Dental Receptionist Training – Trial by Fire?

I finally got around to writing a blog post that reflects my experience with dental receptionist training – the good and the bad.

Setting the Stage

So, to provide some context, Alex Nottingham is my husband and founder and CEO of All-Star. I am the co-founder and VP of Training for All-Star and developed the Phone Success Course for All-Star’s online training program.

Alex’s father is a dentist and had his own practice for nearly five decades. A few years after Alex and I met, his dad asked Alex for his help with the business side of the practice. Apparently, there were issues around converting callers into patients making appointments, there were lots of cancellations, and patients were not accepting treatment recommendations… add it up and the practice was struggling.

Online Marketing Depositphotos 13185662 Xl 2015, All-Star Dental Academy

Alex brought his experience in online marketing and business management to his father’s practice, and within a few months, the phone was ringing off the hook. Unfortunately, though, the improved call volume was not translating into more new patients.

Alex asked for my help – to bring my retail and customer service experience to the dental practice – and to turn those calls into patients.

Watch Alex and Heather discuss Heather’s experience as a dental receptionist:

My History

My professional experience included over a decade in high-end retail sales and management for companies like Bloomingdale’s, Kate Spade, and Theory. And one of the most critical lessons I learned during that time is that the “relationship” between customer/client and the business is founded on a personal connection with the person helping the client. If you can nurture that connection, you can be sure that the customer/client will choose you over your competition.

Retail, All-Star Dental Academy

But my transition from retail to healthcare was not as smooth as I would have hoped.

Dental Receptionist Training – out of the fire, into the frying pan…

Frying Pan, All-Star Dental Academy

To begin with, I was surprised that there was no dental receptionist training offered when I started at the practice. It was definitely a “trial by fire,” where I was put immediately on the phones and had to figure everything out on my own. In my retail management experience, every new hire went through a rigorous onboarding training program where the new employee was set up for success with the tools necessary to make an immediate positive impact on the business.

Apparently, there was no tradition of onboarding new hires in the dental practice!

No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service?

No Service, All-Star Dental Academy

Another surprising lack was the absence of a “service” mentality in the practice. Don’t misunderstand, Alex’s father is a fantastic clinician – he is a Fellow of the AGD with thousands of very happy patients. However, he failed to lead his team via a strategic vision that incorporated “serving” the patient. He was happy when the patient was in the chair and compliant with his treatment plan, but things often went sour when the patient wanted time to consider options.

Unhappy with the status quo

The doc (as are all docs) was typically unhappy with this outcome. What he didn’t realize was there is a powerful correlation between a service mentality – where the goal is to not just meet the healthcare needs of the patient, but to “wow” them with an experience that make them want to tell all their friends and family about the practice – and case acceptance.

Read more about how a service mentality and “rapport” help with the patient experience:

Indeed, the service mentality begins with the very first phone call into the practice – treat your callers with respect and make them feel valued and welcome, and they will scramble to make an appointment. Work “collaboratively” with patients in discovering their oral health needs, and determining a treatment plan and they will excitedly agree.

Another big hurdle was the fact that Alex’s Dad’s business partner didn’t quite see eye to eye on the critical importance of innovating, training the team, consistency, and nurturing a positive environment.


Lastly, the most unsettling element missing from the practice was a growth mindset.

Mindset, All-Star Dental Academy

“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” – Dr. Carol Dweck, Stanford psychology researcher.

To my dismay, nearly the entire practice suffered from a “closed” mindset, where they had all seemingly given up on learning new skills. Busy work, like filing insurance claims and other daily tasks, were a higher priority than spending time with patients (both potential new patients and patients of record) on the phone and in person. This closed mindset also expressed itself with constant resistance to ideas Alex and I brought on making systems more efficient, or how to move to a more service-based approach to patients.

A Typical Dental Front Office

I don’t mean to portray the practice as dysfunctional.  In reality, the practice was very much reflective of how most dental practices operate. The lack of attention on service, combined with negative attitudes toward change and a shortsighted vision from the dentist inevitably results in a stagnant environment. Patients can feel that when they visit, and typically find it underwhelming.

Is there hope?

The quick answer is YES! There IS hope!

Hope Depositphotos 58411043 Xl 2015, All-Star Dental Academy

But the longer answer is that it’s not easy. Hard choices need to be made about the overall direction of the dental practice, and how the existing team can support that vision.

With a lot of sweat, blood, and tears, Alex and I implemented new systems for marketing, improved new patient call conversions, verbiage, customer service, hiring protocols, productive scheduling, reductions of broken and cancelled appointments, increased case acceptance – basically remade the entire patient experience.


The result? We more than doubled the practice’s revenues in only 18 months(!), and continued to grow year over year! We went from struggling to pay bills even though there was nearly $1 million in revenues (and where Alex’s dad often went without a paycheck) to $2.3 million. Alex’s dad went from losing hair and sleep, to actually being able to relax a bit and enjoy life. What better gift could we give him?

And finally, the methods we used to turn around the practice – including the dental receptionist training program I developed for myself – evolved into All-Star Dental Academy. We bring you the same systems, tools, and techniques that turned around Alex’s Dad’s practice. With All-Star, you, like thousands of practices around the world we have helped, can grow your practice to its true potential.

I’d like to invite you to attend a free online training session where we look at how to ensure your dental receptionist and the rest of the dental front office team is set up for success – from the very beginning! Sign up here for the complimentary webinar.

Listen to Alex and Heather discuss Heather’s transition from high-end retail sales and management to dental receptionist.

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