Answer Phone

Are your dental patients quietly disconnecting?

Nov. 7, 2013
The phone call can make all the difference to new patients

By Sally McKenzie

Reprinted with permission from Sally McKenzie and McKenzie Management.

From all outward appearances things seem to be just fine in your practice. Patients are in the chair, and you provide good care for them. They like you. A good number of them come back. In fact, you’re pretty darn sure that a lot of them come back. Illusions are so comforting, until we pull back the curtain.

Chances are very good that if you don’t keep a close watch on your patient numbers, you’re losing more patients than you think. As you read that sentence, you probably quickly reassured yourself that it’s okay if you lose a few patients here or there because you’re confident that new patients are scheduling all the time.

Then you muster up the courage to take a closer look, and you discover that not only are existing patients not returning, there aren’t as many new patients as you thought. Why? What’s happening? Where’s the disconnect?

Oftentimes, patients are lost at precisely the point where the patient experience begins – the telephone. Certainly with email and text messaging, phone communication may be reduced somewhat. However, in our increasingly impersonal world, many current and prospective patients still like to talk to a real person. Thus, the telephone remains every bit as important as your website.

But if you’re like many of your colleagues, you don’t really have a sense of how effective your staff is on the phone. Frankly, if you are totally honest, you’ve probably never given it much thought. After all, “it’s just the phone,” you reason.

Dentists commonly view the phone as a perfunctory duty. It rings, someone answers it and schedules an appointment, and that’s it. In fact, only 12% of dentists believe the phone has a major impact on their practice, even though it is still the most common means for new patients to schedule appointments. And only 5% of practice staff is trained to properly handle patient phone calls. The vast majority of staff members simply wing it.

Doctors are usually so focused on what’s happening in the treatment rooms that they have a misguided belief that the patient’s time in the chair dictates how patients feel about the practice. The doctors could not be more wrong.

Yet, they shake their heads in bewilderment at the open appointment times, dwindling new patient numbers, and sinking production figures, and blame it all on the price of gas, the neighborhood, the weather, the politicians, the economy, and more. It never occurs to them that the staff is unwittingly disconnecting the practice from the patients.

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Few dental employees realize the powerful impact the phone has on the total success of a practice. Truth be told, many would happily cut the line if they could. Why? Staff commonly view a ringing phone as an annoying interruption rather than an opportunity to connect with those upon whose business the practice is dependent. They have little comprehension of how that negative attitude comes across loud and clear to the people on the other end.

It’s not that these employees are incapable or unwilling to manage phone calls effectively, they simply have never been taught how to maximize the phone lines in order to build solid patient/practice relationships and boost new patients. It is not uncommon for otherwise very capable dental employees to drive new and existing patients away because they have never been trained to effectively communicate on the phone.

When was the last time you examined how your team comes across on the phone? If you were a prospective new patient calling your practice, would you schedule an appointment? Would you find the staff welcoming and accommodating? Would you find your telephone experience pleasant, or is it something you had to endure on your way to an appointment? Would everyone in your office who answers the phone be able to answer basic inquiries about treatment, procedures, insurance? Knowing the answer to these questions is critical to sustaining and building your practice.

After all, if poor telephone protocol causes you to lose 20 new patients a month, and each would spend an average of $1,000 on dental care a year, that’s 240 patients and nearly a quarter of a million dollars. Maybe it’s time for you to tune into what’s happening on your phones. If you would like my team of telephone specialists to tune into what’s happening on your phones, click here.