Call Conversion: A Critical Predictor of Success

We’ve been talking recently about monitoring your practice’s performance. Taking a close look at different practice data – payroll, overhead, production, case acceptance, etc – yields what practice managers, coaches, consultants, and others call Key Performance Indicators – KPIs for those who like acronyms. One KPI that we at All-Star consider to be critical to profitability is call conversion. This measures your team’s performance in fielding calls from potential new patients and converting them into appointments.

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Running an Effective Business Starts and Ends with your Customers

It is no secret that there are a lot of poorly run businesses out there, and dentistry is no different. If you need examples, look no further than your phone. Randomly call any type of business and you will find proof that I am correct. I can use a recent experience to demonstrate.

I was investigating a master bathroom renovation, so I started by calling around to contractors to determine price and timing.

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We are located in South Florida and it costs top dollar to find a reputable contractor to work with. A comparable price point in dentistry would be the cost of a cosmetic dentistry reconstructive case. So, I knew the renovation project wouldn’t be cheap.

One would think that with the current economic environment finding a good contractor would be easy. 

I was very surprised.

I started with Google (as most patients looking for a new practice might) and found several contractors in my neck of the woods. They had good reviews and their work looked like it was the quality I was after. In dentistry, this would be like someone looking up nearby practices. They might check on who is most visible online and has numerous good reviews. They are looking for a practice that feels like a good fit.

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Don’t be Afraid of the Phone

Once I had a handful of contractors I wanted to speak to, I started reaching out to them.  Here is where I began to experience trouble.

Problem #1. Hardly any of these businesses answered my call. It almost always went straight to voicemail or to an answering service that was less than professional.

The solution to this problem is fairly straightforward. Aim to have enough staff on hand during business hours to answer calls. Dental practices that pride themselves on their level of customer service aim to have an employee answer the phone instead of allowing the call to go to voicemail or to an answering service. 

Does this problem exist in your practice? If you find more calls are going to voicemail than you would prefer, map out the times that you are missing calls and schedule extra staff to help out with the phones. For supplemental coverage, consider hiring a part-timer. A well-trained coverage person will pay for him/herself in new patients that might not have booked with you otherwise.

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The Clock is Ticking and your Patient is Impatient

Problem #2. There was a distinct lack of follow-up or prompt call backs when I had left a message. Here I was – a potential client hiring a contractor for a decent sum of money to redo our bathroom. But the silence made it feel as if they didn’t want my business. 

Be sure your team is ready and willing to hustle to help. And adjust your team’s approach to answering calls. Instead of dreading the interruption, a ringing phone should be seen as an opportunity to help a patient in need. And every call has potential for revenue.

Existing or emergency patients will be a bit more tolerant of occasional unsatisfying service, but a new client will not extend the same courtesy. With new patient calls, you are starting fresh, with no relationship. Since your team hasn’t established any kind of rapport with a potential new patient caller, they must be on top of their game to win over the caller and build a foundation of trust.

If you have heard, “The beginning is the most important time,” understand that this applies to dentistry. The first impression of your practice set by your team’s performance on the phone call will establish the tone for the rest of that patient’s interactions with your practice. It’s nearly impossible to overcome a negative first impression. And a rocky start won’t help when it comes time to present a treatment plan or schedule a follow-up appointment.

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So, if a patient leaves a message, call them back as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, most new patients looking for a practice will likely not leave a message. And if they do leave a message but don’t get a call back right away, they will move on to another practice that will answer the phone.

Consider it from a patient’s point of view. You call practice A. No answer. You left a message but didn’t hear back right away. However, practice B answered the phone with a friendly and cheerful manner and made you feel special and important. Where are you going to go for treatment? I think the answer is obvious.

More Evidence

Another personal experience provides more evidence for this approach. You may recall that my hubby and CEO of All-Star Alex earned his Law Degree and MBA. His father, Charles, was a dentist (still is, but is mostly retired). Not long after Alex graduated, Charles recruited Alex to help him run the business side of his practice. Apparently, revenue had been declining due to decreasing patient numbers and shrinking payments from insurance. Alex put a modernized marketing plan into action and in a short time, the phone was ringing a lot more often.

Unfortunately, the number of calls coming into the practice didn’t improve the bottom line. The calls were not turning into appointments.

So Alex went back to the drawing board and had an inspired idea. He brought me in to help with the phones. I had been working with high-end retail clients in sales, management, and customer experience at Bloomingdales and Theory, and Alex’s idea was to put that experience to work in the dental practice.


I brought in over a million dollars in new revenue in less than 18 months.

The additional revenue came from a much much higher call conversion rate (around 85%), the new patients that I booked didn’t cancel appointments, they accepted treatment at a higher rate than before, and referrals improved. But it all started with doing a better job on the phone with potential new patients.

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It all Starts at the Beginning

The entire patient experience in your practice starts with the initial phone call. It could be argued that it starts with marketing, but the first critical personal interaction is over the phone. How your team works with a prospective new patient on the phone can make or break your practice. This performance can be measured by a simple equation. Call conversion equals the number of new patient calls divided by appointments made from those calls.

When an office is gently and professionally converting callers to appointments by establishing rapport – a friendly, trusting relationship – it is much more likely patients will show up for their visits. And, because the relationship started in a friendly and trusting way, the patient will be excited for the appointment and show up on time.

“Get ’em in?”

The flip-side of call handling is to be sales-y, with a “get ’em in at any cost” approach. It may work for your practice to “sell” callers an appointment. Or maybe even be dishonest or withhold information a patient needs to make a decision. Unfortunately, a dissatisfied patient can be very loud. It doesn’t take long to wreck a practice’s reputation in a community.

When a new patient has a strong first impression, it is much easier for the practice to continue to provide the best service to the patient. All of the personal details the team captured about the patient during the initial call will be passed on to the hygiene team and dentist. This helps the dentist and clinical team continue building rapport with the patient. When the patient has great rapport with everyone in the practice right from the start, treatment presentation is easy. The patient trusts the team and will happily accept the recommended treatment plan.

And it’s easy to ask a happy patient to refer friends and family and for a positive review or testimonial. Leverage their positive experience in a way that you can share on social media, your website, and online reviews.

I challenge you and your team to call around to dental practices to compare the service your competition provides. 

By the way – once your team trains up to convert calls the right way, expect your call conversion rate to improve. Industry average is 35 to 40 percent. That’s only four appointments for every ten new patient calls. Start tracking your performance and seek to improve it consistently over time.

If you and your team can commit to elevating your game by training in customer service and phone and verbal skills, you will stand out from your competition – guaranteed!

By the way, before I had a chance to choose a contractor and get the project really moving the COVID lockdowns happened. When things calm down, I will start over. Until then, keep up the good work and stay safe 🙂

So there you go, solid reasons to take your dental receptionist’s phone skills to the next level. I’d like to invite you to attend a no-cost online training event, Dental Practice Excellence, where we examine three fundamental issues – training your receptionist to work more effectively with prospective patients on the phone, techniques to reduce or eliminate broken appointments, and strategies for ensuring your team is engaged and working to their potential. And you can always give us a call at 866 280-1343 to talk about how we can specifically help your practice achieve success.   

Heather Nottingham

Heather Nottingham

Heather is a former retail sales trainer and manager for Bloomingdale’s, Kate Spade, and Theory, and a top new patient coordinator for a multi-million-dollar high-end dental practice where she personally increased revenue by over a million dollars in less than 18 months. She has over 24 years worth of customer service, training, and phone experience, and designed the All-Star Dental Academy Phone Success Course as well as the GREAT Call® Process.

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"The five-star reviews are rolling in and the phones are ringing off the hook!" - Dr. Jennifer Wayer

1. Get QUALITY patients without selling

2. Banish broken appointments

3. Reduce turnover by 25%

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