What are the common errors made by front desk staff in a dental practice?

What are the common errors made by front desk staff in a dental practice? Hazel Adams highlights why having a robust front desk is so essential.

As a practice, you want to ensure that your patient’s experience is a positive one. Patients need to feel welcomed, reassured and comfortable; this journey starts at the front desk.

The front desk is where patients will have their first contact with the practice. Any negative experience will impact on the practice as a whole. It is therefore vital that all dental team members receive adequate customer service and complaints handling training at the earliest opportunity.

This training would provide staff with the tools to deal with any concerns confidently and effectively. I cannot stress how important it is to invest in your team by providing expert training early on. A practice with trained staff is less likely to receive complaints and will present a warm and professional experience for your patients.


Receptionists should greet all patients in a warm and friendly manner. If they are an existing patient and you know their name, use it.

As well as booking patients in for their appointments, receptionists have many other duties to attend to, including answering calls. If a patient arrives while you are on the telephone, acknowledge that you have seen them.

If you feel that your call may take a long time, invite the patient to take a seat. Patients do not like to be ignored; therefore, avoid this.

Lack of empathy

Patients either attending or calling the practice may be in a lot of pain; which may lead them to behave differently; they may be anxious or worried. It could be that an appointment has been cancelled or delayed, or they may have another issue they are unhappy with, which has made them angry or upset.

Listen to the patient; imagine what you would feel like if you were in the same situation. Apologise and address their concerns quickly. An apology calms the problem very quickly and is not an admission of fault; the following are examples:

  • ‘I’m sorry to hear that you are experiencing so much pain. Let me see if I can schedule you in to see a dentist quickly.’
  • ‘I’m so sorry your dental appointment is delayed by 30 minutes; the dentist has had to deal with an emergency this morning. Please take a seat and the dentist will see you as soon as he can.’
  • ‘I’m sorry that your expectations have not been met, please tell me what your concerns are and I will see how I can help you.’

The level of empathy that you show will generally lead a patient to decide whether to move forward with a complaint or not.

Avoid confrontation

Do not react negatively to angry or challenging behaviour; this will only result in the matter escalating. Stay calm, and try to understand why a patient is behaving in a particular way. Ask relevant questions to do so.

Listen and explain what you can do to help. This may be directly, or it may be necessary to signpost the patient. Whatever you do, ensure that you take action and show the patient that you care. 

This article first appeared in Private Dentistry magazine. You can read the latest issue here. 

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