New Patient Phone Calls – Who Should Handle Them?

A dentist in our training program asked a very common question recently about new patient phone calls. I wanted to answer it publicly so everyone can benefit from the response.

The Question about New Patient Phone Calls:

Question: “The GREAT Call Process(TM) seems like a good system but obviously takes some time and concentration by the staff to pull it off. I have two front office staff. One is more experienced and has always greeted patients, answered the phone first, and handles financial arrangements. Do you recommend that she transfer the new patient calls to the other staff member who is less likely to be interrupted so the proper attention can be made to the new patient?”

My Reply:

Yes the GREAT Call Process(TM) will take some time. It’s like diet and exercise. There is no quick fix for success. Everyone just needs to study, practice, and apply the techniques. My recommendation, which I cover in the Phone Success course, is that whoever is better at handling the new patient phone calls should not be the one to answer the phone. It sounds counterintuitive, but you don’t want your most skilled person tied up as a phone filter. The primary person who answers calls is fielding a whole range of calls: people with questions, bills, new patients, sales calls, etc. The most efficient process is to have the person answering the phone handle all the calls they can, and pass the more complicated ones (especially new patient phone calls) over to the team member best suited to handle them. It also helps to have someone to act as a buffer for when there are new patient phone calls, so the proper person can prepare for the call. For example, “Mary” is the front office team member tasked with answering calls. The standard procedure for this office is that high priority patients get handed off to the “New Patient Coordinator” or “VIP Coordinator.” Mary would let the caller know that the New Patient Coordinator will be able to best answer the patient’s questions. This way, if the call involved a complex issue such as insurance or the price of a service, Mary won’t be caught unprepared. Since the caller will be handed off to the New Patient Coordinator, the more experienced team member, everyone will be best positioned to help. However, you have to be very careful in determining which team member is better suited to handle new patient calls. Having “more experience” and being the one who “normally handles the calls” doesn’t necessarily mean they are the best person for that role. It just means they have been doing it longer. When All-Star performs call audits we try to grade all team members that work with patients on the phone to get an idea of who sounds friendly, caring, is an effective listener and builds the best patient rapport. Ideally, all team members should be properly cross-trained in case there is overflow or someone is out of the office. At All-Star, we teach a systematic approach to phone verbiage and scheduling practices, including providing a consistent patient experience from everyone on the team. If you do not know how to train your teams in this skillset, or don’t have the time, consider an outside consultant or training program.  All-Star Dental Academy offers a unique online training program designed specifically for customer-service-based phone and scheduling training and is great as a self-learning program.  It can also be paired with coaching services to enhance practical implementation and facilitate mastery of new skills. Please don’t waste another penny of your hard earned money on marketing your practice for growth until you are certain your phones are representing your practice and building patient relationships. Also, you are invited to attend a free training webinar: Dental Practice Excellence, where we examine some of the weaknesses in the way dental practices are run, and how to overcome them.

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