Front Desk Dental Reception – Not Enough Coverage at the Front Desk

Dentist’s question: Usually, my front desk dental reception position will try to engage a new patient on the phone, but the other phone lines will ring, constantly interrupting her. We have a small office so multiple front desk personnel are not feasible and the assistants are not available to answer the phones. How do you handle this?

My Reply: Front Desk Dental Reception Employee

You said you have a small office. How small is small? I know you may not like my answer but if you find you are unable to have your front desk receptionist handle all the calls well without letting many go to voicemail, you may be missing out on a lot of opportunity to grow and give amazing customer service. Have you kept track of when the higher volume of calls is coming in? If you have certain days that tend to be busier than others, you may want to consider having someone that can assist with the phones on at least those days or get a part time receptionist that can at least help be a warm body to take messages. That’s why there are so many of those call answering services these days…because they are needed (and they charge a lot for a good service too vs just hiring someone in your own office)!

When the front desk dental reception employee is on the phone with a new potential patient, it carries the same weight as when you are presenting treatment to a patient. There should be no interruptions that tell that patient they are less than important. We know that the cost of a new patient in a general dentistry office is an average of $642 for the first year (per ADA). In a cosmetic dentistry office the new patient value is much greater. If you hired someone even at $12/hr just to help answer phones and gave them 25 hours per week at the most, that’s only $300…well worth the investment if they can help schedule at least one new patient.

Watch Dental Practice Excellence, where Alex, our CEO goes into more detail about phone skills and what you are missing out on.

You have to see the people at the front desk as an investment, just like you see a marketing expense. If calls are being missed, that’s income that’s being missed. Some people will call back, but some patients see having you lines tied up or going to voicemail or being placed on hold multiple times as a reflection of what level of service they will expect if they become a patient of your office. Most people will just say “the heck with that office” and then go somewhere, where they will be treated like a VIP.

If you can have some backup or get a part time person, that’s ideal and necessary. If you couldn’t see all the patients that came to you, you would hopefully invest in an associate…it’s the same with the phones. The last resort, if you can’t do any of that is – the new patient comes first. Why? Because they are more fickle than your existing patients. Have your receptionist finish up taking the time on the phone with the new patient and let the other calls go to voicemail. Then call the rest back right away.

A related question I received was when you get new patient phone calls and have a patient in front of you, what do you do? I answer it in this blog post Dental Front Desk Etiquette: Who’s the More Important Patient?

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