Eight steps to turn phone calls into patients

small foneAlthough taking phone calls in your practice may seem like a no-brainer, Patient Pursuit’s Keaton Marks explains how the way you answer and the questions posed can make all the difference

Bringing in more patients starts before anyone even steps in the door. We believe that owning the phone can make a drastic difference in the success of your practices, and implementing a few changes is much easier than it seems. Our guide to better phone behaviour is meant as a tool to equip the staff at your practices with the training they need to help your business flourish. Our guide isn’t meant to single out any staff members, but rather supply them with the tools to be successful. Let us walk you through eight easy customer service categories you can implement today.

1. The three best tactics

Apply these immediately to easily improve your phone skills
• Place a pen and paper next to your phone

• Smile!

• Ask for the appointment everytime.

Before getting into the nitty gritty details  of converting calls into patient visits, let’s focus on three tactics that can be easily applied before you even start talking. Making these a habit is the start of a truly skilled phone team. Researchers say it takes about two weeks to form a habit. Can you practice these for two weeks straight?

• Place a pen and paper next to your phone. Just after picking up the phone, you should be picking up a pen. Write down as much information as you can about the call. Make sure you write down the caller’s name and say it back to them when hanging up – it’ll establish a relationship while confirming with them at the same time. If you write down information about the patient’s painful tooth, the doctor will be better prepared and save  time on the visit.

• Studies around the world have proved that smiles (even forced smiles) induce happy feelings. Who doesn’t want to be happy? Smiles aren’t just a visual aesthetic; callers can read your mood through your voice and will enjoy being on the phone with a happy person. You’ll seem more relatable, confident and trustworthy.

• When you have a potential patient on the other line, your conversation should focus on taking care of their needs and getting them into the practice. Never shy away from asking for the appointment; even general calls can turn into appointments with a little gumption from the employee. Take pride in the moment you do book a call and take notes on what works for you and your practice.

2. Caller info

Gather all contact information about the patient to stay in touch with them

• Write down the caller’s name

• Get the caller’s phone number

• Ask for an email address.

Okay, maybe you’re thinking ‘Duh. We already know this.’ But these things can be easily overlooked in a busy environment, or during a particularly long call. When you take the time to get this essential information at the start of a call, any connection issues you may have later won’t be a concern, because you can get right back to them. Besides, nothing’s worse than not being able to call back a potential new patient.

• Remember that pen and paper you had at the beginning? As soon as the call starts, write down the caller’s name. Referring to your patient by name makes them feel more welcomed and less like another phone call.

• Without a way to reach back out, this potential patient might be gone forever if the call drops. If you have caller ID, ask if the number they used is the best way to reach them. Write down as many numbers as they are willing to give you.

• Email is a great way to give patients an extra reminder about their appointments. Ask if they want a confirmation email once they book one – if you can’t book an appointment, ask if they want you to follow up with an email instead. Send them deals, specials and newsletters from your practice. Often, other mediums of communication can get them into the practice.

3. Welcome

An excellent greeting to set the tone of the conversation.

• Be happy to be on the phone

• Clearly introduce your practice

• Welcome the caller.

For potential new patients, their first impression of your practice will be that first phone call; therefore your first words are crucial to booking the appointment. Make an impression.

• There is a lot of science behind how smiling affects a phone call. Smiling gives you endorphins, endorphins make you happy, and happy people book more appointments! You’ll seem more enthusiastic and patients will place more confidence in you. Smile, be excited, enthusiastic, and eager during every call.

• Practice your introduction – you’ll be saying it several times a day. If you’re short of ideas, follow this formula. ‘Thank you for calling (practice name). My name is Carol. How may I help you?’ It may also be appropriate to include the dentist’s name or the practice location.

• Regardless of who’s on the phone, welcome them to the practice and thank them for calling. If they recently called, thank them for calling back. If they’re a returning patient looking to book an appointment, thank them for choosing your practice again. Remember to use their name.

4. Connect

Build a relationship with the caller to make a good first impression

• Use the caller’s name

• Repeat the caller’s concerns

• End the call on a positive note

Making a connection with patients is a must for the front desk. A patient needs to enjoy speaking with you, and that starts long before they step foot into the building. • Be friendly and casual, yet professional, but don’t go overboard on using their name – you don’t want them to be uncomfortable.

• Repeating exactly what the caller said will let them know you were listening and devoted to their concerns. Whenever you have the opportunity to sympathise, assure the caller you will do whatever you can to take care of their needs.

• The end of the call is just as important as the introduction. You want the caller to hang up feeling confident. If they booked an appointment, make sure they are secure in their decision. If they didn’t book an appointment, let them know they can call back any time. Be confident and own the phone.

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5. Purpose

Ask about a patient’s needs so you can provide excellent service

• Ask the right questions

• Actively listen to the caller’s responses

• Avoid the black hole: pricing discussions!

This lesson is key for success but also the most difficult to implement effectively. Providing excellent service to patients starts with the phone call. Truly understand the patients and you will have a prepared practice that perfectly serves their needs.

• Asking a potential patient why they called your practice is half the battle; the other half is truly understanding the caller’s responses. Avoid saying, ‘Can I book you for a cleaning?’ or ‘Would you like to see the dentist?’ It may seem appropriate, but it might not encompass all the patient’s needs. Try to figure out why they want to come in by asking, ‘What are you hoping to achieve with your teeth?’ or, ‘What are your goals for your smile?’

• Yes, you’re listening to the caller, but are you really listening? Distractions are everywhere and sometimes a long day can get you down. Make sure you listen closely to the caller’s responses. Show some sympathy and get as much information about their problem as possible so you can better help them. If the caller hasn’t had a cleaning in years, ask them why they are now reaching out to a dentist. Make sure you’re writing it all down.

• Properly handling questions about pricing deserves it’s own section, but it’s best to avoid going down the rabbit hole with the patient. Dentists and receptionists always want to focus conversations on the procedures and goals. We all want what is best for the patient – let them know the information they need, but keep the conversation focused on the phone.
‘If you want to get rid of that pain in your upper molar, I highly recommend coming in to see the dentist for some X-rays. With a better understanding of what is causing the pain, we will be able to provide you with the best course of action.’

6. Knowledge

Answer the caller’s tough questions to prove your expertise

• Be the authority

• Use their questions

• Prepare a solid response for next time.

There are a ton of tough questions out there. Don’t get floored next time you get a tough question. Think back to these three tips:

• Take control of the conversation right from the beginning. This is your dental practice – you know the answers better than the caller, and you should act like it. Be definitive every time you respond to their questions. If you sound confident, they will be confident in your dentistry.

• Your goal is to get the patient in for an appointment so you can focus on individual concerns and assess their questions. Don’t shy away from asking for the appointment, even when faced with a tough question. Offer for the patient to come in for a consultation with the dentist and let them know they can get better answers there.

• The next time you are stumped with a tough question, write it down and share it with your team. Few situations are so unique that nobody has experienced them before – your co-workers may have some information to shed light on the situation. Remember that everyone gets tough calls and use them as a learning opportunity.

7. Appointments

Capitalise on all opportunities

• Offer multiple options

• Ask for the appointment every time

• Book multiple appointments

The moment of truth! If you are answering phone calls, it is likely because you are the booking appointments specialist in the practice. Take on that role and prove yourself.

• When attempting the appointment, offer multiple time slots. Offering two specific times and days increases your odds of booking an appointment by more than 40%, which is huge. ‘Would you rather come in Monday for a morning appointment, or Tuesday later in the afternoon?

If those times don’t work, the customer will give you options that work for them. Write them in your notes so you remember next time they call. The caller will appreciate your attentiveness and good memory.

• Do not end a call without at least trying for the appointment. Even if you think the potential patient will say no, just ask. Even if the caller says they will call you back, ask if they want to schedule an appointment before they hang up. Don’t miss any opportunities.

• Strive to have more appointments booked than phone calls received. Once you’ve secured an appointment with a new patient, follow up with them on future opportunities. ‘Is there anyone else in your household that you would like to book an appointment for?’ You’ve got nothing to lose, and potentially more to gain!

8. Preview

Walk through their visit to the practice to set clear expectations

• Provide directions to the practice

• Explain waiting room expectations

• Describe the exam room experience

Congratulations! You booked the appointment. Pat yourself on the back and close the deal. Now that they are in the books, make sure you end on a high note and wrap up any loose ends.

• Directions include how to drive there, what buildings are nearby, where to park, and how to get inside. Include as much information as you can without going overboard.

• Some practices have introduced an online form fill for all the patient information, but others stick to good old pen and paper. Let the patient know if they need to come in early to fill out paperwork and provide documents. Remind them that they will need their insurance information and anything else you think will be helpful.

• Help your dentist by preparing the patient with what happens when they lay down in the chair. If you know which hygienist and dentist will attend to them, let the patient know. Explain how long it usually takes and which procedures they go through.
‘When you are taken back to the exam room, our hygienist Sarah will clean your teeth and take some X-rays. Then Dr Marks will join you for a quick examination.’

Keaton Marks is director of business development at Patient Pursuit. He is a marketing analytics expert and a phone skills guru for the dental industry. Keaton led the development and execution of Patient Pursuit, which launched in January of 2013. Patient Pursuit is a ‘done for you’ system for booking more new patients, stressing the importance of focusing on new patient phone calls, which combines with marketing analytics and consultants.

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