The 30-Second Difference by Sarah Suddreth

Dentaltown Magazine

Potential patients are calling—are you meeting their needs?

by Sarah Suddreth

A woman has just moved to town and suddenly experiences sharp pain in her molar. She thinks she has broken her crown, and after a doing a brief Google search she reads your office’s stellar reviews and decides to call. After five rings, she’s greeted with an abrupt “please hold” and patiently waits for the receptionist to come back on the line. By the time she hits three minutes on hold, she hangs up and calls the next practice on her list.

This scenario is all but unique: Dental practices consistently struggle to get callers off hold quickly. In fact, hanging up while on hold is the No. 1 reason patients are unable to receive help on the phone. The average patient will wait only 30 seconds on hold, in a call queue or listening to rings before hanging up. Patients have more options than ever for their dental needs, so it’s crucial for practices to provide a five-star first impression by minimizing hold times.

Here are three tips to minimize hold times and increase booking rates:

1. Evaluate your staffing needs.
Industry norms indicate that early mornings and lunch hours have especially high call volume times, particularly on Mondays. These high call volume hours often overlap with high traffic in the office; many times, offices and contact centers struggle to properly staff their teams to match these peaks in call traffic. This results in longer hold times, more short-tempered staff and a poorer phone experience for patients.

Reflect on the hours in your own offices: Is there anything unique to your schedule that would make your rush hours differ from first thing in the morning and during lunch? If you’re open on the weekends or evenings, is this your peak call volume? Are a lot of calls coming in Wednesday morning after the Tuesday night hockey games?
To understand your peak call volume time and the impact it has on connecting your calls, try tracking these metrics for at least a month to understand the unique ebb and flow of your office. This minimizes outliers, such as holidays or short-lived discount campaigns, and also highlights if connection is a challenge during times of low call volume.

Once you have a clearer understanding of your call volume and connection performance, make sure the scheduling of your staff is structured to meet your office’s call demands. Often, plugging in part-time employees to your full-time staff to meet demand will allow you to cover high-volume periods without having an excess of employees when traffic slows. Furthermore, staggering lunch during slow hours and ensuring you have a full staff during your peak volume times gives you the best chance of connecting more callers.

2. Consider call routing tools.
Implementing call routing techniques such as a custom phone tree or a multiring setup is another tactic to minimize or eliminate hold times.

A phone tree is a prerecorded voice that greets callers and asks them to choose a number that corresponds with a reason for calling. (“Press 1 to schedule an appointment, press 2 to reach billing. ...”) The tool is particularly useful if your front office staff doesn’t handle calls regarding billing and treatment plans or questions for the dentist. Don’t let your front desk team act as an answering service that spends time transferring phone calls; implement a phone tree to do that for them so they can focus on what they do best—getting the appointment.

A multiring allows numerous phones to ring at the same time, and/or ring to more phones after a delay, to increase connection rates. For example, a multiring could have three receptionists’ phones ring at the same time when a patient calls the office. If none of the receptionists can get to the caller after three rings, the call would ring in the back office, where hygienists are equipped to help the caller. Rather than letting the phone ring until it hits a voicemail or being placed on long holds, other team members can handle the call to ensure every patient is helped in a timely manner.

3. Hold staff accountable for proper phone etiquette.
When members of your staff answer the phone, how do they greet your patients? Is it a short “Please hold”? Do they simply say “Hello”? Or do they take the time to introduce the office and their name, and ask the caller’s name and needs? Training and holding your staff accountable for appropriately greeting callers helps control their first impression of your office.

Think back to the woman calling into your practice with a broken crown. How would her impression have changed if the receptionist had warmly asked, “Hi, this is Amy with Expert Dental. How may I help you? May I please place you on hold while I pull up our schedules?”

With smartphones, caller expectations emphasize immediacy—information is literally at their fingertips, and they expect the same immediacy when calling your practice. To provide a seamless caller experience, practices should implement tactics to minimize hold times and ensure patients are helped in a timely manner.

Through evaluating call volume and staffing needs to meet peak call hours, implementing automated call routing solutions and emphasizing proper phone etiquette, practices can set themselves apart from the competition. Arm your staff with the availability and skills to provide an exceptional phone experience to book the appointment and ensure each patient returns.

Author Bio
Author Sarah Suddreth is the director of business development at Call Box, a leading telephony and artificial intelligence technology firm that works with smaller dental practices as well as large DSOs to deliver more insight into their phone calls. She works with corporate VPs and marketing directors across the nation to enhance practices’ bottom lines and revenues. Suddreth lives in Dallas.
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