When I evaluate front office teams on their new patient calls, one issue really stands out. The amount of awkward, dead-silence moments between the team member and the potential patient caller is surprising and concerning.

If this happens in your office, it usually means one of two things: (1) your team member answering calls doesn’t have the right personality to be working with callers on the phone, or (2) the team member has not been properly trained to handle new patient calls.

Regardless of the cause, there are ways to correct and improve dental phone skills that allow conversation to flow naturally.

Here are 6 easy ways to combat awkward phone silences:

  1. Have the patient coordinator take control of the conversation

We encourage the use of a “transition statement” to help the team member smoothly and professionally take control of the call. This transition comes after the salutation, and helps everyone by allowing the team member to begin “investigating” to discover the true reason for the patient’s call. It’s simple, and sounds like this: “I’d be happy to help you with [issue], but may I ask you some questions before we address that issue?”

  1. Ask the patient open-ended questions

Open-ended questions are not easily answered with “Yes,” or “No.” Instead they are questions that invite the caller to talk more about an issue. For instance, instead of asking, “Are you in pain?” ask “Tell me about what you are experiencing…” The first approach simply gets you a yes or no, but the second approach can provide lots of additional detail that can help in treatment.

  1. Have fun talking with the patient and connecting with them

This is a combination of personality and choices. Some people are blessed with personalities that enable them to converse easily and openly – a “people person.” For others, it has to be be a conscious choice to put on a smile and adopt a friendly attitude on the phone. Regardless, it is imperative to put potential patients at ease, and helping them feel like they will be valued and welcomed when they visit your practice. And this makes the job of speaking with patients on the phone more pleasant and more effective.

  1. Ask the caller how their day is going

Friendly conversation is key to developing “rapport” with a potential patient on the phone – and the quality of your rapport will determine the tone of the relationship – ensuring that the patient shows up for appointments, accepts treatment recommendations, pays on time, and refers friends and family. And that all begins with some friendliness on the phone.

  1. Train the front office team in rapport building and communication skills.

Very few people are born with the skillset required to be effective on the phone with potential patients. Instead, realize that your front office team needs support and invest in training for them.

READ MORE: 5 Common Mistakes with Dental Front Office Training (and how to fix them fast) -Virtual Dental Front Office Training

  1. Put the right person in the role of patient coordinator

Some people simply don’t have the right makeup to be the primary contact with potential new patients. Make a point of hiring someone with the right personality – someone who is warm, friendly, and talkative – and avoid falling into the “not the right skills” trap. Hire for personality, train the skills!

Awkward, dead-silence moments between the team member and a potential patient calling on the phone are serious. For a potential patient to feel like they are making the right choice for their oral health care, they must feel comfortable and valued. Make sure that your front office team is equipped with the right skills to ensure smooth, professional, and effective patient communication.

Heather Nottingham

Heather is a former retail sales specialist and department trainer for Bloomingdale’s, where she had a million dollar clientele. She also took that luxury retail mentality and brought it into the dental world, where she leveraged her training and was able to make an extra million dollars for her dental office in less than 18 months. With over 16 years of retail sales & management experience, 7+ years as a phone skills coach & trainer, and thousands of hours in perfecting the art of rapport with dental patients, Heather helps improve dental practices’ profitability through phone skills success, promoting patient experience, and implementation of systems.

Heather is also an accomplished writer in the world of dentistry, having her articles, press releases, and blogs featured in various publications including Dental Practice Management, Dentistry Today, The Progressive Dentist Magazine, Dentistry IQ, and more.