Many times we get questions of front desk etiquette in the dental office with respect to patient “order of importance.” This question came in during one of our recent Dental Practice Excellence webinars.
The dentist asked, “Is the person on the phone more important than the patient standing in front of your receptionist, as far as who gets attended to first?”
This is a very common issue, so I wanted to take the time and share my thoughts as a blog post. Hopefully this will help other dentists and team members with the same question.
My short answer is they are both important!
So how do you handle it?
In an efficient front office setup, you have at least two people at the front, one for check-in/check-out, and one to handle the phones and route calls, schedule appointments, and take messages. The ideal situation (that hardly ever happens in offices) is to have check-out completed and the follow-up appointment booked in the treatment room by the assistant. If the patient has any questions about next visits or financial concerns, the dentist is readily available.
This takes some of the burden off the front office staff so they can handle the phones and makes next visits much easier to schedule. Once patients get escorted to the front, generally they are antsy to get out the door and don’t like discussing money and next steps. You’ll often get an “I’ll call you to schedule” or something to that effect…
If you don’t have assistants doing check-out or you only have one person at the front then what do you do?
The person in front of you is the highest priority.
They are in the office and you are seeing them and interacting with them. If the phone doesn’t ring… you have nothing to worry about. If it does ring, your team member should politely tell the patient in front of them that the call just needs to be quickly answered so a message can be taken. It’s much better to answer the phone and get a call-back number than allowing it to go to voicemail. They can say something like, “pardon me, Mrs. Smith…I am just going to answer this call quickly and take a message to call them back. Thank you so much for your understanding.”
In my experience, callers understand if you are honest with them. Answer and tell them that you are “so excited that they called and that you want to be able to give them your 100% focus, however, you have a patient in front of you currently.” Then ask for “the best number and a good time to call them back.” Make sure you return their call when you say you will. That’s being respectful of their time.
If this challenge happens often, or if you find that calls are going to voicemail, it’s time to get at least someone part time to help cover the front on the busiest days. Existing patients are more understanding than new patients because they already have rapport with you. New patients can be more fickle, but we really want to try to have someone available to take their calls. New patients are a big key to practice success because they typically spend more on their first few visits. This definitely helps your production numbers.