How to talk to patients: solutions to four common mistakes

April 20, 2010
Fred Joyal gives DAD readers four practical solutions to the common mistakes dental offices make in interacting with patients.

By Fred Joyal, 1-800-DENTIST

1. Answering the phone
This may sound like a no-brainer, but consider this: at 1-800-DENTIST®, one out of every four calls we make to our members during business hours goes to an answering machine. That’s not a great first impression to make on new patients. 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 didn’t leave a message.

Of course, you make 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 in the busyness and challenges of the front desk, friendliness often gets sacrificed for efficiency. This is completely unnecessary. You can be efficient as well as friendly on the phone, so make sure you are.

2. Your initial phone greeting
WRONG WAY:“Doctor’s office.” Worse: “Doctor’s office, please hold.”Even worse:“Drs. Ficklestein, Feinstein, Tabugabi, Green, and Black’s office. Can I help you?”
RIGHT WAY:“Happy Face Dental, this is Connie, I can help you.”
Notice Connie says, “I can help you,” not “Can I help you?” She is the one who can help you. Don’t put people on hold the second they call. Put the person you’re talking to on hold, or get someone else to pick up. If you have a complicated name or a series of names, don’t call your dental practice by your names. You’re not a law firm.

3. Praising the dentist
WRONG WAY: “Don’t worry, the dentists here are usually very good.”
RIGHT WAY:“You know, Dr. Johnson is the best dentist in town, maybe one of the best in the state. I could work anywhere, but I work here because she’s fantastic. I love being here. We love the patients here, but most of all, we’re proud of our doctor and the skills she has and the way she treats people. My whole family comes to her.”
This could happen on an office tour, or anytime when the dentist is not around. The dentist can’t praise herself without sounding arrogant, but the whole team can sing her praises to a nearly absurd level, and it simply gives people reassurance that they’ve made the right choice with the practice.

4. Asking for referrals
WRONG WAY: “We could sure use your help getting us patients. Please tell people about us.”Worse: not saying anything.
RIGHT WAY: “If you’re happy with the care we’ve given you, we’d love to offer that same care to your friends and family if the need arises. Please feel free to recommend us to them.” You are communicating two wonderful things that people love to hear: “We like you,” and “We have something nice that you can offer your friends — us!”

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