Five easy front desk fixes

Sept. 22, 2009
Author Fred Joyal gives you five easy-to-implement changes you can make at your front desk to change the way patients think about you.

By Fred Joyal

Do your patients smile and seem genuinely glad to see you when they approach your front desk? Do they feel welcome and make themselves at home while they’re in your office? If your patients seem uncomfortable, it’s often because they don’t feel like they’re among people who care about them. Here are five easy-to-implement changes you can make at your front desk to change the way patients think about you.

1. Always answer the phone.

This may sound like a no-brainer, but at 1-800-DENTIST®, it’s our experience that one out of every four calls to a dental office goes to an answering machine -- during business hours. That’s not a great first impression to make on new patients, and don’t think that just because you have an answering machine you’re covered. Think about how many times you’ve heard a call go through to your voicemail and the caller hasn’t left a message.

Of course, you’re making an even worse impression if you answer the phone in anything but a friendly, warm demeanor. It’s common knowledge that people like friendly service. But with how busy the front desk can get and how challenging new patients can be, friendliness can often get sacrificed for speedy efficiency. This is completely unnecessary. You can be efficient as well as friendly on the phone, so make sure you’re both.

2. Call patients personally to confirm appointments.

Most practices already do this, but pay close attention to how you’re doing it. Again, a warm, inviting demeanor makes all the difference. Many practices wait until the end of the day to make confirmation calls. Often, staff is tired and wants to get home, so the calls come off as rote, cold, and mechanical. Your patient doesn’t feel like you’re looking forward to seeing them. They feel like a name on a list. It’s no surprise that many dental practices now use a computer program to confirm appointments, but if your staff is rushing through your confirmation calls, your patients may as well be speaking to a machine.

If you’re using a program to confirm appointments, get rid of it. If your staff is making the calls, make sure they’re doing it right. Tell your patients that you’re looking forward to seeing them and getting caught up on how they’re doing as you check their oral health. The calls can still be brief, but you’ll be astonished how much more of an impact they can have when you inject a little warmth.

3. Offer new patients a tour of your office.

When friends or family visit your home for the first time, you often give them a tour of the house, right? One of the reasons you do this is to help them feel at home, and not surprisingly, a tour of your office can have the same effect on your patients.

When new patients come in for their first appointment, take them on a brief tour after they’ve filled out the intake form. Discuss the doctor’s training and show them his or her diplomas and CE certifications. Take them by the operatories and point out the technology used at the practice, taking time to explain the equipment’s function and how it benefits them. Your ultimate goal is to build a family-like relationship with your patients from the start, while assuring them they’re in good hands and that you go the extra mile to ensure their safety and comfort.

4. Include personal information in your patient records.

This is a big one. One of the best things you can do to show your patients that you care about them as individuals is to make sure you remember some details about their lives. Every time you learn something new about a patient, update the record to include it. Then at the start of each day, take a look at who’s on the schedule and review their records. You don’t need to remember everything. Just one or two small details can go a long way.

Also, while it may be difficult, I recommend committing the details to memory at the start of the day before the patients arrive. Patients can tell when you’re simply reading notes off their chart, and that won’t have the same effect. However, greeting them by asking how their son at Berkeley is doing, or commiserating with them over the Red Wings’ recent loss makes them feel like they’re in the company of a good friend.

5. Reward patients for referrals.

If you implement the first four fixes, you’ll likely start getting more word-of-mouth referrals from your patients. Referrals should always be your best source of new patients, and you should reward referring patients with a small thank you gift. This could be as simple as a handwritten note, a small gift card, or a pair of movie tickets. However, for big-ticket cases such as an implant patient, consider doing something more, such as a gift certificate to a nice restaurant or a good bottle of wine. When you consider how much you’ll profit from that referral, the cost is definitely worth it.

Just make sure that the gift comes off as a sincere gesture of gratitude rather than an incentive. What you want is for referring patients to realize how much you appreciate them and the business they’ve provided you.

This list is just the beginning. There’s much more your front desk can do to help your patients feel like part of your extended family, and most of it can be done with little impact on your bottom line. Remember, as dental professionals we provide a service to our patients, but to really set you apart, provide them with more than just good service. Give them a great experience.

Fred Joyal is the CEO and cofounder of 1-800-DENTIST®, and one of the world’s leading experts in dental consumer marketing. His recently published book, Everything is Marketing: The Ultimate Strategy for Dental Practice Growth, is available at