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Ring, ring: Practice growth and profitability calling

March 25, 2022
Have you ever considered removing phones from the front desk area of your practice? Sound crazy? Jay Geier shares how this one move could be groundbreaking for practice growth and profitability.
Jay Geier, Founder, Scheduling Institute

I started my career as a marketing director, relentless about increasing new patients at a large private practice. I spent countless hours doing something practicing doctors/owners think they have neither the time nor the need to do: observing the front desk and lobby area. I’m here to tell you, that blind spot is costing you dearly.

I made a discovery many years ago that exponentially increased new patients and referrals, resulting in growth and profitability that I had previously considered out of reach. This discovery has proven to transform practices during my 25+ years of working with thousands of independent practice owners and tens of thousands of team members. My discovery is this:

Remove phones from the front desk

The typical dental office is physically arranged and staffed so the front desk team member is the first person to see a patient enter and the first person the patient interacts with visually and verbally. If you were to spend even a little time observing what happens, you would likely witness the front desk team member doing most or all of the following:

  • Talking on the phone
  • Holding a finger to a patient in that annoying gesture that means, “Don’t talk to me, I’m obviously too busy to deal with you right now.”
  • Thrusting paperwork at patients without talking to them
  • Talking about insurance or treatment options to callers instead of efficiently booking a new patient appointment
  • Allowing calls to go to voicemail
  • Checking patients out
  • Taking payments
  • Signing for packages
  • Opening mail
  • Dealing with insurance paperwork
  • Talking on a personal cell phone
  • Eating at the desk

When you go to a doctor’s office, is this the experience you want? Would you refer others to a practice that handles arriving patients this way? Even if you continue to be a patient at a practice because you like the doctor, you’re unlikely to recommend that practice to others because it’s apparent they can’t handle the patient load they already have. They’re losing out on years’ worth of your valuable referrals and the compounding effect of their referrals for years to come.

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That’s exactly what’s happening in your practice, but you may not see it. Even if you do, you may think that’s just how the front desk has to be set up. Nonsense.

A proven better way is to move the phones away from the front desk to eliminate competing priorities so neither the patient in the office, nor the one on the phone, ever loses out. The front desk team can fully engage with those in the office in simple but impactful ways, such as making eye contact, immediately greeting patients by name, having paperwork ready, and giving a welcome gift to new patients. Those calling in get a high-quality experience from someone dedicated to their needs, fully present, and focused without interruptions.

Size doesn’t matter

Whether you’re a small office or a large multilocation practice, the majority of your patients will call to make appointments. If they land in voicemail, existing patients will be annoyed, and prospective new patients are likely to hang up and go to the next practice on the list.

If you have just one person at the front desk, you may think you can’t afford to add a team member. The key is properly assigning responsibilities and accountabilities so everyone is profit-building. This also applies to large offices. In fact, we coach our multilocation clients to create a centralized call center. Here's how it works:

  • Front desk team members should have a measurable target to increase referrals through delivering an exceptional patient experience.
  • Team members assigned to answer phones should have a measurable target to increase new patients by efficiently and effectively booking appointments.

Team members who are properly trained and set up for success will generate more than the revenue needed to pay for the additional staff. By discovering how to use the telephone to drive growth and profitability, your practice comes out ahead, as do your patients and team members who will feel better about delivering the experience you—and they—want for your patients.

Editor's note: This article appeared in the March 2022 print edition of Dental Economics magazine. Dentists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here. 

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