Why Improving Dental Office Phone Skills is Like Dancing

Recently, I was thinking of dental office phone skills while my husband and I took up dance lessons. We have always been good in the basics of what is called “prom dancing,” and “winging it” on the dance floor. Unless you requested the Electric Slide or the Chicken Dance, there wasn’t another professional dance that we were comfortable with (if those are even considered professional… hah!).

So, we decided it was the time to learn from a real teacher and see how we fared. I mean, how hard could it be? We’ve all seen Dancing with the Stars, and thought, “I could do that, right?” Wrong. There is a huge difference between reading about how to dance, watching someone dance (they always make it look SO easy), and actually doing it yourself without looking like a buffoon. Our goal was to dance gracefully like at the ending of Dirty Dancing … not awkwardly like Napoleon Dynamite or Elaine from Seinfeld.

In our first lesson, we learned the basic Foxtrot. The dance takes two steps back and two steps to the side. Sounds simple? It was tough enough to learn the steps without mixing them up or getting them out of order. Even tougher was working together as a team. One of us wanted to lead (ahem, me) while the other struggled to avoid stomping on feet (thank goodness not me since I was wearing stilettos). Added to the challenge was keeping the same rhythm, your gaze up, and trying to appear graceful.

We realized very quickly that actually dancing was FAR different than watching on tv! But our instructor was extremely patient and told us that the first phase is just learning the individual steps. He said, “in the beginning, you will look very robotic and that’s normal. It’s part of the process of learning. The next phase you will get more comfortable and then you will learn to smooth out the moves and add your own style.”

This got me thinking about how much this was like learning to become a master of the dental office phones.

In the beginning, when you learn a specific process for handling phone calls with new patients, there is a learning curve. You have probably taken calls before but for most of you there was no training… it was haphazard and inconsistent.

In the first phase, you need to learn the process step-by-step. And like the dance instructor said, because you are doing something new, it will seem somewhat robotic and unnatural. As you practice, it will become familiar and you will get more comfortable and sound more natural. Then, finally, you will develop a rhythm and add in your own style that works best with your personality. You calls will be fluid rather than a bunch of individual steps.

When starting anything new, there is going to be a certain level of nervousness. At All-Star Dental Academy, we have put together the most comprehensive program around for learning the art of phone verbiage, customer service, and dental scheduling practices… but even with the MOST sophisticated systems like ours, you won’t get the full value if you don’t practice and use it every day.

How many people learned to drive a car while just watching a video? Hopefully none! I wouldn’t want to share the road with someone that never had actual on-the-road practice. You have to get behind the wheel over and over again to be comfortable driving, and it takes years to become a skilled driver. And in the beginning, each step is learned separately… get in your car, buckle your seatbelt, turn on the car, check your mirrors, etc… Once you have some practice, all of those steps are done without thinking of them individually… it becomes a fluid motion.

How about practicing dentistry? Yes, there were books that you needed to read to learn the science and techniques behind procedures and the steps to do each procedure, but I hope you didn’t stop there. Many years of practice were required to be able to perfect your skills. And no good dentists stops there. Every year you do CE to stay sharp and competitive.

It’s the same with verbal training and phone skills for your dental office. At first, your training in how to handle calls will be a step-by-step process. You will need to learn each step on its own before you can apply it to create a successful call. After practice, the steps will eventually come together to be a seamless conversation with your patients, no matter what questions they ask or objections they throw your way. This is where you build amazing rapport with the patients, and can take polite control of the conversation, and lead them in the direction to best help them. But this doesn’t happen overnight.

So how can you accomplish these things in YOUR dental office phone skills?

Well, we highly recommend that the first thing you do is to record your office’s calls. At a minimum, you record in-coming calls so you have a way to identify areas that need improvement. Our program has a specific grading process that we use and call recording and audits available, but if you don’t use our services you can grade each other’s calls, or at least have each team member review a few of their own calls each week and self-grade. And don’t forget to practice via role-play with a variety of call scenarios.

This is one of the key things I did when I was working in my dental office. I would always be striving to improve my calls to get better – for my office and for myself. We would do weekly call recording reviews and group role-play sessions. These felt awkward at the beginning but soon became really fun.

We also recommend training in some areas of phone, customer service, and verbal skills each week. Having a structured training program will help greatly so you know exactly what to cover. Having a testing component is extremely helpful so you know where everyone’s competency level is and who might need more work in a specific area. At All-Star we have individual testing and certifications so you can see exactly where your team is in the program and monitor their progress and exams.

Lastly, one of the best recommendations of how to improve extremely quickly is to utilize a coach. This is someone who is trained in the art of dental office phones and can work on specific areas of improvement with your teams to get them handling calls with confidence and passion. At All-Star, all of our coaches are experts on the phones, certified in our programs, and have all worked or are currently working in dental offices. They have a solid understanding of all areas of practice management in addition to the phones. If you can’t have a coach then you can assign someone from your team (dentist, office manager, or even just an enthusiastic team member) to hold everyone accountable for weekly training and progress made on call grades and learning.

Even just making a small effort each week will get you ahead of the competition. Most dental offices don’t train at all, with the exception of the occasional dental conference or seminar. And while these are both fun options for learning, research suggests that the best way to learn is by taking in smaller bite-sized bits of information each day or week so that learning is cumulative. Otherwise what happens is you learn a whole bunch of info in one sitting, most of which is forgotten pretty quickly or just not implemented at all.

Make your dental office phone skills learning a part of your company culture by creating a lasting habit for success in your office!

For more details on our programs, please register for our free educational webinar Dental Practice Excellence: 3 Steps to an All-Star Practice.

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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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