An important element of the patient experience is the initial telephone interaction.
During my years in dental practices (since 1987) I have attended many industry seminars and workshops, read reams of data and listened to dozens of podcasts, picking up tips and insights about how to run a high performing practice. The advice given in regards to these initial interactions varies widely.
What I have noticed play out in some practices is the process of garnering A LOT of information from the new patient at this very early stage over the telephone. The questions asked extend beyond standard information such as name, age, contact details and purpose of appointment. The receptionist asks what type of restorations and treatment the patient has received in the past, what their previous dental experiences have been and what the patient’s personal value is around their oral function and appearance. After then discussing location and billing information, you can imagine that these conversations take at least 10 minutes. Having been the receptionist in many such instances I assure you that plenty of patients feel quite exasperated with the process.
This type of telephone interaction can be inappropriate for a few reasons.
- A new patient is yet to develop trust in your practice and team. It is too early to expect them to be so free and open with their personal health details and what their values are.
- A new patient is not expecting it to be so laborious to simply make a dental check-up appointment. It can often be a frustration for them.
- We all make appointments on-the-hop. This means the patient may not be in the surroundings where they are happy to have this lengthy and personal discussion, such as on a train, at work or during school pick-up.
- Discussions around previous dental experiences and values are golden opportunities for rapport-building and trust-generation. Don’t damage this opportunity by having it one-dimensional over-the-phone. To get the best result from these conversations, have them one-on-one in the practice and truly engage with the patient.
The initial telephone conversation is the first indicator of what it is going to be like to be a patient at your practice. As the famous and accurate quote says, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Do not risk leaving doubt in the new patients mind whether choosing you is the right choice. Plan this contact to be easy and straightforward. Demonstrate that you are here to assist patients, rather than make things more challenging. Build rapport though friendly engagement, rather than tapping in to deeper feelings. If the patient instigates the longer and more detailed discussion, then definitely be willing to go there. Otherwise I suggest that you keep it simple.
My advice is: BE EASY TO DO BUSINESS WITH.
The ideal result is that the patient is pleasantly surprised by this telephone call, impressed with how helpful and friendly the receptionist is. Being happy allows engagement and rapport to develop quickly.
Certainly ask for date of birth and contact information. But then ask the most important question! “What would you like to occur at this visit?”
Meeting patient expectations is vital to repeat business. However we only know what the patients’ expectations are if we ask them. Do not fall in to the trap of assumption. If a patient’s expectation is unrealistic, the receptionist can then have a conversation with the patient, and bring these expectations in line with what the practice is designed to deliver.
It is easy to over-process systems. If it’s too hard to be your patient, people will simply go elsewhere. Be on a continual path of reducing your patients’ frustrations, and be a dental practice that is EASY TO DO BUSINESS WITH!