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7 reasons your front desk may be losing 39% of your new patients

May 1, 2021
Every time your phone rings, it could be a new patient with a family of five and 25 referrals waiting to be made—or it could be a blown opportunity. These seven things can help.
Joy Gendusa, Founder and CEO, PostcardMania

While I usually focus on marketing tactics for dentists, I decided to pivot and cover another critical aspect of your practice’s success—the new-patient conversion process. In nonmarketing speak, that basically means the rate at which you and your team are turning new callers, website visitors, and walk-ins (basically all interested parties) into booked appointments and new patients.

Making sure your marketing is generating new patient leads is superimportant, but if you’re not effectively converting those prospective patients into appointments when they come in, your marketing dollars are going to waste.

Prospective patients can come from many channels—your website, phone line, email, live chat on your website, or even walk-ins. The channel I want to focus on today is incoming calls, because this process is the most difficult to do correctly on a consistent basis. There are so many variables from call to call—who answers the phone, who is calling, how busy it is that day, the questions they ask; the list goes on.

How your front desk handles each incoming phone call can be the difference between thousands of dollars in revenue generated and money lost for your practice. The American Dental Association reports that the average expenditure of those who visit a dental practice is $685, with dental specialists earning as much as $1,755 per visit.1 Every mishandled phone call is costing you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars—in fact, a recent study showed that 39% of US-based respondents would never use the offending company again following a bad customer service encounter.2

To help our own 6,784 dental clients, we listened to thousands of calls from practices around the country to see how they could be improved. We found the following seven conversion indicators to be key to maximizing the chances of converting every prospective new-patient phone call into an appointment.

No. 1: You haven’t developed or trained your team to use a script with every call.

A designated script is the best way to ensure that your front desk team covers all the bases for every single caller, regardless of the many variables that may arise. It’s simply not enough to remind them to “always remember to bring up XYZ.”

Your team wants to remember everything you ask them to do, but humans are not perfect. If you have kids, just think of how many times you’ve had to ask them to do something simple, such as put their shoes away or hang up a piece of clothing if it’s clean.

To combat this element of the human condition (that we all struggle with!), write a conversation script for the front desk team to follow. This way, all prospective patients will receive 100% of the information they need to make an informed decision about your practice. You can download a free sample template at postcardmania.com.

No. 2: Asking, ‘How did you hear about us?’ isn’t part of your script.

I would be remiss if I didn’t bring this up while helping you restructure how your team handles phone calls. This is more about improving your marketing processes than boosting conversions, but every fresh lead on the phone is an opportunity to enhance your marketing processes.

You might think this is unnecessary if leads are pouring in, but what if you’re paying for a marketing channel that brings in minimal leads while another is bringing them all in? You’d want to funnel your marketing dollars into the more effective channel and stop using the other.

Ask “How did you hear about us?” of every caller, and your marketing strategy will be more informed and powerful for it.

No. 3: You let your team use the ‘hold’ button freely and without a time limit.

As a consumer yourself, I’m sure you’re aware that being put on hold can be a plague to any customer service interaction. While some may not view being put on hold as a big deal, this is something you should be very preoccupied with. This may even be the most critical conversion metric.

According to a study that analyzed phone call interactions across many industries and businesses of varying sizes, 15% of callers put on hold will hang up right around 40 seconds, and the average hold time is 56 seconds. Over a fifth of callers (22%) are sent to voicemail.3

Putting callers on hold could potentially cost your practice 15%–22% of new patients just from poor phone practices!

I believe in preventing this so much that I currently employ six receptionists at PostcardMania to ensure that we avoid putting anyone on hold. While it probably isn’t feasible for you to employ six receptionists in your practice, it is important to ensure that your team is diligently handling phone calls and only leaving new callers on hold for an extremely pressing reason.

No. 4: ‘Would you like to book an appointment?’ is missing from your script.

This sounds like it should be obvious, but when my team analyzed thousands of dental front desk calls, they noticed that many receptionists get caught up in other details of the conversation and completely forget to ask if the caller wants to schedule an appointment. It’s just another symptom of classic human error.

The goal of perfecting how your front desk handles incoming calls is to minimize and eliminate any room for error. This question should always be one of the last things a receptionist asks, so include it at the end of your script!

No. 5: You aren’t tracking how many calls you get and how many callers become new patients.

This is the end goal of every incoming lead—that they book an appointment and become your new patient. Tracking how many callers become new patients is key to improving conversion. You can’t improve what you can’t quantify.

Pay attention to things such as:

  • Which team member has the best conversion rate? What are they doing that others aren’t?
  • Was anyone left on hold? Why and for how long?
  • Did the receptionist say anything that inhibited the conversion?

A call tracking service makes this easier than doing it by hand with checklists. If you don’t have one already, these services are incredibly affordable and can be the difference between a call conversion program that closes more leads than ever and stagnation. I can’t recommend call tracking enough!

No. 6: Your team fails to get on a first name basis with all new callers.

When someone calls your practice, make sure your team asks for their name at the beginning of the call. Ideally, they will use each person’s name twice in conversation, if not more.

People love hearing their own name. Aside from that, people like to feel (and be treated) like individuals. You can harness that innate human quality by acknowledging that they aren’t just a “ma’am” or “sir” but instead a John, a Jessica, a Susie.

It may make just a small difference in the long run, but the point of maximizing your conversion process is stacking all of the chips that you have at your disposal, right? This is another chip to stack in your favor.

No. 7: You haven’t developed a uniform standard for phone manners nor made those expectations known.

This may seem like a no-brainer, and your team is probably doing this already by and large. My recommendation is that you and your team agree on what constitutes “good phone manners.” It may seem like a moot point, but when a specific occurrence comes to light, there may be some discrepancies.

Here are some examples of expectations that are better formalized than inferred:

  • No chewing gum, eating, or drinking during calls.
  • Allow callers to speak without interruption and acknowledge them each time they say something.
  • Say please and thank you when appropriate.
  • Wish every caller a good day at the end of the call.

Clearly outlining your expectations not only helps you and your practice, but it also helps your team meet and even exceed those expectations. No one likes to play a game when the rules aren’t clear.

Every time your phone rings, it could be a new patient with a family of five and 25 referrals waiting to be made—or it could be a blown opportunity. In the worst-case scenario, it could even lead to a bad review of your practice.

It’s up to you (and maybe your office manager if you have one) to ensure that your front desk team is prepared to make the most of every opportunity. These seven habits will go a long way toward making that happen.


  1. Wall T, Guay A. The per-patient cost of dental care, 2013: a look under the hood. Health Policy Institute Research Brief. American Dental Association. March 2016. https://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Science and Research/HPI/Files/HPIBrief_0316_4.pdf
  2. Survey by independent research company Opinion Matters from January 31 to February 6, 2018, with a sample size of 2,002 adults from the US. Summary of news release. NewVoiceMedia Research. May 17, 2018. Accessed April 26, 2021. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20180517005043/en/NewVoiceMedia-Research-Reveals-Bad-Customer-Experiences-Cost-U.S.-Businesses-75-Billion-a-Year
  3. Hold times, hang ups, and talk times: an Ifbyphone benchmarking analysis. White paper. Ifbyphone. https://www.dialogtech.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/WP_CallDistributor_Benchmarking_Analysis.pdf#:~:text=There%20are%20some%20very%20interesting,56%20seconds%20(Figure%203)

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