The Moment You’ve Been Waiting for: How to Answer the New Dental Patient Phone Call

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If you’re like most other successful dental practices, you invest a lot of time and money to attract new dental patients. If your marketing is doing its job, that will lead to new patients calling your office to learn more about your practice or, better yet, schedule appointments.

But are you ready?

Getting that first new patient phone call right comes down to having the right person, the right phone skills, and the right priorities.

The right person

Who you have picking up the phone can determine whether or not the new patient experience starts off on the right foot. Assigning that responsibility to one uniquely talented person can be the first step in controlling the quality of the conversations.

“I think you have to have the exact right person answering that phone and that person’s role has to be specifically dedicated to enhancing the new patient experience from the phone call, through the paperwork, through the onboarding process of the patient, through the actual dynamic of the appointment, through the exit interview,” states Lois Banta, founder of Banta Consulting. “That new dental patient should have that one contact to be able to experience the rockstar customer service that you want them to have. The kind of person for that role has a very positive can do attitude, is not afraid of any questions, and is really focused on improving relationships with patients.”

“Whoever is the point of contact, they need to love their job,” adds Penny Reed of The Dental Coaching Institute. “There’s not a verbal skill out there that will help someone if they don’t love their job. They have to believe that their office is the best place for the patient who’s calling. If not, they’re just an infomercial and they are going to tell the caller everything that’s great about the office and not really engage with them.”

Unfortunately, dentists don’t always make the best hiring decisions. For the front desk, it can be too easy to underestimate the importance of that key patient experience role. As a result, dental offices can end up with someone who isn’t the best fit for the job.

“One of the first things I do is interview the administrative team to see if we have the right butt in the right seat. Where the doctor can drop the ball very easily is just hiring a warm body to answer the phone and not paying attention to the fact that the first impression starts on the phone call,” says Banta.

While there are several qualities that can make someone productive as the point person for new patient phone calls, there is one key trait that stands out most for predicting success.

“You can’t train attitude,” adds Laci Phillips of Practice Dynamics. “I can train skills all day long. I can teach somebody how to schedule. I can teach somebody how to ask for money. But the attitude, the human touch, that taking it to the next level, you can’t teach that. So when you find that, that’s when you start recruiting it and then make sure they get the training and improvement that they need relative to your dental office.”

The right phone skills

When the new patient calls, your team member won’t know the level of interest the person on the other end of the line has. Some will be ready to schedule and others will just be kicking the tires and shopping around for a new dentist. Regardless of why a new patient makes that first phone call, the most important thing to focus on is making that person feel valued and welcome.

“If it is a new patient, I am making sure that I have listened to what prompted them to call in the first place, and the key thing is whatever they ask for — I don’t care if they ask for a Saturday appointment, I don’t care if they ask how much a crown costs — I’m going to sound delighted to hear from them. I’m going to sound pleased that I can help them,” says dental image expert Janice Hurley.

“One of the things that makes the calls robotic is filling in the fields in the dental software while we’re on the phone,” observes Reed. “Our purpose is not to fill in all the blanks in our dental software. It’s to connect with the patient and inspire their desire to want to come in. It’s like a tech support call instead of a sales call.”

What happens when the caller starts asking about insurance and costs? Those questions can take control of the conversation away from the dental team member in a hurry, but Geri Gottlieb, founder of GG Practice Coaching and Development, thinks you should stay focused and not be distracted by those questions.

“When a patient is asking those questions right away, we wrongly assume that’s the stuff that is most important to them,” explains Gottlieb. “I’m of the mindset that they just don’t know what else to ask about or what’s important for them to know. For me, on the other end of that phone call, it’s actually up to me to mine for why they’re asking.”

Phillips also stresses that it’s important to keep the call experience focused on the patient as much as possible.

“In my mind, it’s all about the patient. 100 percent about the patient,” confirms Phillips. “It’s not as much about the doctor. It’s not about the practice. It’s about the patient. And even when the patient calls wanting to talk about their insurance, we ask questions about the patient. When was the last time you were seen in a dental practice? When was the last time you were seen by a hygienist? Are you seeing a hygienist two or four times a year? Tell me about your dental experience. What are you looking for? What do you really want in a dentist? Three quarters of the conversation is going to be about the patient. Then the practice, then let’s talk about financial arrangements.”

The right priorities

Even the most skilled front desk person will find their attention divided between answering phone calls and dealing with typical office hustle and bustle. In that chaos, new patients calling for the first time can easily feel neglected. Rather than trying to multitask and do it all, it can be better to have clear priorities and tackle one thing at a time. But does that mean the new patient on the phone comes first, or is the patient standing in front of you more important?

Social etiquette has conditioned us to think that a person you are speaking with face-to-face deserves your attention more than a phone call interrupting the conversation. However, in the case of a new patient call, Hurley feels otherwise.

“It’s a mistake to think that the person in front of you is more important than the person on the phone. The person in front of you is already a client. You would really have to mess up to lose them. But you could easily lose the potential new patient who, at that moment in time decided they were going to spend the time and energy to call,” explains Hurley.

Phillips points out the importance of making all dental patients feel important, even when you are interrupted and need to divide your attention.

“We think that because there are a million things going on that we need to do a million things, and we’re losing that human touch,” Phillips says. “People notice that now. I think it’s a simple conversation of saying you both are important, let me finish what I started here, and I’m coming back to you.”

Gottlieb advises that if the entire team works together, it can help solve many of the patient juggling challenges.

“It’s about a whole team approach,” says Gottlieb. “If the patient is coming from the clinical side, the team better be able to check that person out also. Even if they are a hygienist or the doctor. On the flip side, if they’re coming in the door I want to make sure I am greeting them and I want my whole team to be anticipatory of who should be coming in today.”

Improve the rest of the new dental patient experience

Nailing the first phone call is just one piece of the new dental patient experience. If you want to wow your new patients and keep them coming back for more, get our free guide, The Ultimate Guide to Improving the New Dental Patient Experience. It’s packed with tips and tricks from some of the dental industry’s top consultants. Get your copy today!

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