Engaging Patients on the Telephone

Engage patients on the telephone with the GREAT Call® Process. Learn techniques for effective communication and building rapport. Be an All Star!


About Larry Guzzardo

All-Star’s Head Instructor, Consultant. Larry is a highly sought after dental practice consultant and international speaker. His skill and talent is offering practical, common sense solutions to improve dental practice productivity. He is also a faculty member at the Dawson Academy. Larry has delivered countless presentations including, “Winning Patient Acceptance of Fine Dentistry,” “Working with You is Tearing Us Apart,” and “The Leadership Challenge.”

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. Here’s your host, Alex Nottingham.


Welcome to Dental All-Stars and we have Larry Guzzardo, our head instructor with us, yay. And we’re talking about E, engaging patients on the telephone. And this speaks to our great call process. So for our members, you all know what this is. You come to our seminars, we talk about it at Nausium. It is the backbone of our phone skills training and many other systems. It’s a great call process.


Heather Nottingham, the phone skills instructor developed. And many of you know the story. If you don’t make sure you see dental practice excellence, the webinar, I talk about the story of how that great program, uh, the great call process was born. We’ll put a link into that. The great call process. So, so Larry, I I’m going to quiz you. What is the great call process? Well, the great call for the great Paul process is an acronym for great. It starts with greeting.


report, engage, ask for the appointment and take notes. And so it’s a no, no, no. Well, close right. Take information close to take information, take information. But, but my point here is that it’s a, it’s an outline for a conversation that you can have with anybody. Right. And there’s very specific reasons why it’s done this way. Uh, number one is we didn’t want you to have to memorize a script.


you know, we want you to memorize the outline and you could say whatever you want, but we didn’t want you to feel like you had to memorize something because we knew that that would throw everybody off if they had to do that. So that’s what Great Call stands for. That’s right. And we’re gonna spend some more time on E, engaging the patient. And so Larry, tell me about engaging and why it is so, before I even get to engaging, this is a very important caveat. Heather will make sure that we’re in trouble if we don’t mention it.


You have to go in order with the great call process. And often people make the mistake that they go to, even though engage is probably one of the, it’s a very powerful step. Heather would argue rapport is the most powerful. And we talked about the disc profile and personality types and understanding people, we would all agree report is critical. You can’t do that. So you got to make sure that you greet them properly. And we have certain sub elements with greeting and.


You have to build great rapport, wonderful rapport. And when you have that, then you have some fun with Engage. Because typically when people call you, they’re asking, what do you charge for veneers or dental implants or whitening? And most people are taught the polite thing to do is answer the question. Answer the question, yeah. And a lot of people will teach, don’t answer, manipulate and lie and do whatever, or just don’t answer. That would also frustrate people.


But the problem is if you answer it, then they already commoditized you and they’re going to call and may not make an appointment. So what do we do? And so we teach, we will answer them in the engage section. We have to get to know them first. We want to make sure we’re thorough and we’re answering the right question. We’ll answer them. Right. We’ll answer them when it’s appropriate. Because the great call is like a recipe.


There’s a reason why things are added in the order that they’re added into, because it creates the flavor that you’re trying to have for your guests. And so it’s the same thing. We’re trying to create comfort with the person that we’re talking to on the phone. I’m a firm believer that when people call you, it’s because they want to make an appointment. It’s just that sometimes we don’t follow the steps in the right order, and so it doesn’t create


comfort with the caller to feel like we’re the right people for them. And so they don’t make an appointment. And there’s this idea of framing. Everyone is trying to frame someone else into their paradigm or into, uh, typically it’s going to be a commodity, right? Like you know, you’re this price, you do this thing. And as you would often say, we’re not retail and dentistry, right? We are.


a service-based program and most offices want to be service-based. And so we have to make sure and help break the patient from their, how would you call it? Their hypnosis, right? And our brains do this naturally. We try to simplify things. This is this much. This person works this way. But when we have a relationship with them and we see that…


They look at us as humans if we’re answering the phone and then we have a rapport, then the magic can happen. If you’re calling Best Buy and you’re just trying to get, I mean, what’s the difference between Best Buy and Amazon? Well, there isn’t in price typically, but Best Buy you can come to. You can talk to somebody. It was interesting. I find these, this was an intricate example of rapport and service.


I guess I’m lazy and I don’t want to cook and, and against my religion that you would. And so, but these are all organic and one place delivers all organic, they say, but I went to this place and not only can you pick your meals, but if you come, you also, they, they get to meet you. They do free coaching on diet and so on. And I know what I’m doing with it. I believe, but it’s nice to have that relationship. And I’m like, wow, that’s included. So they got me.


It’s a human, a human relationship now. So now not only is it the food, but that’s an individual. I don’t want to disappoint them. I would have a relationship with them. The same thing we talk about with broken appointments. When it comes to cancellations, why would you cancel, you won’t cancel on your hairdresser, hairdresser. I stumbled because I don’t have hair and it upsets me. So the, the, why would you not cancel on him or her, but you will use your general office because you don’t have me to have that relationship.


uh, with them. And so on the phone, we have such a short moment to create that relationship that we, we, you know, that’s our opportunity and we have to make sure we’re not commoditized and that’s where the greeting and report come into. So let’s assume we’ve done our greeting report properly. Tell me about engaging. Yep. Yep. Well, you know, today we’re dealing with a lot of people who think they know more than we do.


So obviously you’re going to talk to a know-it-all differently than you’re going to speak to somebody who is actually taking notes and listening to you. We also have to remember that, and because we know this from the calls that we audit that people ask a lot of silly questions, you know, and so training yourself to resist the urge to answer those questions is, is really essential. They don’t know what to ask us. And I think part of it is because they don’t expect to have to know.


what to ask us. And so if we put it all in perspective, engagement helps us get to the root of what they were really calling for. It’s all about the comfort level. The greeting guests, it’s because you want to demonstrate to them that you’re friendly and things like that, but psychologically, it also slows them down. Because many times when they call on the phone, they start with, are you open on Sunday? Do you treat dogs? Has your doctor ever been arrested?


And then you get, right. But, but you, you get thrown off and you think, oh my gosh, I got to answer these questions. Yes. No, maybe. Well, don’t believe everything you say in the dogwood lay down and all that conversation doesn’t make any sense. So my point is if we put it in perspective, the greeting slows them down. We also know that tone of voice is really, really important. If you’re going to engage with somebody, even though we don’t like to admit it, I know that every single listener here has called the customer service department.


And before those people even said hello, they’ve already made a decision as to whether they think they got the right person or not. So the greeting also gives the caller the opportunity to hear our voice. It gives them the opportunity to do a little bit of a sound check. Like, oh, I can’t hear you. Oh, maybe it’s because my dog is barking in the background. Or maybe my baby is crying in the other room. Or I have the radio up too loud. Or maybe it’s because I’m at the fast food drive-through and I’m ordering my lunch while I’m…


all you know, you mean people don’t give a lot of thought to call in our office. They just do it when the spirit, you know, kind of hits them. And so they make the calls. So, so the greeting does a little sound check, slows them down a little bit. It gives them a little bit of an opportunity to hear what, what you sound like. Going right into rapport is important. And again, I’m glad that you brought up, you have to do these things in order because when you develop rapport with somebody, it now gives them.


the flexibility, it creates likeability, you know, and that’s where the flexibility comes from. It’s like, you know, I was hoping I’d get the right person on the end of the line, and it sounds like I do. And now that I see we’ve got something in common, I like this person a little bit more. So that’s why engagement comes now and not at the beginning, because now this is when we’re gonna start to talk to this person. Because this individual might have called earlier,


And says, I need to get in and see the doctor. I’m having a toothache. You know, and our tendency is to think, Oh, okay. Let’s just mess up the whole schedule and get you in right now. You know, where we haven’t engaged with the patient to actually find out what kind of an emergency is right. You know what I mean? We know from experience that people tend to exaggerate their condition because they don’t think they’re going to be able to get in very fast. You know, they think it’s going to be weeks or months before they can get this toothache addressed.


But if we slow them down a little bit, you know, we’re like, I’m glad that you called, we’re gonna take care of you, I’m disappointed to learn that you’re not feeling good, but I’m glad that you gave me a call. Tell me about this two thing. Now we let this person talk. You know, and then those questions come out. Well, have you tried anything else? Have you talked to anybody else about this? You know, how long has this been going on? But letting them talk now makes them feel more comfortable.


with you because that’s a way of helping them to relax. Emotionally, it also helps them because they feel like, Alex, you’re listening to me. Nobody else was listening to me. Everybody else was telling me what to do. It’s the same thing you call in office and you say I’d like to get an appointment to come and see you. Well, can you come this afternoon? How about tomorrow? We’ll send out an Uber, you know, that kind of thing. We’re starting to make decisions without their input. See, there’s no engagement there.


And then offices wondered like, why did I get the breaks from this person? As soon as I gave them what they said they wanted. Well, there’s a difference between what they want and what they say they want. Because I don’t want to be too voodoo woo woo here. Uh, it, but, um, people want connection with other people. That’s what all human beings want. And if I think about your office, you want to connect with the people that you treat. And so engagement is what allows them to speak.


Now you can ask questions based on what they told you. You see, they’re not suspicious about those questions because they’re the one who brought it up. My tooth is aching. Tell me about that. Well, it happens when I do this. It happens when I do that. Have you tried anything for it? They’re not suspicious of it. They don’t think something is going on with your motives. Unfortunately for us today, people are cynical and they’re distrustful.


And they’re suspicious, you know, and they’ve been like what you’ve said, they’ve been manipulated before, you know, and they got talked into doing things that they didn’t want to do. Now, all of a sudden they’re realizing, well, this other person on the line here who understands the recall process isn’t doing that at all. Because the other thing that we’re trying to do is we want patients to choose for themselves what’s appropriate for them. Because when people choose for themselves, they now commit.


You know, now they listen to details. Now they pay attention to instructions. Now they refer to our practice. And so engagement is very, very important because it increases their comfort level with us. It allows us to ask questions that doesn’t create suspicion. It doesn’t create distrust. Like, what are you up to? You know what I mean? Like if we start with, well, do you have insurance? Where do you think those little suspicion meters that people have? They’re going to go on high alert.


They’re going to say, well, why is that important? You know, why don’t you just ask them how much money they have, you know, in their bank account? Um, my, my, my point is, is if you let them talk and you ask questions based on what they say, they don’t become suspicious, they don’t become sys, um, cynical, they don’t become distrustful matter of fact, they start to not even like you more, they like, they trust you more, like I’ve got to go to this person because this person listened, it’s, it’s all about emotion.


they paid attention. And then in the end, when you make a decision about what’s going to be best for them, they’re going to respect it. Because the patient senses, I’ve had my say so, everybody else is telling me what I had to do. Well, that would be great. But remember what I said earlier, we’re dealing with people today who think they know more than you do. And you talk to know it all differently. Know it all want to make up their own mind. They want to make their own decision.


But when they do, it’s locked in. You can count on them for that. You can take that to the bank. If they haven’t made up their own mind and they feel like you just talked them into something or you told them what they needed, like you need x-rays, you need an exam, you need whatever, then if you’re having a problem with broken appointments and new patients, I won’t be surprised. Is that we lost it right in the engagement. Yeah, you know, I’m thinking that you could do engagement wrong, well, two ways.


two parts to one way. First is you do engagement too quickly. They call, they ask the question, you do a couple things. One, you answer them too quickly without putting in context, or you can be combative or subversive. You’re not answering the question, you’re interrogating them. What about this? What about that? What about that? I mean, you also, I like what you said is you want to slow them down. That’s part of the transition statement we do in the greeting.


You want to slow them down. You, you’d like to slow them down and make them feel welcome and, and slowly draw the control without them knowing to you, uh, because you know what you’re doing, they don’t, uh, they’re just going by programming I’m calling. I have an urge. Let me use. We talked about a disc in another situation. Let me use my personality profile. The line here at the coffee shop is too long. Let me call the dentist. Right. And.


whatever that might be. And so it’s, it’s making sure that we’re, we’re engaging at the right time. And that’s like what you say, we’re slowing them down first and then getting to build a relationship. Okay. That can set them up for a great experience. They leave going, wow, that was a really, I have a connection. If you don’t make a connection with that person, you’re not going to stand out. You’re going to be commoditized.


And we really can’t get to what and let’s say the thing too is a lot of offices and these are when we have these discussions, we can kind of analyze where areas that we can improve. What is the vision? What do we stand for in our practice? Do we, we might say, oh yeah, we’re about customer service. Do we talk about it? That’s what’s nice about the, you know. Plug for all star was nice about online training little by little as you keep re.


re-invigorating yourself with that purpose being customer service training and being proactive on the phone with an intention of what you’re looking to do, not just reacting to everybody’s calling and what’s going on and being able to respond to that. How can we promote more engagement in the practice? I think a good way is to start anticipating.


many of the questions that you probably get. You know, matter of fact, I would ask every department in the office, hygiene, dental assistants, you know, front office, whatever, what are the five most common questions that you can just automatically anticipate that you’re probably gonna get? You know, and I would ask them that. So that way you can start to think about what your answer is going to be. Particularly, I would say for the front desk, what do you do about broken appointments? How do you handle those?


situations how do you handle it when somebody’s going to change their appointment. What do you do when they ask that insurance question right off the bat. You know what I mean. And so let’s start to anticipate how do we want to answer those questions because one thing we do know and we talked about it in lots of our sessions is behavior is predictable. We almost can always predict how somebody is going to respond in a certain situation and so anticipate those things.


Um, and then learning good communication skills are important communication techniques, not, not, not scripting, not like, Oh, if they say this, you say that. It doesn’t work like that. I’m talking like techniques, like acknowledging the person when they’ve said something. Somebody asks you a question and you respond by acknowledgement. Oh, I can help you with that. I didn’t answer their question, but I’ve acknowledged because you’re sending a signal to that person. I.


heard you and so emotionally that person feels like I’m comfortable because emotionally we love it. It’s human nature when we feel like we’re being acknowledged, you know, we’re being listened to, but it also means I think I like you a little bit too. I don’t know you, but I’m enjoying talking to you already. So learning the technique of acknowledgement, you know, don’t answer that before you answer the question. Think of it like a cushion. I can help you with that.


I’m glad that you brought that up. That’s a good question, you know, that kind of thing. You know, have awareness. People always think they’re very clear. It’s again, human nature. I’m guilty of it myself. I feel like the thing that I just said was perfectly clear, but often I don’t get the answer that I was looking for. And it’s because what I said and what you heard was probably two different things, or probably what I thought I said.


is different than what I was anticipating. So again, another technique is that we use awareness. You know what I mean? So we make sure that we answer the right question. You know, that’s very important. And so in acknowledgement, I’m letting you know I heard you. You know, so I’m saying that’s a good question. I can answer that for you. In awareness, we’re saying, but let me see if I understood what you said. Are you asking?


whatever. You know what I mean? Like somebody might call your office and they might want to know, do you guarantee your work? Well, there could be a lot of different things that they’re actually asking there. And we don’t know what it is until we get into engagement. But if I just answer that, no, we don’t provide a warranty or if I go into all of that, you’re going to get a hang up, right? Because the person didn’t get the answer that they were looking for. Whereas an awareness


you might consider, you know, Ms. Jones, you were asking me about a warranty and I’m wondering, are you curious about how long our procedures last? Yeah, because, which is completely different than a warranty, if you’re following me here. So we use the technique of acknowledgement to let the person know that I listened to you emotionally, it calms you down, makes you feel good about the person that you’re talking to.


Did I hear you correctly? And what I like about this kind of technique when you use it in engagement is that I could be completely wrong about what I thought I heard, but I’ll guarantee you this, the listener or the caller will never be upset with you because you gave them the opportunity to clarify themselves. But I’ll tell you this, you answered the wrong question because what you thought you heard and


they thought they said were two different things, you’re going to have a very frustrated call around the other end of the line if they just don’t hang up. You know what I mean? So having some good techniques helps you with engagement. But notice this isn’t about scripting and it’s really not about like what you said. I’m also asking if you notice a lot of open-ended questions. Tell me about, describe this for me. Explain when that happened.


You know, how long has this been going on? You know what I mean? I’m not asking them questions where they could answer yes or no. Because if they do, then I have to ask more questions. And then they start to feel like they’re being interrogated. And when they feel that way, they start to get suspicious. What are you up to? Are you just looking for somebody who’s gonna spend a lot of money? You know what I mean? People just have that way of going negative when they get suspicious. So you can enhance engagement by having some good techniques.


of acknowledgement, of awareness, of getting good at asking open-ended questions. You get good at asking open-ended questions when you start to anticipate, I get questions like this all the time, and so I know how to answer them. Or because I get these questions all the time, I’m wondering if that’s what you really meant, not what you said, you know, kind of thing. So that’s how you can…


enhance engagement and make it easier for them. You’re just listening to them. And you’re making sure that I understood what it is that you’re actually looking for. Now I can make a decision, how quickly do I need to get this person in? Is this the kind of emergency where I have to interrupt the schedule to get this person in? Or is it really the kind of emergency that you wait a couple of days? The person needs to be seen, but not right away.


The beauty here is in this particular situation, when you’re following the great call process, the patient is actually more relaxed with you. And if what I said earlier made any sense, people tend to exaggerate their condition because they don’t think they’re gonna be able to get in very quickly. So all the dental assistants know what I’m saying because they jump through hoops to get the chair set up and everything all ready to go and…


and everything and they sit down with the patient and they go, well, tell me how long this has been going on. And the patient goes, well, six months ago, you know, I was eating an ice cube and I cracked my tooth and the patient’s like six months ago and we’re rushing to get you in today, but you see, they told the people at the front desk, I’m in this horrible pain. You know what I mean? You need to get me in right away. And we set off all the alarms where is, if you talk to the patient, you might realize, well, there’s no blood involved.


There’s no acute pain that’s keeping you up at night or keeping you from going to work. Uh, there’s no swelling. You know what I mean? Not the kinds of things that tell us this is an emergency where you’ve got to be seen today. But if you listen to the person. Remember with rapport and engagement, they feel more comfortable with you. When you say, Hey, I, I’m hearing what you have to say. And you know what? You’re right. The doctor does need to take a look at this. And when I look at his schedule today, I noticed that, you know, you might be here eight or nine hours.


before he could get to you. But when I look at the schedule tomorrow, I notice that you could be seen promptly at nine o’clock. And I’m wondering if that wouldn’t work better. Well, for the person who feels is now relaxed, is calmed down, realizes you’ve been listening to them, they kind of know they were exaggerating things earlier. You know what I mean? To get you to get them in sooner. Getting in tomorrow or maybe the day after, that makes sense. But you wouldn’t get the…


person to agree to that if they were in a high emotional state. And if that high emotional state was, I have a toothache and I need in today, you’re not going to win this unless the person calms down, relaxes, feels flexible. Tomorrow will work. I didn’t really want to have to leave the office right now anyway. I just said all that because I needed to get in. Again, if I’m making any sense. So the process actually works in your favor.


but you have to honor the process. You can’t skip a step. You gotta do it in the correct order because if, let’s say for instance, I want you to wait till tomorrow, but you’re really thinking I’m coming in today, but you haven’t developed rapport with the patient. You think they’re gonna develop the flexibility to consider waiting until tomorrow? They’re too rigid. And they’re like, no, I gotta come in today.


You’re the dentist. I heard that you’ve got to see me when I say I want to be seen. I don’t care about your kid’s soccer game. You know what I mean? Dinner with your wife, walking your dog, whatever it is that you have to do. You’re going to have to get me in there today. But when they’re feeling flexible, your idea sounds appealing to them. Well, Larry, that’s how these things work in our favor. It was a pleasure listening to you today. And.


Remember everybody to follow us on Apple podcast, Spotify, YouTube, get the episodes as they are released, share with your friends. Thank you Larry Guzzardo, head instructor, All Star Dental Academy. Until next time, go out there and be an All Star.


We hope you enjoyed this episode of Dental All-Stars. Visit us online at AllStarDentalAcademy.com.

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