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Troubleshooter: Frustrated marketer says practice lacks customer service

July 21, 2021
Unanswered calls, unreachable staff—poor customer service is killing this dental practice. How can everyone get on the same page and get the business back on track?

Nearly everyone has problems and concerns on the job, and sometimes you're just too close to a situation to solve something yourself. Share your concerns with us, and we'll examine the issues and provide guidance. Send questions to [email protected]. To view more Troubleshooters, visit DentistryIQ.com and search "Troubleshooter."

QUESTION: I work part-time for a dentist as the online advertising assistant for his two offices. I work remotely. I have received complaints about his team. They do not answer the phones, and people tell me they can never reach anyone for an appointment. This really hurts his business. Plus, the dentist never receives any of the messages that I leave for him trying to share this information with him. These complaints are killing his business. I honestly don't know what to do. The dentist is a wonderful person who is a great dentist and he himself has good customer service, which is the key in any business. So, I’m at a loss. I appreciate any advice you can share.

You are entirely correct that good customer service is critical to any business. Unfortunately, that service is only as strong as the weakest link in the practice, and it sounds like there are multiple weak links where the chain needs to be strongest. The type of reception and attention patients receive at every point of contact is critical. Still, the most crucial is the first contact, and this dental practice is losing both new and existing patients if they can't even book an appointment.

The practice team may not have been appropriately trained for customer service. It is a sad fact that many dental practices hire indiscriminately for administrative roles because the dentist often doesn't understand the requirements for the position. Sometimes a dentist thinks, "How hard can it be to answer the phone and do data entry?" In today's post-COVID-19 environment, many have found hiring a "warm body" is difficult.

In a health-care environment, poor customer service is known to negatively affect patients' perception of their entire experience. Even if the doctor himself is wonderful, with impeccable skills and an exceptional chairside manner, the poor treatment received from the administrative team will leave patients with the perception that the quality of care is also poor.

You're stuck in the same position as the patients, unable to reach the doctor with your concerns. The team may believe they are protecting him from unwanted interruptions or distractions, or they may know that they are causing the problems and they’re protecting themselves. In either case, getting one-on-one time with the doctor (maybe in a video call if you aren't local) is the first step toward resolving this issue. You must be able to talk to him about these problems and how to fix them. Don't focus on how bad of a job this team is doing because this can result in defensiveness. Instead, offer some solutions. In an ideal practice, the entire team is on board with the marketing plan and aligned with the practice objectives for growth. By getting the team invested in filling appointment slots, you can motivate them and unite the practice to achieve a set goal each month. Talk about ways to make the process easier and more rewarding for everyone and how to set goals, track progress, and measure results.

Remedial training for the team is a good idea. The doctor may not know where to find this training and may not feel qualified to provide it himself. LionSpeak and Front Office Rocks both offer exceptional virtual training for administrative team members. Perhaps one or more team members feel anxious about taking calls, feel that there are too many steps in the process, or are afraid they will forget to ask patients for a critical piece of information. A customized new-patient form to guide conversations for inbound appointment calls could be a game changer.

You can also discuss ways to make the patient intake experience better with automation. Does the practice have a “Schedule Now” button on their website? This would be a relatively easy way to help get patients on the books through self-service options. Once an appointment is booked, an email can be sent with the new-patient intake forms. Ideally, they can fill these out online via a secure portal and upload scans of any physical documents required. Their file can be created before they arrive for their appointment.

This can significantly reduce time spent in the reception area, which is a key pain point across most health-care settings. Just cutting down wait times can raise patient perception of the quality of care before the doctor even sees them. Overall, your success as a marketer depends on whether the practice is on board. Right now, you have the doctor's go-ahead, but the team is clearly disconnected from the practice goals. Getting everyone on the same page is a good start. Good luck!


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Don't be shy! If YOU have a tough issue in your dental office that you would like addressed, send it to [email protected] for the experts to answer. Remember, you'll be helping others who share the same issue. Responses will come from various dental consultants, as well as other experts in the areas of human resources, coding, front office management, and more. These folks will assist dental professionals with their various issues on DentistryIQ because they're very familiar with the tough challenges day-to-day practice can bring.

About the Author

Team Troubleshooter

This weekly column on DentistryIQ features questions from everyday people who work in dental practices, who have issues they would like addressed by the experts. Those who regularly take the time to answer questions include Rebecca Boartfield, Patti DiGangi, Dr. Chris Salierno, Laura Hatch, Karen Daw, Jill Townsend, Lisa Marie Spradley, Shelley Renee, Judy Kay Mausolf, Robin Morrison, Paul Edwards ... and the list is growing.

Send your question or issue for an expert to address to [email protected].. You'll be glad you did.