The most common call problems at dental practices—and solutions that won’t leave patients with a sour taste
When cooking, one bad ingredient mixed with an otherwise excellent dish can leave you with a recipe for disaster. In a similar way, if your practice is falling behind on certain key phone-handling habits, patients are often left with a bad taste in their mouths.
Common ingredients that create a recipe for disaster with patients include difficulty getting someone on the phone, trouble setting an appointment, questions left unanswered, long wait times, and not receiving any follow-up from the office. Here are a few substitutions to swap bad ingredients for great ones and develop more tasteful phone habits.
Ingredient #1: Patients not being able to get a hold of your practice
“Leave a message after the beep.” Sound familiar? A common complaint is that patients have difficulty connecting with office staff. Most often, patients get sent to voicemail.
The problem with voicemail is that potential patients who reach it are likely to hang up or consider calling another practice. On average, 39% of patients who reach voicemail don’t leave a message. Existing patients are also less likely to book appointments if it’s consistently a challenge to get someone from your practice on the phone.
Patients believe how they’re treated during their call reflects how they’ll be treated during their in-office care. Patient care starts on the phone.
To combat any problems, look for patterns of high phone traffic on a daily and weekly basis. You may find a significant increase in inbound phone calls at 1 p.m., when you happen to know your office staff is trickling back in from their lunch breaks. A best practice is to stagger your staff’s schedules so there’s always at least one person in the office to handle patient calls.
Great goals for the team would be aim for callers being sent to voicemail only if they call outside of regular office hours, and ensure any voicemails left during business hours are followed up with within an hour.
Ingredient #2: Difficulty setting convenient appointments
Do you have appointments before 8 a.m.? Saturday hours? Scheduling appointments that are convenient for your patients can be a challenge when callers continue to inquire about days and times your practice is closed or booked.
If this is a common occurrence, consider scheduling more providers for those highly requested days to avoid turning away patients. If your practice is closed on Fridays but callers are regularly asking for appointments then, consider opening for a half-day to accommodate more patients. Patient care should go beyond their treatment in the chair.
Ingredient #3: Unanswered questions
Another common patient criticism of calls is that they’re left with unanswered questions. Let’s say a patient calls to ask about a new promotion your practice is running on Invisalign. When she inquires about the deal, your staff has no idea what she’s talking about. This is embarrassing for both people on the call and is a poor patient experience—and it’s a bad look for the office.
Ensure that your phone staff is kept in the loop just like other teams to understand promotions and procedures, so they can expertly handle any questions. To keep staff up to date so they will be equipped to help patients, hold weekly staff meetings to brief your team on any active promotions, resolve problem areas on the phone, and review staff performance from the previous week.
Reviewing every phone call with every staff member is not realistic, but every manager can meet weekly to go over staff performance and resolve problems.
Ingredient #4: Long hold times
A long hold can be the difference between a patient scheduling with your practice or the office down the road. On average, people lose patience and hang up on hold after 30 seconds. No practice trains their staffers to leave callers on hold, but patients in the office are often viewed as a priority over a ringing phone.
However, consider which patient has more potential value to your practice: the caller or the person standing in the office? Phone patients should get priority attention because they’re the least engaged—they have not yet booked an appointment. The patient in the office, meanwhile, has already committed to an appointment with your practice and has already been sold on your services. By prioritizing a potential patient on the phone over a patient at the front desk for a few minutes, you’ll eliminate hold time and convert more calls to booked appointments.
Ingredient #5: No follow-up
What does patient follow-up look like at your practice: Do you have a follow-up process in place? Every practice needs a healthy outbound calling process to pursue their patients and put in extra effort. At a minimum, outbound calls should be made for appointment reminders, recall efforts and mishandled scheduling opportunities.
What if a potential patient calls to ask about pricing for a particular service, but doesn’t book an appointment? This is the perfect opportunity to initiate an outbound call to the patient. It’s as simple as calling to say, “I wanted to follow up with you in regard to your inquiry about teeth whitening yesterday. Other than our pricing, is there anything else we can help you with?”
This reopens the conversation for a potential appointment booking. It also provides the opportunity to mention any specials your practice is running, or payment plans your practice offers that weren’t discussed on the initial call.
Developing a recipe for excellent patient experience is crucial for practices that want to prosper in a competitive market. When done well, connecting callers, comprehensively answering questions, and providing appointment options that are most convenient can completely alter a patient’s experience.
Paired with consistent follow-up processes and limited hold time, your practice will be set up to stand out in the industry.