How to show you care

breathe businessRecently, Breathe Business mystery shopped 10 private practices to see how the reception teams handled a telephone enquiry from a new patient with nagging toothache – and, crucially, if they displayed empathy.

Listening to the calls, particularly if you put yourself in the new patient’s shoes, was cringe worthy; only one expressed concern and sympathy for the caller’s toothache, the others tried to simply ‘process’ the enquiry and, as the caller was not a member of the practice, the processing bit was generally poor to diabolical.

The most common thing the receptionist says first when someone rings and says ‘I’m in pain’ is ‘Are you registered with us?’ Seriously, what does it matter if someone is registered with you? They are in pain and they are asking for your help!

The first thing that must come out of a receptionist’s mouth is something like, ‘I’m so sorry to hear that your tooth is hurting, can I just take some details so we can get you out of pain as soon as possible?’

You then ask for their name and phone number, ‘Just in case we get cut off’. As they give you the name, check whether they are registered (don’t ask them).

If they are not registered, do whatever possible to get them seen and treated. If you need more information, say ‘So we can get you out of pain as soon as possible’.

If you show you care, they are likely to come back, and if you help them out of pain with minimum fuss, they are very likely to become one of your best fans and tell everyone else how great you are.

Key behavioural changes

Here’s what I tell receptionists when I’m retraining them: you answer the phone every day – you live and breathe dentistry. Your patient does not. It’s a big deal for them to make that call, so treat every call as if they are your most favourite client.

Smile, be empathic, sound like you are very pleased they have called. Use your name and the practice name – sound like you’re proud of who you are and where you work every time.

Remember, every time that phone rings, it could be your best new client ever. The first step of every call is always about making friends and fact finding. It’s all about the patient, so look at things from their perspective and use layman’s terms when talking about dentistry.

You are on show all the time in a dental practice, so make it your first priority to answer the phone or deal with the patient in front of you properly, despite how many things you may be juggling or how many things are not going so well in your life.

Systemise customer service

The best customer service feels personal, but it is always systemised. So:

  1. Make sure you have a system
  2. Keep practising every step of your process – you will keep getting better and you will know what to do when something has gone wrong
  3. Review the system regularly.

When I’m training a team I role play the phone call, with me playing the receptionist and them observing how it comes across when the first words out of my mouth are ‘Are you registered?’.

The penny quickly drops that it sounds hopelessly uncaring. I role play the whole process and then practice, practice, practice. Observe, review and practice again.

Repeat. It’s the only way to drill your team into a slick customer service machine.

And remember to smile – it’s easy, it doesn’t cost anything, it is infectious and everyone feels better. It’s amazing how much better, quicker, nicer, more positive results you get whatever you are trying to do just by genuinely smiling and being interested in people.

So, what results can you expect from injecting some empathy into your reception team? Well, a number of our clients have increased their new patient numbers purely by accepting emergencies and treating them differently, and some of them have become their best referrers.

On top of that your patients get peace of mind that they’re being looked after and cared for because they are dealt with efficiently. They can trust you, and that’s how they judge the quality of your dentistry: how you make them feel.

If you want your team’s caring side to be a permanent feature of all patient contact, give Ernie a ring on 07990 568909. For more tips, sign up to Breathe’s newsletter at

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