If periodontal disease is revealed, it should be explained and treated. The hygienist’s role in the evaluation and patient education process is essential. Despite the fact that dental insurance only provides payment for basic treatment (which may mean two prophys annually) patients should not be receiving “cleanings” when they really need periodontal scaling and root planing. Hygienists can help patients understand and encourage them (sell them on the idea) to accept complete treatment even if insurance doesn’t pay for it.

2. At recall appointments, the hygienist can identify potential restorative needs the patient has, show them to the patient, and reveal these concerns to the dentist when he or she first enters the treatment room for the exam. This sets the stage for patient acceptance of restorative treatment. The hygienist sees it, the dentist “confirms” it, and the patient feels comfortable going ahead with care because from his point of view, two pairs of eyes have identified his needs.

3. The hygienist can help identify and support patient recall intervals. While many patients expect the traditional six-month recall (and most insurance plans only pay toward this) their individual issues may require more frequent treatment. The hygienist can explain why certain intervals are recommended and encourage patients to accept an individualized schedule.

4. Certain home-care products or tools may be made available at the office for sale to patients. While some “give-aways” such as floss or toothbrushes may be a standard, other items may be set up to be purchased from the practice. The hygienist can help identify which products are beneficial, and subsequently promote their purchase and use.

Next time - Coding for Hygiene Services.

Carol Tekavec CDA RDH is Co-Director of McKenzie Management’s Hygiene Division, a speaker on dental records, insurance coding and billing, and patient communication for McKenzie Management.

 Interested in having Carol speak to your dental society or study club?  Click here

 Interested in knowing more about how to improve your hygiene department? Go Here or Email hygiene@mckenziemgmt.com.

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