Sometimes it’s okay to break the rules

Every new patient starts out as a stranger. So we need to set aside the rule our parents taught us: it is okay – even wise – to talk to strangers.

How are new callers to your practice treated? Do they receive a warm, welcoming greeting and patient, empathetic service… or are they put on hold and made to feel as though they’re interrupting someone’s too-busy day?

Because we rarely get a second chance to make a first impression, our front line staff must be equipped, trained and coached to be a one-person welcoming committee. Consider these techniques:

1. Put a Smile in your Voice
One of our consultants told me that many years ago, as Supervisor of a Hotline Centre with a major insurance company, she had this little slogan affixed to every telephone handset. Corny as it may sound, a caller can tell when you are smiling. Good advice does not go out of style.

2. Perfect the Art of Listening
I frequently quote this line from the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: “Constantly talking isn’t necessarily communicating”. Listening carefully to your callers’ introductory words will guide the conversation and help you set a positive tone from the outset.

3. Be Prepared with a Front Line FAQ
Good service providers are definitely friendly. As important, though, is knowledge and the ability to accurately answer Frequently Asked Questions. A caller’s first question is usually the deal breaker: How soon can you see me? Are you good with children? Can you direct-bill my insurance company? What’s the earliest/latest appointment possible?

Beyond the first questions, staff should be able to recognize common symptoms, probe to fully understand the issue, confidently explain basic procedures, describe your services, and discuss insurance details.

4. Aim to Book an Appointment On the Spot
Like the old saying goes… Strike while the iron is hot! Your goal should be to get an appointment scheduled. Offering an appointment date that falls within 5 days increases the chance of getting the caller to join your practice.

Then, make the data collection process foolproof by creating and using a checklist: name, address and phone number; email address including permission to use it; reason for call/services of interest; preferred appointment times. (Better yet, take advantage of the new patient booking feature built into ABELDent!)

It is good practice to have a back-up available to manage callers if reception is busy with patients. Always ask permission to put someone on hold and then check back quickly. If the caller cannot be immediately served, promise to call back asap. Sitting on hold or waiting through transfers can feel like forever to a caller and lead to a hang-up.

Some people may advise that you ask the prospect how they found you. That is definitely good information to have, as it helps you measure and refine your marketing efforts. But do remember that this detail is for your benefit, not theirs. Respect that the caller’s time may be limited; you can always probe later.

When an appointment is scheduled, close the call by telling the caller that “the team is looking forward to meeting you”.

5. Keep Track of your Callers
If the caller is not ready to schedule right away, by offering an appointment you have opened the door to ask for their contact information and permission to stay in touch. Maintain a database of these prospects. Converting your strangers into patients may require a few calls or emails, maybe even a heads-up when you are offering any specials to your patient base. We all need reminders – some more than others.

The key is to drive home the importance of genuinely welcoming callers, showing interest, offering an immediate appointment and building relationships. I can still hear the words of a wise supervisor from early in my career: “A ringing telephone is not interrupting your work. It is your work.”

Don’t be a stranger.

The Power of Word-of-Mouth: Case in Point

We received an unusual request the other day.

A man called our office to ask if we wouldn’t mind contacting his dentist for him. His problem: Although he was already receiving appointment reminders via email, he wanted to be able to book his appointments online too. “My wife just goes online to arrange hers,” he explained, “and she loves it. It’s so convenient!”

On the surface, the answer seemed simple: Do whatever your wife did to sign up. But we suspected the situation might be a tad more complex. With further probing, we found out that the man and his wife actually go to different dental offices. We then discovered that both dentists run ABELDent, and both use portal.

But where the wife’s dentist appeared to be making use of the full gamut of portal capabilities, including patient booking, we wondered if the other may have only implemented the email reminder function.

The caller hoped that we might have the influence to convince his dentist to start using the online booking feature. We were happy to at least pass along his feedback with a phone call to the dentist. We know how easy it is to put things off – any change can take a bit of time and effort. So a gentle reminder of the benefits can often help (that’s what usually works for me!).
Sometimes, though, a quick call to our customer can reveal that an office is not even aware of the full potential of their portal. It can be a perfect opportunity to get them up to speed with current capabilities and primed for upcoming features like e-statements and patient feedback surveys.

In this case, it was great to learn that the man’s dentist had already booked the training and would be implementing the new function within days. The patient was pleased to hear the news!
For me, this drives home the fact that patients are becoming more and more aware of evolving technology and communication options. It shows that they are willing to go out of their way for the convenience it can bring. And that, at the end of the day… people talk.