Skip the script: 10 strategies for handling new patient calls with confidence

Why on Earth do we love to give scrips to our team members and then freak out when they freeze on the phone? How skipping the script can help your team members thrive and adapt in a real conversation.

I like to think I have a grasp on my personal strengths and weaknesses, so three months ago I asked my lovely wife to do a little recognizance on what clothing is hip these days so we could up my style game. We went to the local Nordstrom and between my wife and the overly-in-my-grill sales associate I was decked out, feeling like Don Johnson circa 1989.   

That was until I tried to get ready for work Monday morning. I could not remember which shirt went with which pants and which outfit went with what shoes. I completely forgot how to dress myself. I couldn't adapt, I needed the 'script' my wife had composed to help me dress. Because I wasn't taught any principles of style, when things weren't going exactly as planned I froze. Turns out, when I became dependent upon someone else's script, I was not able to make confident decisions&mdasheven about pants!

It struck me then, why on Earth do we love to give scrips to our team members and then freak out when they freeze on the phone? 

Come on Janet, stick to the script!

I have listened to coaches and consultants and been to enough weekend seminars to know that most new patient caller advice revolves around pre-written scripts. I get it; scripts are a way to systematize what we do in order to get a desired result. But, here is the deal: The more dependent the team member becomes on the script, the less able they are to adapt and thrive in a real conversation. 

Spoiler alert: the caller never follows a script, ever. 

I don't like scripts, and it's not because the lines are bad or the purpose is wrong, it is because they don't allow my team the confidence to make decisions&mdashand that hesitance comes through on the phone. They are stiff and awkward and as soon as the caller asks a question that isn't pre-scripted, my team freezes!  

Don't be a one-script pony

Even though I don't like scripts, don't think for a second we place any less importance on phone skills in my office.  I prefer my team have a whole quiver full of principles at their disposal, instead of being a one-script pony. Additionally, I make sure my team understands at the end of the day, it is just a conversation with another person. Talk to them like you would a friend&mdashthat's it. At The Lifestyle Practice, I teach doctors how to lose the scripts so their team can adapt to the patient, think on their feet, and make the new patient love us by using the incredible people skills they were hired for in the first place.

Continue to the next page to see the top 10 strategies for handling new patient calls without a script.




Answer with a smile  

Even if you are having a horrible day, fake it 'til you make it and physically smile. Smile first, pick up the phone second.

Related reading: The top 7 mistakes dental practices make during patient phone calls





Exude good energy 

I don't mean over-the-top, crushing-Adderall energy, but be enthusiastic. Let them feel in your voice that it is a great day. 

Related reading: Four elements of a great phone call




Become the caller's friend and ally

Act as if you have been friends for years. If the caller feels like they are 'just another call' you might as well hang up.

Related reading: The most important thing to know when a new patient calls your dental practice




Reinforce their great decision to call your office

The best way to turn a potential patient into a raving fan is to make them feel good about their decisions. Reinforce it by speaking highly of the team: "Mrs. Jones I just want to let you know you called the right office. You are going to love Dr. Short, he is wonderful!" 

Related reading: One ridiculously easy solution to increase new patients





If a patient is in pain, they want someone to truly listen. Don't rush them; help them feel heard.  

Related reading: 3 common, crushing mistakes made by the person answering your dental practice's phone




Get their name, and use it often 

Dale Carnegie said it best: "Remember that a person's name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language." 

People love hearing their name. Get it early in the phone conversation and use it often

Trending article: How to "no" your way to dental marketing success




Mirror and match

Mirroring voice tone and matching their speech rhythms lets the patient know "I am like you, so you can like me." Are they speaking slowly and quietly? Are they in a hurry? Whatever they are doing, mirror and match. 

Trending article: The role of the dental team in online marketing




Take note of rapport-building information 

Often things come up in conversation like the patient is getting married, they work close by or have children. Make notes of these things. Use these facts as a springboard for conversation and getting to know them better. They will be impressed! 

Trending article: Boosting your online reputation: 10 hacks every dentist should know




Ask how they found your office 

Were they referred by another patient, website, mailer or work insurance plan? Always take any information you are given to help deepen your relationship with your patient.  

Trending article: How to use technology to manage your practice's reputation




Make it EASY for patients to get in

If every time you called a friend they gave you a checklist of items to complete before you could come over you'd find another friend. Don't make patients jump through hoops!  

Besides your marketing material, a patient's first call is the most important moment in the relationship-building process. It will set the stage and you will never get a chance to redo it. 

Trending article: 5 steps to building your practice brand

Don't be naïve and underestimate how much the patient is assuming based off this first interaction. Whatever feelings the caller takes away from the first call they are projecting it directly on to you. Is the interaction sloppy? They will assume your work is sloppy. Thankfully this works both ways; if the person answering the phone is happy, enthusiastic, caring, empathetic, poised and generally excited about having a new patient visit the office, then you will be assumed to have those attributes too. Spend time with your team going through these 10 strategies. They will empower your team and crate a practice environment that doesn't need to be micromanaged.