Telephonegirl Dreamstime

Phone line fishing for new patients

Feb. 17, 2014
Dr. Chris Bowman talks about what he believes is the most valuable piece of equipment in the dental office and how it directly contributes to the success of the practice. He offers a nearly flawless strategy to convert prospects into patients with no additional expenses, in a way that will maximize your new patient numbers, the return on your marketing dollars, and your top and bottom lines.
What’s the most valuable piece of equipment in your dental office? I’ll give you a hint — every office has at least one. Here’s another hint: it’s not used to directly deliver dental care. However, the manner in which this critical piece of equipment is used can make or break the success of any practice.

Here’s the answer: the TELEPHONE!

If you think about it, virtually every patient who enters your dental practice has contacted you via the phone to get information and schedule an appointment. Even if the patient initially contacted you via email, chances are he or she hasn’t reserved an appointment with you yet until you actually speak on the phone.

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In dental circles that first phone call from a prospective new patient is often referred to as the “new patient phone call.” I disagree completely. Here’s why.

In actuality, the person calling your office for the first time is NOT a new patient until his or her posterior is sitting on your dental chair’s shiny vinyl upholstery! Let’s instead call this person a PROSPECT. This distinction is critical to understanding what really needs to be done on the phone to convert this “prospect” into a real live “new patient”!

Yes, I said convert. When people call your office, they’re checking you out … testing you … trying to determine if they made a good decision in calling your office. Everything you say and do while on the phone with a potential new patient is crucial, but it’s easy to learn the right things to say and do.

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It’s kind of like fishing. You’re sitting there in the boat (your practice), with a couple of lines in the water (referrals, marketing, etc.) … and suddenly the fishing line jiggles (phone jingles). Get it?

You’ve got a “bite”! Better grab it in a hurry, or you could lose it (answer within one to three rings). Now you don’t know if you’ve got a “nibble” or a “hard strike” on the other end, do you? So you need to handle each “bite” very carefully. Otherwise you could lose your chance to “get the fish in the boat.”

When prospects call your office, it’s a similar situation. You never know if it’s going to be an “A-plus” patient, an “F-minus” patient, or somewhere in between. Even on that first phone call, it’s almost impossible to know for sure, no matter how the person sounds.

Yeah, yeah, you may think you know, but you’ll be wrong more often than not.

Don’t believe me? Well, have you ever been surprised by a patient who completed all of the recommended treatment when you thought they never would do the first thing? Have you even been shocked that a seemingly “great” patient never moved forward with the care he or she needed?

YES to both! That’s my point. You never really know until you have a patient in the chair and until you’re able to give that patient the opportunity to accept your best care. So, if that’s the case, wouldn’t it make sense to offer your best care to as many patients as possible?

Of course! Yet there are critical errors that I see in so many practices … errors that cut the legs right out from under a practice in terms of new patient numbers. And the fix for this HUGE problem is rather simple … IF you first agree that there is a problem.

I’m talking about “the S word” … SCREENING phone calls from potential new patients. Or, any attempts to “weed out” potential “bad patients” to find only the most “ideal” new patients. It is perhaps the most damaging practice that can occur in a dental office, because it robs you of new patients and the resulting opportunities that could easily be obtained at ZERO extra cost!

It’s as if you were fishing and you got a “bite” on the line … but you CUT the line before reeling in the fish! You never got a chance to see if the “fish” was worth catching. Heck, you could always “throw it back” if you didn’t like it!

Instead of “cutting the line,” I’m going to share with you my secrets of reeling them in! That way you’ll get a chance to be in front of more people who can benefit from all the great things you can do for them.

The key here is to abolish the “screening” mentality … and adopt a “reel ’em in” mentality. You must first get rid of all those questions that were developed to filter out the patients you think you won’t want. Remember, you really won’t know the truth about new patients until you meet them and they meet you.

Instead of rattling off the endless list of questions not to ask, I’ll go through my recommended checklist of things you NEED TO DO … plus exactly how we get it done in my practice. You’ll be surprised to find what’s absent from the list!

1. Take control of the call. Simply put, “he or she who asks is in control.” You want to avoid what I call “verbal tennis,” when the caller serves up questions and you merely volley back the answers without doing anything else. You see, once the caller stops serving (asking), the call is over, and you’ve gotten nowhere. Instead, if you are asking, you get to ask what you want and you control the call!

2. Find out what they want fast. You can’t give them what they want until you discover what it is, so ask. Here’s how we do it.

A. Verify the obvious. “It sounds like you’re looking for a new dentist, am I right?” Ask this in response to virtually anything the caller says, because it cuts to the heart of what the caller wants … a new dentist. So simple, so effective! We’ve never gotten a “no” to that question! Next ...

B. Uncover what’s important. “What things are most important to you in choosing your new dental office?” Again, an easy, direct way to find what they want … and what they don’t want. If they answer with anything at all that is within our scope of services, our reply is: “That’s right up our alley, and one of the things we focus on here! I’m so glad you called!” This reaffirms their choice to call us.

C. Clarify the primary request. Go back to the first thing the patient asked about, and address it. Often the first two questions above “seal the deal” for the caller, because they are so impressed that we would actually ask WHAT THEY WANT, instead of telling them what we do … and don’t do. Their initial request usually becomes less important to them after this!

When we ask these very basic questions in my practice, the prospect instantly becomes magnetically attracted to us, because we are the only ones who will ever ask these questions that put the prospect first! What’s more, the person is frequently so blown away by our perceived kindness that he or she sometimes even refers others to our office before the first visit! No joke … this really happens.

3. Get contact info. On more than 90% of calls answered by dental offices in blind surveys, no one even asks the prospects their name! Not only should you ask for and use the caller’s name, you should also immediately get their phone numbers (home, work, cell, fax), mailing address, and email address. Get their referral source as well. Yes, all of it!

You’ll have all the info you need to contact this person at any time about anything. Second, if they DON’T schedule, you can still market to them via any available means over the next 90 days to a full year. This will dramatically increase the percentage of callers who become new patients! Some just aren’t ready the first time they call.

4. Invite early and often. Throughout the call, find ways to ask the prospect to schedule. And don’t stop with just one attempt. I’ve found the most effective technique to schedule a prospect is to give them two choices, both of which involve scheduling. Here are a few of my favorites:

“That sounds like something the doctor would want to see right away. Would Tuesday at X or Wednesday at Y work best for you?”

“Is it more important for you to get in soon for the doctor to check something specific, or to get a lot accomplished when you are here?”

“We reserve time exclusively for new patients so you won’t have to wait too long to get in. Would you prefer something this week or next?”

5. Tell ’em what you can do! Please do not focus on what you can’t or don’t do. Let the caller know what to expect during the first visit, so that expectations are in the right place. Offer clear directions, and thank him or her for choosing you.

That’s it! It’s simple, it’s quick, and it works! No need to get bogged down with any other unnecessary details. Sure, there will be other questions and details to cover in a “new patient call.” But there’s no need to bring anything else up unless the patient does. Get the patient scheduled!

This strategy is a nearly flawless way to convert prospects into patients … with no additional expenses. In doing so, you’ll maximize your new patient numbers, the return on your marketing dollars, and the numbers on your top and bottom lines!

Chris Bowman, DDS, is a full-time practicing dentist, speaker, author, and dental coach/consultant from Charlotte, NC. He has lectured nationally and internationally on topics such as practice management, marketing, and advanced dental communications. Also a Six Month Smiles clinical instructor, Dr. Bowman’s mission is to empower dentists to be more successful. For more information on maximizing phone skills in practice and other resources, go to Photo credit: copyright