By Susan Kulakowski, Director of Pratice Enhancement
The telephone is the most important instrument in every dental practice. It is your lifeline to the outside world. How it is handled impacts your success. It’s amazing how many dental practices still have voicemail answering like this:
“Thank you for calling Dr. Jones office. Our office hours are Monday thru Thursday from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. If you are reaching this recording during regular office hours, we are busy providing excellent service to another patient.”
This can be the kiss of death.
Dentistry is a competitive health care industry. In medical, if a patient is sick or has a broken arm he or she will accept whatever customer service is dished out. Not so in dentistry.
New patients, the lifeblood of a healthy dental practice, will select you based on how they are handled on the telephone.
You have only one opportunity to make a great first impression. Excellent telephone techniques are crucial. The person answering the telephone can be highly effective after mastering five tones of voice:
1 Friendly. It is discouraging to call an office when the person answering sounds like a female drill sergeant: “Doctor’s office, hold please” click, with “Proud Mary keep on ‘burnin’” pounding away in the background. The nicest way to answer the phone is, “Thank you for calling Dr. Smith’s office, this is Susan, how may I help you?”
2 Enthusiastic. Have you called an office and the person on the other end sounds like they are annoyed or half asleep? Enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm. It sends the message, “I love my job, and I am happy to be here to help you.”
3 Knowledgeable. The person answering the phone has to sound knowledgeable and provide accurate information. New patients often ask where the doctor got her or his degree, how long the dentist has been in practice, if they can get an appointment immediately for an urgent problem, if they can come in “just” to get their teeth cleaned, if the dentist takes their insurance, and what the dentist charges for various procedures. New team members answering the telephone must be trained to readily answer these types of questions, as well as questions about clinical procedures. “I’m glad you found Dr. Smith’s blog about cosmetic dental procedures. She’s completed hundreds of cases and taken lots of postgraduate courses to stay up to date with the best evidence based dentistry. She takes pride in all her dentistry being both optimally functional and esthetic so you will happy with the results long into the future. Your interest in porcelain veneers indicates we should schedule a preliminary consultation and exam so she can determine if veneers or, perhaps, another type of treatment would be better for achieving the results you want.”
4 Personable. On most occasions, it will be the woman of a household calling to find a dentist for not only herself but also other family members. Even though women are aware consumers who do lots of research, social relationships also impact their decisions. Personalizing the phone conversation can have immediate positive impact, for example, “Dr. Smith has been practicing in Tulsa since she graduated from dental school at the University of Oklahoma in 1999. I love working here so much that I have been here since day one. Since we will be having the pleasure of meeting you for the first time and getting to know you and the current state of your mouth, our doctor is going to want to spend time with you. One of our new patients was just diagnosed with oral cancer that was spotted a result of a cleaning and exam. Another one appeared to have diabetes that was confirmed by her doctor. We’re all on high alert here for helping our patients to live long, healthy lives. I can schedule you for a cleaning and new patient exam as early as next week…Great! If you have any questions about your teeth or past dentistry, Dr. Smith will want to answer them. She’s really quite friendly and so knowledgeable that I think you will love coming here.”
5 Empathetic. If a patient has been up all night with a toothache, does the person answering the phone have the ability to put herself in the patient’s shoes? Are your clients always given the kindness and compassion they deserve? Do they hear empathy and assertiveness to quickly solve the problem? “Mrs. Jones, I am so sorry you have been up all night. How soon can you be here?”
Reflect on this and observe your team at work. Then, ask yourself, “Is telephone coaching needed?”