Mystery Calls Dilemma in Dentistry

Heather Nottingham, co-founder and VP of training at All-Star Dental Academy is interviewed by Alex Nottingham, JD, MBA on Dental All-Stars to discuss the topic of mystery calls in dentistry. Heather explains that mystery calls are an old-school tactic where companies record phone conversations to catch employees doing things wrong. While the intention may have been to improve training, it often ends up embarrassing and demoralizing the team members. Mystery calls can be easily spotted and team members may become resistant, arguing that the calls are not representative of real patient interactions. This podcast explores the difference between sales training and service training, advocating for a patient-centered approach that focuses on building rapport and trust. Instead of mystery calls, the hosts suggest alternatives such as recording real calls with proper consent or using tracking numbers to assess marketing performance and quality assurance.

Resources ~ Mystery Calls

About Heather Nottingham

Heather is the VP of Training & Phone Skills Instructor at All-Star Dental Academy. She 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.

About Alex Nottingham, JD, MBA

Alex is the CEO and Founder of All-Star Dental Academy®. He is a former Tony Robbins top coach and consultant, having worked with companies upwards of $100 million. His passion is to help others create personal wealth and make a positive impact on the people around them. Alex received his Juris Doctor (JD) and Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Florida International University.

Episode Transcript ~ Mystery Calls

Transcript performed by A.I. Please excuse the typos.

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This is Dental All-Stars, where we bring you the best in dentistry on marketing, management, and training. Here’s your host, Alex Nottingham. Welcome to Dental All-Stars. The title of this podcast is Dental Mystery Calls, Don’t Do It. Our guest is Heather Nottingham. Heather is the co-founder and VP of training at All-Star Dental Academy. She is also our phone skills instructor. Please welcome Heather.


Hey Alex, hey everybody, thanks for having me.


I like to talk about mystery calls because those are just going right out of the gate. Those are one of the activities that we’re not big fans on, as you can tell. So what are mystery calls, Heather? Well, when I hear that term, the first thing that comes to mind is dun, dun, dun. Like everybody kind of cringes when they hear that.


And it’s really just, it’s kind of an old school tactic companies do. I think it’s more of an old school thing where, you know, essentially you’re recording people and trying to catch them doing things wrong. I feel like I think the, the intention initially was to try and train people and help them improve. But it’s really more just catching people doing things badly and kind of calling them out on it and saying like, look at how bad you did and.


this needs to be improved. So to me, that’s what mystery calls are. So in theory, they’re not bad because again, you came from retail and in retail, they had secret shoppers and they would come in or they would audit phone calls. And that was standard operating procedure for, and protocol for retail, right? Yeah, it was just to kind of show that you were always on top of the customer service experience. So…


you know, whether it was a person coming in shopping that was a real person or a mystery shopper, they wanted to make sure that you were doing the certain things that you were trained to do. So you know, in retail, I think that it’s more of a common thing. But in dentistry in the medical setting, I think it’s something newer that maybe team members aren’t as used to or aware of that’s happening. So how do mystery calls work?


protocol or process in dentistry? It’s somebody that calls up typically from a company and they’re calling an office to kind of ask questions and see how the team responds to it. So it’s like they’ll call and they’ll pretend to be a patient and they’ll ask potential patient questions that somebody would ask if they were calling to make an appointment. And…


I think it’s trying to see if they’re following that process that the company utilizes or if they’re capturing certain information. The thing about the mystery calls though, is a lot of times team members can kind of spot them, especially if it’s like the same person that’s calling every time. Yeah, it’s like, you know, they’ll say, oh, that.


we’re in an office in New York and this person keeps calling that has a southern accent that is kind of obvious that they’re not from around here or they’ll call and they’ll say like ask just a bunch of rapid fire questions in like a really weird order that a normal patient wouldn’t ask. Like normally patients will ask a few questions but it’s like


with a mystery shopper, mystery caller, it’s more like, do you have appointments on Saturday? Do you see kids? What do you charge for this? What do you have for that? Do you take this insurance? Do you have, it’s like, it’ll be like 10 questions, like rapid fire in a row. And it’s just in like a very odd order. So sometimes that’s another way that they stand out or they’re easily spotted because normal patients don’t.


think of that many questions unless they’re like that one patient that’s very hyper technical and wants to know everything, but most people aren’t like that. So, well, that’s the way to spot them as you talked about them. And they can be pretty obvious, as you mentioned, and we’ll get to the how the team what the team thinks about that in a moment. Now there are some, like we said, in theory,


auditing a phone call, doing a mystery shopper call. This is what’s done in retail. It isn’t bad on the surface, but unfortunately in dentistry, we’ve had this influx over the past decade of sales training that will use mystery calls, not necessarily only as a training tool, but as a way to make the team feel inadequate to then buy the offering services to do their bidding.


And the problem with mystery calls is you’re really at the mercy of the questions they ask and the way that they score the interaction. Does that make sense? Yeah, it’s kind of like the thing that just popped into my head and I don’t know if team members will get this reference, but geeky doctors probably will. Like me, the Kobayashi Maru from Star Trek, right? It’s like an un-winnable game.


they’re basically setting you up to fail. So it’s like they’re asking questions in a way that they know the person isn’t gonna do well and therefore that they fail the test. And then they can say, oh look, now you need our training. So yeah. That makes total sense. And so again, we see that we’re really at the mercy of how the Mystery Call company is setting it up because they set up


right, the entire situation, as you mentioned, with Star Trek, it’s an un-winnable obstacle. How do teams typically receive these mystery calls? Because you get a lot of dentists that come with us and they’re traumatized, their team has been traumatized by these experiences. Tell me about what you’ve heard interacting with these dental practices.


like they’ve kind of been almost sabotaged or being spied on that, you know, they’re going along, they’re trying to do what they know to do. You know, they’re doing their best in terms of what they’ve been taught or what they know. And then this call comes in and it’s like, you failed, you did terrible. And it’s embarrassing. And it’s like…


You know, yes, I think everybody can improve on things. Certainly with respect to the phones, it’s a constant practice that has to happen. But if you’re trying to sell a service and you want the people to be on board with it, it’s hard to do that when you set things up where it’s like you failed and now you feel awful and now are they gonna feel great about doing


this sort of training or whatever it is. So it’s gonna start things off, having the team be very resistant versus saying like, hey, we’re here to help. Like you’re doing things really well and you can also always be improving, right? It’s like maybe you don’t know what you don’t know. So I think that it just sets a really bad precedent. It’s like you fail and now we’re gonna work with you to make you better. Most people are gonna immediately


back up and be like, I don’t want to work with you. So. Yeah. And the problem with mystery calls is they’re very easy, as you mentioned earlier to object to, because the team member said that never happened and they set it up. They manipulated me and it’s a sneaky secret shopper call mystery call. Like we’re trying to be sneaky about it and we’re trying to gotcha, right? You made a mistake. It’s very adversarial.


Yeah. No, I was going to say they become very resistant. They’ll immediately say that wasn’t a real call. Patients don’t really talk like that. That person wasn’t from here. They, you know, nobody asks questions like that. It’s not legitimate, so it doesn’t count. Our patients would never ask those questions. So they’re like, therefore the feedback that was given to me is not legitimate. So that’s how they look at it. And the corollary to this,


conversation of mystery calls is sales training versus service training. So tell me a little bit about sales training, what not to do, and service training, what we advocate. Yeah. I think that when we were first kind of working in the dental practice and your dad’s practice, my father-in-law, we saw different aspects of sales training and it was like, we knew that we didn’t want to do that. We knew that it’s like,


Yes, you can do things to lie, cheat, and steal to get patients in at any cost. And you’ll get a lot of patients that way, but it’s not sustainable and it gives you a terrible reputation. For us, reputation is everything. It’s like, would you rather trick a patient to coming in to make an appointment and then hopefully they stay a patient of the practice? Or would you rather set things up the right way?


creating a bond and a rapport with the patient, doing things with integrity, showing the patient why we’re truly the best practice for them. And then they come in and they’re a lifelong patient and they refer and recommend more people. That’s really the best way to go about it. And so that’s the difference. The biggest difference between sales training is it’s more like a gotcha, get them in, closing tactics, like do whatever you can to get them to just book the appointment.


and then hope they show up. It’s a numbers game. Like, look at how many new patients I got. Great, but did any of them show up for their appointment? Did any of them accept treatment? Did any of them come in and have a great experience in the office? Those are the biggest things. So I’d rather have less new patients, but higher quality new patients doing things the right way because we know those patients are gonna show up. We know those patients are going to say wonderful things about the practice, recommend more people.


and pay and accept treatment and be great for a longer period of time. So that’s what you mentioned. You mentioned the get them in philosophy and the always be closing ABC concept. That’s why we’re not a big fan of the word sales or closing. I know sales is important in general, but it has a negative connotation. If you’re going to use a word sales, you have to make sure that you have it in the proper context, but even backing up a little bit sales training.


there’s a sales like kind of sales training pyramid where most of your time is closing the patient to do something. And a little bit is your kind of answering questions or objections or engaging and even a little bit less as rapport, getting to know the person. Whereas what we teach, which is called a very important patient pyramid, the vast majority of our time is building rapport. When you know, like and trust someone you’d like to do business with them.


And then we engage or we answer questions or overcome objections, which are a small portion. But ultimately, you become the logical choice. You don’t have to sell if you do the other steps right. So that’s the VIP pyramid versus the sales pyramid. And then this get them in philosophy, which is a real philosophy. Let’s lie to them, mislead them, potentially get them in, even if we don’t take their insurance or what have you. Let’s just we’ll figure it out when we get there.


and they come in feeling, what is that, bait and switch situation. And these tactics are what comes with this mystery shopper kind of, or mystery call philosophy of it’s a sales training protocol, the mystery call. Now there are alternatives to mystery calls and what we advocate


at All-Star Dental Academy is grade live calls, grade real calls. Now, obviously, you have to make sure that you’re doing it in a HIPAA compliant manner because often mystery calls violate many state laws with respect to HIPAA and privacy. And that’s a situation that if you’re…


receiving mystery calls, you better make sure that you and the company are compliant because you could be sued for that. Not to mention teams hate that and they’re gonna reject training and future training. So we’re all often dealing with the badder teams and practices and having to resurrect their trust in training because they’ve done it where they’ve, when the manipulation route are having to to work with that and often yeah, you might get some top-line


Patience not more profit and lose team members in the process of doing sales manipulation There’s a short circuit there as you mentioned If you know if there is going to be any sort of call grading call recording call feedback I always say that it’s the best thing to do is to talk to the team about it first and You know just let them know in a gentle way that this is not because we think you’re doing a bad job This is just so everybody’s always improving the the same way


that dentists take continuing education and we’re always practicing, we’re always role playing. This is just another mechanism for that. And you alluded to the consent. There are a lot of states that are two-party consent states that you mentioned where not only do you have to let the patient know that they’re being recorded, but you also do have to let the team know that they’re being recorded. And there’s been…


businesses, companies, things that have violated that in the past and they’ve been sued for it because team wasn’t aware, patients weren’t aware that they are being recorded. So that’s, I always recommend an advocate talking to your team about it before you do it, whether it’s mystery calls, which we don’t advocate for or actual real feedback on real calls. Right. Well, the way, let’s go into the alternatives, what we recommend.


So we recommend that you record your phone calls. And there are two ways you can do that. And you can do multiple steps. One is you could put a tracking number on your marketing, your website, and other areas that track the phone call. They forward it to your current number. And typically what happens is that when that occurs, there is a whisper that says this call may be recorded for quality assurance.


So that’s making sure there’s already consent or there’s notice. And it’s recorded, again, you’re not changing your number, it just forwards, okay? And that can then be listened to later. And of course we recommend you let your team know. There’s another benefit of recording your phone calls or using a tracking number is you can see how every marketing channel you’re investing in is performing. How many phone calls did we get from that channel? So I recommend that. Another layer is voice over IP.


Okay, which is the new way of receiving phone calls versus just a LAN or copper line. There are other, there are certain companies that integrate with your practice management system that are also voice over IP. There are a number out there. You can reach out to us. We can give you some recommendations for voice over IP. The advantage of voice over IP, many of the systems will allow you to record incoming and outbound calls, all of them.


and then you can find them and audit them. So what that does is actual real calls. Now, we recommend that we grade based on the live calls. Now, here’s an issue with HIPAA, many of those calls could implicate a HIPAA situation or privacy situation. Now, there are certain rules that we teach at All-Star of how to do it properly. And we have our good friend Dr. Lauren Levine who has advised us on the HIPAA.


a compliance where you can listen to the calls and they stay within your office, your framework, there’s no breach and those calls can be used to train your team to show them this is a real situation. And then we use a detailed call grading process, very important, that focuses on rapport on growth versus trying to focus on.


the sale per se. Now, obviously a good result is the patient made an appointment. But you can still score very poorly if you didn’t build rapport, if you didn’t set it up properly. Because just because they make an appointment doesn’t mean they’ll accept treatment or they’ll show up. So it’s, do you have the requisite skillsets? And then what’s great about our grading is that we then show you where in our training program, our online training program, you have to go back to learn how to improve on that.


And we give you exactly how to score well on the program. So A, our grading is very well received by team members because they know they have control. And B, it’s a service-based philosophy that they agree with and they feel good about. And they’re real calls that you can work with and provide feedback with respect to the team. Very, very well received, but of course, whether it’s mystery calls,


we’re not big fans of, or call grading, live call grades that you can do yourself. We do them with our online program. There are other services out there that do them. You can also, another point I like to make, and this is more on the technical side, that’s why I’m talking about this, and it’s not Heather’s cup of tea. There are companies that will audit hundreds of calls and give you a bird’s eye view of how you’re doing. Typically what they do is they outsource it and


they look for or they may use AI to give you like your call conversion. And those are nice, but it’s not going into detail what you can coach on. And typically they’re also sales-based in terms of what came in, what closed, et cetera. Okay, it’s good bird’s eye data, but we need the coaching. We need the information to then say, okay, when somebody called about how do I, what do you charge for veneers? Do you take my insurance? Are you open on weekends? How did you respond?


All the software shows you are these call grading analytics is it was a yes or no. It was a pass or fail. It was a, did you close them or not? We’d like to know, well, what can we learn? How can we improve? Because that will help us later. And that’s the benefit of detailed live call grading versus mystery calls. Does that make sense?


Yeah. And I think that, you know, some of those details are, they’re very specific to the great call process as well. So we’ll say like, and it’s very positive feedback. It’s like very gentle. It’s not like, oh, you’re terrible. You need to quit right away. You fail. It’s nothing like that. It’s like this person, you know, Susie team member did a great job. Her greeting, she sounded.


nice and professional, she was very clear. One of the things that Susie can work on for next time is using a transition statement. A transition statement, an example of that would be, oh, I’m so happy to help you with that. Do you mind if I ask you a couple of questions to better assist you? And we’ll reference where it is in the program. So we actually give specifics of…


what they could improve on for next time, not, oh, they did bad on this, but here’s an opportunity that they can take advantage of next time, and here’s some verbiage on that. Here’s some suggested verbiage. So it makes it very easy and very gentle for the team. What I’d like to invite everybody, Heather mentioned the great call process, which is a trademark process that she created. And.


I do a webinar multiple times a week called Dental Practice Excellence and I updated once a year or twice a year and so we just came out with the recent iteration. So if you haven’t seen it for a while or you haven’t seen it at all, take a listen. I’m going to put the link in the show notes, slash free dash training. I believe even free training will work multiple ways you can get there. slash webinar. Either way, I’m going to put the link.


in the show notes so you can access it. You can also access it from our website, There’s also a book, whatever, multiple ways to get there. Either way, the online, the webinar, I’m gonna talk about the gray call process. I actually do allude a little bit to mystery calls, and you already got the answer of what we feel on that. Don’t do them, but you’ll learn the gray call process.


and you’ll learn this, the great call process, it’s a great way, great way to grade your calls. Now, we do it with our online program. You can do it on your own. We give you some bonuses. We even give you a cheat sheet if you attend the webinar where you can use that as a guide to train your team. And also a lot of practices, you know, they get the grades and the feedback and you know, we all.


in my onboarding call, I’ll give you some suggestions on how different ways that you can review the call grade feedback with team members, whether it’s individually, in private, or it’s kind of generally as a group without calling anybody out, but just kind of going over some of the things to work on. And a lot of our offices take advantage of our coaching for teams. So, you know, we do have that as well as an add-on that, you know,


Doctors like, I don’t even if I get the feedback, I don’t know how to coach them or I don’t know what to say to them to make them improve or I don’t know how to role play with them. So coaching is a really good option for that because we have coaches that do this all the time. And the team members feel very comfortable with the coaches. Because the coaches are not like talking down to them. They’re actually doing this and they’ve done it. They’ve answered phones, they’ve, you know, run practices.


And they’re almost like a good friend helping them out and being like, hey, I’ve had that challenge with a patient asking that before. Here’s how I would respond to it. Let’s role play that together. So it gets them more comfortable doing that. So just wanted to throw that out there that we do have that as well. I’ll put a link to their coaching page as well. And many of our coaches either have worked in a dental office or still work part-time in the dental office. So they know they can sympathize where the team is at. Well, thank you, Heather.


for being on the podcast as always. And please remember to follow us on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. When you click the follow button, you get all of our latest episodes delivered to you immediately upon release. And you support us in creating more content for you and all your friends in dentistry. So follow us and until next time, go out there and be an All Star.


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