Don’t Answer the Phone

Shelly VanEpps and Alex Nottingham JD MBA explore the detrimental impact of mishandled phone calls on practice revenue, with missed opportunities potentially costing millions over the lifetime of a practice.


About Shelly VanEpps

Shelly is the VP of Business Development & a Mastery Coach with All-Star Dental Academy. By aiding in the growth and expansion of All-Star, Shelly’s passion for dentistry allows the company to focus on guiding dentists and their teams towards achieving their vision of a successful dental practice. Because each office has their own definition of “success” Shelly focuses her attention on customized coaching by applying her 21 years in the dental field to each department within the office. In addition, as a John Maxwell Certified Leadership Coach, Shelly enjoys working with doctors and office managers on shifting their approach from a managerial approach to a more effective leadership style.

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

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


This is Dental All-Stars, where we bring you the best in dentistry on marketing, management, and training. Welcome to Dental All-Stars. I’m Alex Nottingham, founder and CEO of All-Star Dental Academy. And with me is Shelley Van Epps, VP of Business Development and the integrator. And we’re talking about if the phones would just stop ringing and what is that all about? Please welcome Shelley Van Epps. Thank you for having me. I love this title.



because I know in one of your former incarnations, you were an office manager and for quite some time, what, 100 years I say? No, you’re so young. Yeah, 100 years, you got it. And you were telling me, I wanna hear the story about, because we know we’re all about phones here at All Star Dental Academy. We were doing our research of what our clients love. They love the phone training a ton. So it’s like, make sure we give that information to them. And I love how you took this topic around a little bit. So tell me,



about, yeah, this, because we definitely hear that office managers and team members, like that phone is a problem. It’s a nuisance. So tell me about the subject and this issue I want to hear. Tell me. Yeah. So, I mean, I talk with a lot of administrative team members and I don’t like calling them front desk. That’s a furniture. That’s a piece of furniture. So our administrative team members, the front line.



And we’re doing a lot of different things. We’re juggling the people checking in, checking out, you know, you’re wanting to go over treatment plans, all these different things. And the phone, it rings and you just look over and this is me. I just look over and I said, darn it all. If that phone would stop ringing, I could just do my job. And then somebody looked at me and they said, shell, if that phone stops ringing, you’re not going to have a job to do. And I, okay. Great point. I won’t complain about that phone anymore.



But it still is a challenge. And it’s something that we have to remember as a team member and as a doctor that you are balancing a lot of different things, but you have to turn off that frustration or that feeling like it’s an interruption and say, okay, this is an opportunity right now. That phone is ringing. I have an opportunity to make that person’s day.



and to welcome them into this practice or to help them if they’re in pain or hopefully save them from canceling their appointment, what have you. And so those phones are so, so powerful for the practice. Well, I think you went right to the solution with respect to this and you did change your perspective. I’m going to do a podcast in the future honoring you about the firelighter and firefighter thing that you taught me. So stay tuned for that. I want to



talk about that and how you inspired me. With respect to this, because I know you are a firefighter and the terminology is you’re trying to solve the problem. Let’s go, I wanna go back to the problem. Because you just went right, and you’re like, I don’t wanna hear about it. I don’t wanna be there anymore. But you were once there, and you turn around pretty quickly, but not all administrators changed their tune so quickly. There is an energy, there was a entropy or even more than that, that’s pulling you towards



disintegration whereby they don’t want great customer service. They don’t want to answer the phone. It’s a problem and it still is out there in medical and in dental. And I think we have to show some compassion for them, especially because the doctor might be saying, look, I need you to produce and do all these things or deal with insurance stuff. And they might be overloaded, understaffed and now they are not being trained.



And then we’re like, oh, take the phone seriously. Well, you take the phone seriously. And then we’re not giving time for that. So it’s a big issue. So I want to unpack the issue and what, obviously a perceptions shift has to happen, but tell me more what you see working in the office when you were, what you see in teams that before they work with us, what is the culture of how an administrator answers a phone? We’re in our own little.



bubble at all star. Phones are wonderful. We love phones and we train on phones, but that’s not the case everywhere. It’s like it’s a distraction. It’s a problem. It’s some other more work I have to do. And then we have sales training out there that’s still there that I want you to get off that phone as soon as possible and lie, cheat, steal, do whatever you can because we’re moving things. We’re moving widgets. And very rarely do we get a client, a doctor that comes to us like asking for



And when they do, we’re like, this isn’t a good fit for you. But most of them don’t like that. But there’s a mentality. Tell me more. I want to know from the front lines, what is happening? Why is this happening? I mean, it is very difficult to sit there and think, OK, I’m going to bond with this person right now who may not want to come into our office once I share with them this piece of information. So why don’t I just jump straight to it and skip the rapport part? I want to just tell them.



we’re out of network or you’re going to need to pay a deposit to come and see my doctor. And so a lot of team members think, oh, I’m just going to be able to do things faster if I skip some of the steps that maybe they’ve been told to do, or maybe they haven’t been told. So they’re just skipping steps and they don’t even realize what they’re doing. And they’re potentially cutting off the lifeblood to the practice by doing that. And it’s not intentional.



People don’t intentionally say, hey, I’m gonna sabotage your phones today, doctor. They’re looking at it going, okay, I have more things to do. The doctor gave me all these different tasks. I’m gonna get rid of the things that are not going to be beneficial for me right now. I’m gonna collect, I’m gonna do insurance because that’s gonna bring money in. Well, you don’t have insurance claims to submit if you don’t have a patient coming in the door. And so it’s getting ahead of that.



And it’s very hard for some team members to see the big picture when it comes to that. So stepping back and explaining the correlation, like somebody said to me, hey, if the phone stopped ringing, you don’t have a whole lot to do. And I went, yes, you’re right. I need to take care of that phone. You really need to treat it like a baby. You think like a doctor, business owner. I mean, you run the company that is all Studental Academy.



you ran an office at a very high level, more than just an office manager. Like you take ownership in what you do. And we wanna encourage team members to do that. That’s the highest level is they take ownership. Sure. Or we talk about being an integrator. There’s a very high level of ownership mentality implementation. But not everybody thinks that way. And I think, and this goes to leadership and we’ll do another podcast about leadership. It does start from the top, The Vision.



of the doctor and what they’re looking to put out there and how they’re changing the nature of the medical and dental field. Because yes, no wonder they would do that because in any business you call to get your dry cleaning. How much does it cost for this? When do I come in? Yes, sir. Yes, ma’am. It’s done. It’s a commodity. It’s a transaction. Dentistry could be that way if you wanted to, but it really is a service-based industry. If you are…



And this is one of our missions, or main mission, is if you’re looking to produce a ton and be a machine like a corporate model, that’s a different model. That may be more a commoditized model, you’re competing on price. But most dentists that come to us, where we support them, is being able to provide an alternative to the price cutters and discounters that is corporate dentistry. And to do that, you cannot be a commodity, you will lose. You have to be a service-based industry. And most dentists want that. The dentist wants in their chair.



at the end of the day, they want in their chair, somebody nice that they can do wonderful treatment, high level treatment that they were trained to do. That’s what they want. That’s the end product. Yeah. But to get there, we have to get through the gate and there’s the marketing, but your phone, we don’t realize that is, that’s where it happens because your marketing can be your marketing. But now when the answer to the phone has got to support that. And we have to recognize that there is going to be a natural inclination.



of most, because most dental people are trained that way or they come from that. And you hear, oh, this person has so much experience. I get nervous about that. It was a good experience they had in training. Right. So it’s it’s incumbent on the doctor to shift and then coaches like yourself and others to be able to provide the training to be able to shift that. And that’s why we have our online program that helps with that. That’s the top phone skills and online training in dentistry.



And then of course, it’s phenomenal. I do tons of videos in this while coaching really is an accelerant to making that happen. Well, that’s a lot of times what people get caught up on and they make it a transactional discussion versus a relational discussion. And if you’re truly getting to know somebody and knowing what they want and why they called you that.



transition statement is part of the whole great call process. And that’s taking them from that transaction over to building a relationship. If you just stay right there in that, yep, we’re going to answer your questions, but we’re not going to ask you more about you. We’re just going to just tell you what you’re asking. Like, we need to be involved in the conversation, get to know who it is. I love to say as my transaction transition statement was always



Tell me what prompted you to call us today or what prompted you to call me today. I’m able to learn a lot of pieces of information out of that and start building a relationship. But I’m not gonna do that if I feel like I’m juggling 15 different things and I just have to get off that phone. So you have to help your teams know what is actually your priority here. Who is your priority? The transition statement is Heather Nottingham,



training, the creator of the phone skills course. She teaches the transition statement in our program. For those who don’t know her story, she helped me turn around my father’s practice from 1 million to 2.3 million within 18 months. She has no dental background before working for my father. She was working for Bloomingdale’s Kate Spade and she brought that high level sales customer service mentality to a dental practice. That’s why the program does so well.



Again, it’s what we’re talking about here is getting to understand the root of the problem and understanding where the administrators are coming from their perspective and We have to empower them you know and I just I just Visualize you and your office manager role in the past because your office manager became a coach then work for all-star still coach But I could see you working with your doctor saying hey doc you I know This is what you say you want and we have to be able to train the team to do that



You can’t just, you can’t have a both. You can’t say I want, get them in, and then I want quality patients. You can’t say I’m not gonna train, but yet I want quality patients. It’s like our schedule and what we invest in, that will tell me what’s important. When I see doctors coming to events and bring their team, when I see them investing in training, when I see them doing the online training program with their team little by little, and I look on their P&L and I see that there’s coaching, event, there’s…



you know, an aspect of that that’s being budgeted, they’re investing their team. I know this is a serious practice. It’s like, what are you gonna put the money where your mouth is? So what I’m speaking to here is the CEOs that are the dentists that are listening and entrepreneurs that are out of dentistry. It’s fine too, we get a lot of people outside that listen to our podcasts, but you’ve got to invest in your team to be able to not just, so A, it’s the training and other, it’s the time.



and the vision that’s important to be able to do that. You’re committed to this and that you will not waiver because teams are gonna be like, and I know you can do it with me sometimes, okay, here’s Alex’s new idea. Let me give it a few days because I know it may just change to something else. And doctors are notorious for this, especially with training. Let’s see how long this lasts. Last one was two and a half weeks. I think we have a record this time of how long he or she is gonna commit to it. So you all gotta commit to this. And so it’s not your team.



When you start hearing, oh, this phone, and what? Oh, I got it. And you’re, you know, it’s a warning sign. I was talking to a doctor the other day and great practice. And he saw, he heard this happen. He saw, heard a team member like sigh having to answer the phone. And like that same situation, like, oh, the phone’s ringing again. I don’t want to deal with this. And it’s like, oh my goodness, this is going to be a problem. And it’s not their fault. We’re not going to yell at them right away. What did I do as a leader?



to allow this to happen? Did I not give enough training? Did I not reinforce? That’s just a result of poor focus. Yeah, it’s definitely something to be discussing within the team and making sure that there’s a clear expectation for sure. Just knowing the difference between, okay, I have a patient standing in front of me, checking in, checking out, going over treatment plan, the phone’s ringing, I’m the only one at the front.



What would my doctor want me to do? What is expected? Am I telling the person who’s in front of me, hang on just a minute, I’ve got to halfway answer this phone and put them right back on hold. Tell them I’m gonna call them back. Do I make the person in front of me stand there and wait? And different doctors, I’ve heard it come in different ways, varying opinions on how they want that handled. Do I have my own personal opinion on it? Absolutely. I want…



both sides to get the best of me, the best possible service I can give the person standing in front of me as well as a person calling in and so I choose depending on where I’m at in my transaction my relational conversation with a person on what’s the appropriate thing to do. You’re not gonna put a person on hold just to say hey are you checking in?



Right? You want to make sure that you are involved in both of those conversations somehow. And it is a challenge. It’s something where the team is making a decision based on the knowledge that they have to either answer or not answer. So we have to make sure they have the right information. They have the expectation at their disposal. What I like to cover the second part of this podcast here is I like to talk about



the cost that’s happening. So doctors are aware, owners are aware of what’s happening when we’re not answering the phone properly. And then I wanna cover the great call process just briefly. That’s our flagship program, what we teach and our online and our coaching program. This is very important so we can appreciate the impact of what’s happening. The average practice from our call conversion research will get, will miss about between 50 to 80 calls a month, meaning they didn’t convert them.



They had plenty, but they didn’t convert. But let’s just say that they didn’t convert, meaning to an appointment, one per working day. That’s 16 days a month. And the average first year value of a patient is $642. And that number’s from the ADA. That was before inflation happened. So it’s gonna be higher. But let’s just, I’m gonna go easy on all of you. Say at the 642. You multiply 642 times 16, you’re at about $10,000. That’s one month.



of missed opportunities. Now, if you do that for a year, that’s $120,000 for that year. And then we say the lifetime value of a patient is 10 years. So do the 120, $120,000 for that year, times 10 years is $1.2 million of lifetime revenue you lost easily just from phone skills. And one of the things is I have to, I know you’re a coach, you’ll love it. Give a shout out to our coaching division, is we’re big,



The core value in coaching is self-funding coaching, where we self-fund coaching in 90 days when you work with us, okay? You gotta be a member, but you work with us, we do that. Now, that you see right there, that was one self-funding tactic, just a phone. I mean, $10,000 a month, and then if you amortize or you multiply that over the LTV, it’s huge the amount of money that’s being lost. So I joke with our KPIs, our key performance indicators,



I can throw a dart at the spreadsheet, there’s something for us to work on and make money. It’s very easy, very affordable, as long as you’re coachable. So my point here with, we have to, nobody’s gonna act. Our human nature, we’re wired this way. We’re not gonna act, we’re not gonna use resources in our body and mind on something we don’t perceive as a problem. And the phone is a problem. We can say, anecdotically, is that right? Anadotically, anyways, how do you say that word?



I’m not the right person to ask. But it’s a nice word. Heather would say it perfectly. So for those listening, I’ll talk to Heather later and she’ll make sure I pronounce it properly. But it’s a good word. You know what I’m getting at. So we can say about these stories, just as the phone, but until you give numbers to it, and I know you’re big at numbers, I go, you know, Shelley, I think our average client size is usually we work with offices between 1.5 and 3 million. We have the five and 10 million and 20 million practice. But our…



Our core is 1.5 to 3. And you go, hi Alex. I don’t know about that. Let me see. You did the numbers. Okay, Alex, you’re pretty close. We did the numbers, but don’t just say things. I wanna see numbers to it. That’s an integrator for you. But the point here, $120,000 a year, $10,000 a month, upwards of 100,000 if you’re doing the LTV or 1.2 million. That’s a lot. Whatever these numbers are throwing at you, there’s a lot of money to pay attention and say I have to make a budget for training. Now, does it mean if I’m training



an online training system, All-Star, or coaching, whatever that might be, or events, and ends away. But it’s not just phones, it’s broken appointments, there’s turnovers, a lot of things that we can improve. And I’m going to put a link, I’ll have Cheyenne put a link in our show notes, alls backslash webinar. And you can see our webinar where I talk about these issues. And if you see if you saw it already, watch it again. We got a lot of ebooks to share with you as well.



but it’s important you tackle it. So I wanted us to make sure that we understand the problem and what it’s costing. Does that make sense? Yes. Okay, so our solution for this problem, and there’s a lot that go into it, but we all rallied behind the acronym that Heather came up with, the Great Call Process. So Shelly, tell us about the Great Call Process. What does it stand for, and how do we use it in a nutshell? Absolutely, so the G is for our greeting. We’re gonna start off with that.



beautiful smile on our face, the tone of our voice, we’re going to really be excited. The R we’re going to build a relationship rapport is what that stands for. So we’re building a relationship, getting to know the caller, the engage. We’re going to find out more. How are we going to help them add in some sizzle? Um, talk about our office. We’re going to then ask for an appointment. It’s a shocking concept, but a lot of people don’t ask for the appointment. They just assume, Oh, I lost them.



or they assume if they want it, they’re gonna flat out say, can I make an appointment? That does not always happen. We have to actually ask for the appointment. Then we obviously need to take some information from them at the very end, that’s key, and then thank them for calling. And so that’s it in a nutshell, there’s a lot of pieces to it. There’s actually 40 different pieces to it if you’re looking at our grade sheet, but,



We want to make sure to be hitting on all of those different things. And there are certain key components that listening to calls, working with teams, we’re missing and we’re missing them frequently and they’re not difficult. It’s just putting them at the right place at the right time in the phone call to make the most impact out of those calls. So, um, yeah, Heather did a great job putting that together. Kudos to her because it really, really works.



And what’s, again, what’s miraculous, she didn’t come from dentistry. She took her retail background and service and was able to adopt it. It’s common sense, everybody. I’m not saying that we created it all. What we have here at All-Star is I believe we have the right vision, what we stand for, service to give the independent practitioner that wants to do quality service to be able to compete with the discount.



offices and provide a great alternative. We have amazing people that support that vision. And then we have great content that we work with consultants that are outside of All Star all over the country. They’re our friends. They use our hiring service. They even come to our events. Because there’s not enough, there’s a lot more dentists that need consulting than there are consultants and coaches out there. So we’re all fighting for the same cause. The other thing that



Two other points, one, with asking for the appointment, a lot of sales training will say, well, ask right away, just kind of get them to do it. You cannot ask for the appointment until you’ve built sufficient rapport. You have to get yourself out of being a commodity. And that’s this idea of mastery. So we’re big on mastery. We even have a whole event series called Mastery, three levels for phone skills and case acceptance that you’ll, if you’re on our list, you’ll get more information about that.



So that’s our process. We don’t just create things because, oh, this sounds like fun. I mean, it is fun, but we do it for a specific purpose because we know we’ve done this for years, for over a decade, if not more, through the other systems that we’ve acquired in technology of training, and we know it works. So it’s just this idea of just repeating what works over and over again. And the fun is you can put a little different spin on it, but it’s still the basic stuff here. And it’s the right people that come along and keep doing it.



So I wish it was rocket science. It’s not, it’s just consistency. Consistency over intensity. Sticking with it over time. That’s what it’s all about. Absolutely. So, let’s, I think that gives a good nugget of the issue. Just kind of wrap up and review. So we were looking at this idea of the phones. We wanted to stop ringing. We don’t want it, but we have team members that may feel that way. And the way we shift that is, this goes to leadership, your vision.



and then carrying out your vision into action, making sure you comply with it, that you stick with it, that you’re consistent with your team. And you give your team and you equip your team with the resources, the training. And like I said before, I can look at somebody’s P&L and see if they don’t have a certain portion of their training. I think you were talking about the other day, was it 10%? That was for something else, but maybe that sounded pretty good, Shelly. Maybe 10% should be for training your team of salaries. Because I’ll tell you this.



The reason why it would be that aggressive of salaries, of payroll, is here’s the thing, 5%, 10%. It’s insurance. Because a lot of you listening are saying, inflation, I got to pay more. Even if the person has not gotten better, I still got to pay more because the market’s telling you to. So why not take a piece of that increase and say, I’m going to invest it in making them better where I bring them to the perceived level that I believe they should be. I don’t mind paying somebody 25% more.



if they grew my business X percent. So that’s the idea is we’re being proactive, we’re getting ahead of the curve. When you are within the right people and the training and the coaching and all that, you are ahead of the game. You are, all these issues of inflation, corporate dentistry don’t apply to you anymore because you can create the world that you need. You have the support. So that’s all. And then we talked about the cost



of what’s happening when you’re on the phone, what’s really happening when you’re not providing great customer service, when you don’t have intention. You talked about the great call process and we put the link as well, alls backslash webinar. And again, if you’re on our list, you’re gonna get a lot of phone training from us, free phone training. We’d love you to join, be part of our circle. But even if not, we’re still gonna provide you tons of education. That’s what we’re all about. We’ll make a difference in dentistry.



however we can. So Shelly, thank you so much VP of Business Operations and Integrator. Thank you for giving us an insight of what it’s like on the boots on the ground. What it’s like in a front office, the front office, but not front desk. No, but it’s a location. It’s a location at the front office. I just want to be a team member. We’re at the front, but listen, you’re at the front. You’re not a front desk, but you’re at the front.



Okay, garden the gate front the front the gate. Yeah. Okay, cool. Thank you so much. And remember to follow us on Apple podcast, Spotify, YouTube, get the episodes as they are released, share with your friends. And until next time, go out there and be an all star.



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