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The top 8 ways to find “fun” in the phone and bring back that loving feeling


Photo of a woman at an office desk talking on the phone

The phone is ringing, a patient is standing in front of you and you have an employee whispering in your ear about a practice issue that needs attention. How do you pick up the phone and provide the best service available to the person on the other end? Where is that loving feeling? How do you find the “fun” in answering the phone?

In today’s world, it seems like everything is faster, faster and, well, faster, but is that the right way? Should we rush through everything to cram more into our day or our practice?

Stop and think for a minute... If the phone is 100% of where my business comes from, (which means I really don’t have a storefront that everyone walks in off the street and gets service) then shouldn’t the phone be the most important part of my entire day?  Now you will ask, how? How do we focus our energy on answering the phone when there are one hundred things going on in front of me? Well, here are a few steps to bring back that loving feeling.

Admit that there is a problem. If you do not see a problem and you’re not concerned about the problem, then obviously there is not a solution for the problem.

Determine what the guidelines are for answering the phone. (i.e. on ring two, by ring three or—eek!—ring four) Write these guidelines down. If we do not know what is expected of us, how will we ever achieve it? Oftentimes, owners gain frustration towards their team when the phone is not answered in an appropriate amount of time and yet when asked what the written guideline is, there isn’t one but dang it, they should just know.

Determine what calls require a return call and what calls require immediate service. If a customer called about a bill, answering that question could be easy if you do not have a customer in front of you or a customer about to be in front of you. This would be a call that might even require some research. Providing the best service would be to do your research on the account and return their call when you had all the information in front of you.

That conversation may go something like this: “(Patient name) thank you for inquiring about your personal account with us. I will be happy to answer this billing question, but I need a few minutes to research your account so that I may provide you with the correct information. Is there a number that you can be easily reached today? I will return your call by lunchtime today.”

Now you make your note in the chart, add this to you task list and you have the time to handle this call appropriately without feeling rushed or feeling like you are ignoring the patient checking out. What about new patient calls? Those require immediate service and need undivided attention. Many practices utilize a red call sheet that notifies all employees that the team member on the phone is with a new patient and that they need to seek information from the next team member that can support them. This is one of those systems that should be drafted on paper and reviewed with the entire team once the process is determined and the call sheet is in place. If you do not have a specific call sheet and you are looking to acquire one, a great resource is allstardentalacademy.com

Find out what can make your phone calls better. Once you have a call sheet in the office (if you didn’t already have one), it’s time to review it and see if there are areas where you and your support team can improve. An important features to a great phone call is a warm welcome; evaluate your office greeting and ensure that everyone in the office is answering the phone the same way. “Welcome to (practice name), this is (your name). How may I assist you today?” Or” It’s a great day at (practice name), this is (your name). How can help you?“

These sound so goofy and yet they set your practice apart from the traditional “Thank you for calling (doctor name)” We all know about asking for a referral source because that what every lecture or article we have ever read suggest to do, but how consistent are we with doing this? This often gets left out or fudged. The consequence for fudging this component in your practice management software is that your owner then continues to invest in marketing programs that might not be valuable and omits the ones that truly are working well. Find value in the referral source and even take the extra step to send a thank you note for the referral.

Moving on, listening and taking notes about the patient’s concerns really is important. Patients say so much and provide you with so many important pearls in such a short time; be vigilant in taking good notes about your call. All information is good information if it came from the customer! Don’t forget to review your affirmation process and go over some affirmation statements about the practice and your team. These are statements that you can insert into your call to create confidence in the customer that they chose the right office. If you don’t know this offhand, then make a cheat card for everyone answering the phone about all the amazing benefits of each team member, the doctor and the practice. This is also a great team building exercise.

Finally, reiterate the importance of the appointment, send patients to the website and place value on the preparation that is placed into making this appointment a success for them. The call sheet is obviously for new patients but you can strengthen all of your practice calls by implementing the above strategies. Getting everyone on the same page is imperative for your phone to become fun and the love to come back.

Tone. Whether you have recorded call logs that you can listen to or you take the time to record phone calls, it is imperative that you listen to yourself on the phone. How could we ever evaluate our phone skills if we do not have an opportunity to hear ourselves in action? Once you hear yourself, you may have an “ouch” moment. Make notes, provide criticism and find areas to improve. The number one thing we tend to pick up on is our tone. The frustration, the rush, the volume, the anxiety... you name it, it’s there. It’s almost as if you can feel what is happening on the other end of the phone which is definitely not our intention. We know we want the customer to feel our smile on their end, right? Take the time to evaluate this area and learn from it.

Determine the phone support order. When you assess the duties and challenges that your administrative support team faces and define them on paper (yes, a job duties daily checklist) you will then determine who is the strongest and most consistent on the phone. This person should be first to answer the phone, then the second and third, etc. How many support team members you have in your practice will also dictate this, and will be impacted if there is anyone on the clinical support team that steps into the front to support the phones as well. This should be placed on your drafted system and reviewed with the entire team.

Role-play some scenarios with the team. There will be a retraining and reeducating curve here. This means that although you already answer your phones daily, the value of the phone may have started taking a backseat to your daily duties. If this is even remotely true, it is time to find that loving feeling for the phone again. Practice some of the complex circumstances with your team so that they will respect and take to heart the difficulties that your administrative support team faces daily. Here is an example of one of those complex situations: The phone is ringing, there are two patients are checking out and one on the way up. How do you revamp this scenario in order to place value on the phone and its importance? Every practice will have a different plan, depending on its in-office communication system and the clinical support team’s abilities.

Deadlines and follow up. All systems in the practice deserve to be evaluated and tweaked for optimal success. This means that you should set an additional meeting date on the books to reevaluate the system and review any additional needs, as well as reiterate its value. 30-45 days is a fair amount of time to allow new habits to take place. Place a follow-up meeting on the books and commit to it. It seems that we have all become “task monsters” to some degree in our daily duties and oftentimes our “service monster” is in hiding and nowhere to be found. Not intentionally, but merely because we go, go, go, do, do, do and faster, faster, faster and we become focused on our own needs to get through the day. This means we often fail to make it all about the patient, who is really paving the way for the practice to stay in business. Each one of them is the most valuable opportunity of the day.

With these strategies in place, you can bring back the fun in answering the phone and find that loving feeling again. Don’t allow the daily task to destroy the opportunities that your phone brings to the practice each day. 

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