Phone calls: Are you losing patients at ‘Hello’?

Aug. 1, 2018
Many dentists do not take time to properly train their staff in phone etiquette. They could be losing patients as a result. It’s important to have a strong phone system in place for your dental practice.

Ryan C. Vet

Having called hundreds of dental offices through the years, I could fill every page of this magazine with hilarious and horrifying tales of real phone calls. What I find even funnier is some of the on-hold music and messages. From meditative trances to infomercials, robo-voices to professional voice-over artists, I’ve heard them all. My all-time favorite is the song, “I’m on hold,” by Alex Cornell for UberConference.

Whether it’s simply saying “Hello,” “Thank you,” or “Have a great day,” many practices fail to understand the significance of phone manners. Practices also ignore implementing phone systems and strategies that empower their team members to successfully gain new patients as well as create loyal, lifetime patients.

Why you’re losing money when you pick up your phone

What gets me every time is hearing, “Dr. Smile’s office; please hold.” Ouch. I’m listening to hold music before I can utter, “Hello.” Unfortunately, many practices do not put emphasis on the team’s phone skills. Their reasons are twofold. First, the majority of practices have no clear way to monitor and report the volume of phone calls, the quality of those calls, or the outcomes. There is a lack of actionable metrics to hold practices accountable. Second, practices do not realize the overwhelming significance their phone presence has on not only new patient acquisition, but on patient retention as well.

Startling statistics on the cost of a phone call

According to the American Dental Association, the average annual expenditure of a patient who visits his or her general dentist is $514. For those who visit a specialist, the expenditure is $1,755 in a year.1 Imagine all of that potential revenue being made or lost within a 90-second phone call.

When a new patient decides to call your office, you have a split second to impress the person. How will you win the person over? The fact is that 87% of new patients who are sent to voicemail or put on hold without a proper greeting will hang up and not call back.2This means that out of 10 inbound calls from prospective patients, you could be losing up to $15,269 in revenue by not using a proper greeting. That’s just a sample size of 10 calls. Your practice is receiving many more calls than that.

As bad as an improper greeting is, the sheer fact is that nearly one third of all calls to a dental office are missed calls.3 Now you’re probably thinking, “Not in my practice!” But do you know for sure? Are you actively generating reports and following up on missed calls?

Not only is it likely that you are missing a significant number of your calls, but out of the calls your staff does answer, you could be losing thousands of dollars due to the fact that they put callers on hold or lack simple phone manners.

Investing in more than a phone system

You’re already paying each month for your phone system. But what is your phone system doing for you? In the past, we’ve treated phones as a mere utility. We pay the bill like we do the water and electric bills.

Think about how the economics of your practice would exponentially change if you viewed your phone system, and those who answered it, as a revenue center. After all, studies show that nearly half of your patients will commit to or confirm their appointments on the phone with a live person.4

You can improve your phone systems in many ways, but one of the most strategic is investing in a voice-over internet protocol (VoIP) system. This allows more flexibility, including instantly creating customized greetings, special messages when you’re closed due to an emergency, robust reporting metrics, and call recording and monitoring, to name a few. Also, these are generally far more cost effective than traditional phone lines.

There are many VoIP providers that act as regular phone systems with these added features, such as RingCentral and Jive. Another system, Weave, provides more depth to its products that specifically cater to the dental market. Weave provides integrations with your core platforms, such as Dentrix and EagleSoft, so that the staff can see exactly who is calling. Plus, unlike other VoIP platforms, Weave gives your team action steps on what to do on each call. For instance, if a patient’s daughter recently had a birthday, Weave’s platform tells your staff to mention that. If the patient is due for a cleaning or a family member has an upcoming appointment, Weave displays that on your computers. At any time, you can pull up in-depth reports to see how your team is performing. No more lost revenue, and the Weave pricing is very reasonable.

Call Tracker ROI, Call Box, and Patient Prism are other platforms that allow you to monitor your calls, and each has a unique value proposition. Call Tracker ROI and Call Box have real people listening and monitoring every call in your practice, decoding each call and providing a report with clear action items to improve phone skills. Patient Prism analyzes calls in real time and has visual tracking to understand the flow of each call to ensure you’re not losing revenue.

If you treat your phones like any other bill and are not heavily invested in the fact that they could be one of the leading ways of driving practice growth, you need to start researching your next phone system today.

1. Wall T, Guay A. The per-patient cost of dental care, 2013: a look under the hood. American Dental Association Health Policy Institute. http://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Science%20and%20Research/HPI/Files/HPIBrief_0316_4.pdf. Published March 2016. Accessed June 29, 2018.

2. Phelps C. Data for dentists: How hard facts can help you grow your practice. Dr. Phelps Helps website. http://www.drphelpshelps.com/data-for-dentists-how-hard-facts-can-help-you-grow-your-practice/. Published August 24, 2016. Accessed June 29, 2018.

3. Bandy J. Why you’re missing out on a significant number of appointments (and have no clue about it). Local Search for Dentists website. https://www.localsearchfordentists.com/missing-appointments/. Published September 20, 2016. Accessed June 29, 2018.

4. Zilko A. Are you listening to your staff’s dental phone calls? FireGang Dental Marketing website. https://www.firegang.com/listening-staffs-dental-phone-calls/. Published November 6, 2014. Accessed June 29, 2018.

Ryan C. Vet is a consultant, author, speaker, and entrepreneur. From launching an international marketing agency at age 14 to many successful ventures since, Vet brings his love for customer experience, practice growth, and marketing to all of his clients, from Fortune 500s to local dental practices. To schedule a consultation or invite him to speak at your next event, email [email protected] or visit dental.ryanvet.com.
4 simple steps to turn your phones into money-making machines

Use manners: It sounds simple, but it’s amazing how many offices say, “Dr. Smile’s Office” and wait for the caller to speak. Instead, try something like, “Thank you for calling Dr. Smile’s office. This is Ryan. How can I help you today?” This is a pleasant greeting, an introduction, and an invitation. While the longer greeting may take a whopping seven extra seconds, the conversion of that caller to a booked appointment is worth every second. Remember to say please and thank you, and ensure each customer is treated as extremely valuable.

Outcome-based calls: What is your team’s objective when they get on the phone? Set their target to end every call with a scheduled appointment. It is a clear metric to track. Sometimes that may be rescheduling, but it should never be a cancellation. It could also be someone inquiring about his or her next appointment.

Give people options: Patients often call to book or cancel appointments. Train your team to value each one of your patients, and encourage them not to allow cancellations. Instead of giving patients who call in a yes or no option for appointments, give them a question that commands a response. “Mrs. Jones, I’m sorry August 2 no longer works for your next appointment. Dr. Smile has appointments on Thursday, August 23, and Monday, August 27. Which works best for you?” If you have trouble maximizing your schedule, you’re not alone. There is great value in seeking advice from consultants and experts to help your team better maximize scheduling. Scheduling Institute has helped nearly 25,000 dentists home in on best scheduling practices.

Set clear goals: Your team should be given numbers they can achieve. Make it a game. For instance, see how many calls can be answered in 10 seconds or fewer, or set a goal and see if your team can end 60% of calls with scheduled appointments.