Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2016 06 Frustrated On Phone 1

Is your answering machine message keeping new dental patients away?

June 21, 2016
Whenever possible, have a real person answer your dental office phones during business hours. But when this just isn't possible, what does your answering machine message sound like to potential patients?

This article first appeared in Dental Assisting & Office Manager Digest. To receive enlightening and helpful articles for assistants and office managers in this monthly e-newsletter, visit

Like most dentists and dental teams, you understand the importance of bringing in new patients, and you know why the phones are the most vital connection to acquiring those new patients. That’s why my Front Office Rocks training offers so much concrete information on how to answer the phones appropriately to help increase your number of new patients. I believe that dental office phones should be answered by a person between 8 am and 5 pm, Monday through Friday. To learn more about why (and get details on the training), visit

However, what I want to address here is the number of new patients you might be turning away each and every day because of flaws in your voice mail message. I’m not an advocate at all of letting your office calls go to an answering machine instead of to a human.

But if you absolutely must do it, I encourage you to think twice about the message on your machine. There’s a good chance your answering machine message is actually turning away new patients. I’ve researched this issue by calling into hundreds of dental offices.

Here is a list of just a few things I hear on a regular basis that are likely turning away new patients, or at the very least, starting your new patient relationships with a bad impression:

“…If you have reached us during business hours, we must be helping another patient, so please leave a message.”

What first impression does this give the person calling your office—that the patient in the office must be more important than him or her? Or maybe your office is too busy and you don’t need new patients. Is that how you want to be perceived by potential new patients? I hope not.

“...Our office hours are Monday 8 to 12, Tuesday 9 to 7, closed on Wednesday, Thursday 8 to 5, and Friday 8 to 2.”

What if potential new patients call your office to make an appointment on a Wednesday? They would immediately hang up and call another dental office because according to your message, you’re not there on Wednesdays. Any good scheduler can get a patient to schedule on another day of the week or time of the day once they find out the patient’s schedule issues. But in this case, you never get the chance to get these patients to schedule because they’ve moved on.

“...We don’t accept cancellations on this voice mail.”

In this case, the problem is not the actual content of what is being said but how it is stated. The choice of words changes the tone of the message, and the tone is just as important as the actual meaning. If your answering machine message focuses on the “rules” of your office in the “mother” tone that makes patients feel like they’ll get in trouble if they break the rules, does this convey a warm and welcoming feeling?

I suggest to every dental office that they carefully listen to their answering machine message. Decide what is necessary to state in the message and what impression you’re trying to give potential new patients. As the saying goes, you don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression. If you’re not able to make that impression with a live person answering your phones, then at least make sure that your answering machine message is not hurting your chances of connecting with new clients.

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Laura Hatch is the founder of Front Office Rocks, a leader in online front office training. Laura has worked with her husband, Dr. Hatch, to start and grow two extremely successful dental practices (one in Baltimore and a current office in San Diego) to million dollar, fee-for-services offices that focus on exceptional customer service and average 80 new patients per month. As the leading authority on dental front office training, Laura has developed training methods that consist of established ideas and practical training that can be easily implemented into any office. She can be reached at [email protected].