Who’s Really Answering Your Phone?
I never cease to be amazed at how people can look at the same thing and have completely different interpretations. The disconnect can be dramatic, much like the classic optical illusion, in which at first you see either a young woman or an old hag. The lines on the sketch are the same, yet the interpretation of the picture can be completely different. Similarly, in challenging situations we may perceive that we convey a positive and helpful demeanor - but the person on the other side of the issue may interpret our behavior completely differently.
This point was illustrated recently by a company that sought to educate staff on the difference between how employees believed they handled customer service, and what customers actually experienced. Each was asked to describe the best customer experience and explain what made it excellent. Every employee recognized good customer service, and each wanted to believe that they delivered it in their office. But when secretly recorded telephone calls were played of the employees talking to customers on the phone, the room was filled with people who, for the first time, were getting a completely different picture than the one they originally perceived and it wasn’t pretty. However, it demonstrated that even though these individuals understood the value of good customer service, they weren’t necessarily prepared to deliver it.
A similar scenario is common in dental practices across the country. Those handling telephone inquiries from patients often believe that they are being helpful, pleasant, and conscientious, but the reality is far different. Truth be told, most front office staff view the telephone as a source of frustration and interruption. It’s annoying, and oftentimes that irritation comes through loud and clear to the caller. They are not trained to represent the doctor or the office effectively on the phone. Consequently, it’s costing dental practices a fortune in lost patients and lost production.
Consider the following facts that apply to virtually any business providing a service, including dental services:
Do you know how your team members come across on the telephone? If not, find out. While you’re at it, invest in a 90 minute training program that will turn your business staff into a five star, top-notch telephone team without ever having to leave the office. McKenzie Management’s Telephone Skills Training Program addresses the longstanding challenge faced by business staff: maximizing the telephone lines to boost new patients and practice production.
The training process is straightforward and time efficient. The doctor completes a brief questionnaire providing a quick summary of the type of practice and any current policies regarding scheduling of new patients and emergencies. Then the practice schedules time with a McKenzie Management trainer for the three 30-minute sessions – no out of office travel, no overnight expenses required. All the practice needs is a quiet area, a computer with Internet access, and a telephone. From there, the employees log into the training website. And with a McKenzie Management Telephone Skills trainer on the phone, they are guided through the training sessions.
The lessons take place over a three week period to give the business staff an opportunity to implement one aspect of the training before introducing the next. As an added bonus, employees will have the opportunity to learn firsthand how they come across to patients over the telephone. During the training period the practice will receive two additional mystery patient calls to help employees and the doctor assess their progress. After each session, the doctor will receive a feedback form with results of the session, including topics covered, support materials provided to the staff, and recommendations for improvement.
Once employees complete the training they will have the skills to expertly handle patient objections. They will understand how to guide patients to appropriate appointment times. They will be well prepared to make a truly professional first impression with new patients. And they will learn how to better manage those stressful times when the phone is ringing, the patients are standing at the desk, and the clinical staff is making demands.
In most cases, simply educating staff on effective telephone communication can significantly improve their approach and eliminate the disconnect between how employees perceive they are handling these critical calls and the reality patients experience.
PLEASE, Watch Your Practice Scoreboard
Case Study #421
Dr. Martin called me. He was a previous client of McKenzie Management six years ago and we have stayed in touch over the years from time to time. He expressed two concerns – cash flow over the past four months and the training of an “Office Administrator.” This article is about an area that concerns all dentists at many times in their careers – cash flow. Or more specifically – the lack of cash flowing through the office. Upon my revisit to Dr. Martin’s office to address both of his concerns, here were my findings:
So, what should these scores be for a healthy practice to have a healthy cash flow?
The Accounts Receivables should never be more than 1x the monthly NET production. It is also VERY important to exclude credit balances from the total, as this reduces the true balance owed by your patients.
Net Collections should average 98% of net production. 2% written off to bad debt is unfortunately standard in the industry, no matter how good your systems are.
A/R over 90 days should be no more than 10% of the total A/R. Anything more than this should be reviewed to determine if these balances should be turned over to collections because the Financial Coordinator has done all she can do (letters and phone calls) or maybe all these patients are making monthly payments. If that is the case, I would suggest that you re-construct your Financial Arrangement to only extend monthly payments for 3-6 months with a credit card authorization. Even this is risky, and should not be offered unless the patient is long-standing in the practice and has a good history of paying their statements.
Outstanding Insurance Claims over 60 days should be ZERO! I actually visited an office recently that had no claims over 30 days. I thought I had generated the report incorrectly. Upon further inquiry, I discovered that they are calling at 15 days past due. Good for them!
Over-the-Counter Collections should average around 45% of net production. There are exceptions to this, such as specialty practices. You can easily determine what percentage of your practice’s income is coming from insurance companies by reviewing your Payment Summary Report/ADA by Production Code Report/etc. Every dollar that is not insurance should be from the patient at the time of service (over the counter). This is assuming that your practice is collecting around 98% of the net production and your insurance claims are under control.
So what happened to Dr. Martin? He stopped looking at the scoreboard! He admitted that after years of reviewing the practice statistics, he had become bored of looking at the “same old, same old” information. For the past 4 months, he did not review them at the monthly meeting. Since he wasn’t asking for the statistics, his Financial Coordinator wasn’t sharing them with him. When I revealed them to him, he was shocked! Just seeing over $40,000 in outstanding insurance claims was enough to help him understand what happened to his cash flow, let alone the other facts that we reviewed.
The Importance of Watching Your Scoreboard
For all the dental practices out there that don’t have a scoreboard in the practice, shame on you! How do you even know how your team is doing if you don’t look at the score? Your guide is the fact that you can cover your payroll without your payroll checks bouncing, right? You can pay all your bills and fund your retirement… that is your scoreboard. That still doesn’t mean that you are winning the ballgame.
I worked with a practice recently where the doctor felt that his business team was not doing as good a job as they should. It appeared that they were always happy and having a good time, but he was concerned and worried about their performance. He had no idea what the score was because he didn’t have a scoreboard. Once we hung the scoreboard and taught everyone how to read the score, he discovered that they were winning the game, and enjoying it at the same time. What a great way to play!
Please – hang your scoreboard and keep score. Be an informed coach instead of a backseat cheerleader and take your team to victory every month.
Telephone Skills for Difficult Situations
We all know that the telephone is the lifeline to the practice. It is the patient or potential patient’s first impression of the business and often the deciding factor in making an appointment. It does not stop there in the building of patient relationships. Patient retention is also governed by how we handle the difficult situations that arise over an office policy or between the patient and a staff member. A system with scripting on how to handle problematic events is good customer service and a necessary tool for your office.
Every caller is different. People experienced in customer service learn to recognize these differences and adjust their responses accordingly. In the dental practice, challenging calls can be attributed to the usual billing and insurance issues but can also be about treatment options, post-operative concerns and feedback on how the patient was treated by a staff member. Defining the caller’s behavior will help give an idea as how to manage the call. The basic behavior patterns are:
Let’s take a look at The Angry Caller, who is a challenge to even the most experienced Business Coordinator. Separating yourself and not going on the defensive are important skills to learn. Follow this course of action:
The Demanding Patients will show themselves by trying to take control of the conversation in the first sentence. They are very clear in what they want and may catch the usually very accommodating business coordinator off guard with their no-nonsense directness. They want to get down to business and want to be assured that there will be immediate call to action. Try this approach:
The Analytical Caller is focused on accuracy and wants every step of the treatment explained so that they can digest it and give value to it. They want to know the “who, what, why, when and how” of their treatment. If time was not given to this type of patient during the diagnosis and treatment-planning stage of the office visit, you can expect them to call later. If the Clinical Assistant or Treatment Coordinator is available, you can transfer this call to make sure the information is accurate or you can schedule a call-back after research is done on the patient’s proposed treatment plan.
The Talkative Callers want attention and they are usually friendly and enjoyable to speak to. You may be very busy and not able to spend the time that they want in a conversation. Use the following to remain in control:
Want to improve your patient’s experience? Sign up today for McKenzie Management’s Advanced Business Training and become more skilled in patient relations.
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