Thursday Troubleshooter: How to get team to help sole front office person with busy phones?

This frustrated front office manager would like help from the team when multiple phone calls come in at the same time. How can she encourage this teamwork?

Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2015 02 Dental Office Stress 1

QUESTION: Help! I work the front office for a single provider by myself. When we have multiple calls come into the practice at the same time, the team will not help me answer them. When I ask why they did not pick up the phone, they say they were busy or they thought I would get it. They do not always have a patient in the chair when this happens, so I know that can’t be their excuse. How do I make them understand the importance of helping me man the phone?

Dental Office StressANSWER FROM JAN KELLER,Jan Keller & Associates:
This is a difficult situation, and you're certainly not alone. Many small offices struggle with similar issues. I suggest that during a morning huddle you discuss at what point during the day the phones are unusually busy, and that assistance from other team members would be helpful.

Ask the doctor for help. He or she can ask the team to assist each other by answering the phones if they hear them ring more than three times. Everyone needs to keep in mind that helping each other helps the practice. Everything is about the patient, but often team members get lost in the busyness of their day and feel that some things are not their “job.”

A ringing phone is the lifeline of the practice, and the doctor may need to remind the team of this. It’s an opportunity for team members to be of service, and an opportunity to grow the practice, and this will ultimately benefit the team. Without patients there’s no reason to have team members because there will not be any business. Identifying a challenge in the practice, such as team members not helping by answering the phone, is an opportunity to work together to find solutions.

ANSWER FROM LISA MARIE SPRADLEY,The “Front Desk Lady” of TCB Dental Consulting:
I feel your pain! I worked the front office for many years by myself, and I often felt like a "one man army." I know the frustration of waiting for someone to answer the phone while I talked to another patient. Most of us probably know the frustration of an unanswered phone, or having a call go to an answering machine in the middle of the workday.

Everyone on the team should be able to answer the phone, schedule appointments, and at the very least, take a message if the call is about something they’re unsure of. This does not mean that they come and talk to you while you’re on the line with another call. Team members need to respect each other and patients enough not to interrupt each other when they’re with a patient unless it’s a true emergency.

My advice is to address this issue at the next team meeting and work out a plan that will take care of patients first and foremost, and help you focus on one patient at a time. Keep this simple and have guidelines for everyone to follow that address good telephone techniques. For example, when multiple phone lines ring, every team member will answer the phones as needed. Tell them to be sure to note the following information — who is calling, a good call back number, what the call is regarding (if it is to confirm or schedule an appointment, take it to avoid a call back), and if necessary, make chart notes regarding information shared during the call.

Once you have these guidelines in place, make sure that everyone is comfortable with how to answer the phone. Simple things such as "May I help you" and not "Can I help you" are important. Remember that everyone's actions, words, and attitudes are a reflection of the practice, and you want to make sure that you set the bar high with your telephone skills when any patient calls. Making these guidelines and holding everyone accountable to help out as needed will help the practice and you give your patients the attention and care that they deserve!

RECENT THURSDAY TROUBLESHOOTERS:
To have a sign-in sheet, or not to have a sign-in sheet?
How can team member stop malicious gossip?
What to do about perpetually late dentist?

Send your questions for the experts to answer. Responses will come from various consultants associated with Speaking Consulting Network, Academy of Dental Management Consultants, or Dental Consultant Connection. Their members will take turns fielding your questions on DentistryIQ, because they are very familiar with addressing the tough issues. Hey, it's their job.

Send your questions to megk@pennwell.com. All inquiries will be answered anonymously every Thursday here on DIQ.

More in Patient Relationships