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Handle each phone call with care

June 1, 2009
Comprehensive case acceptance is not a one-time event that occurs at the treatment conference.

Nate Booth, DDS

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Comprehensive case acceptance is not a one-time event that occurs at the treatment conference. It's a series of small, easy, comfortable steps. One of those steps is the first phone call. Not all first-time callers are interested in finding a new dental office. Some callers are simply interested in learning more about a specific service. Some are price shoppers, and others have emergency situations. Here's how I communicate with each type of caller:

1) People looKing for a specific service

Some callers are interested in a specific service such as implants, veneers, or crowns. They may or may not be looking for a new general dentist. I would invite these people to your office for a complimentary 30-minute visit. No doctor time needs to be scheduled.

When these folks come to the office, have a team member sit down with them in a private area and discuss their problems and desires. If appropriate, assure them your office can solve their problems and fulfill their desires. Show them before-and-after photos and testimonial letters of patients with similar problems. Give them a short tour of the office and introduce them to the team. Come back to the private meeting area and invite them into the practice by saying, “It looks like we could replace your missing teeth with implants. First you need to come back for an examination. We reserve time for new patients on Thursday afternoons and Monday mornings. Which day works best for you?“

2) Price shoppers

Price shoppers can be an interesting challenge. Some experts say don't even bother with them. I say if even 20% come to your office for a complimentary, no-doctor-time visit, then it's worth talking with them. Many price shoppers are terrific candidates for the no-interest finance plans. Here's one way to talk with price shoppers on the phone.

Patient:How much are your crowns?
You: That depends. What type of crown are you looking for?
Patient: I don't really know.
You: OK. Does the tooth need a build-up so it can support a crown?
Patient: Beats me.
You: Hmmm, OK. What quality of crown are you looking for? Lower quality crowns tend to cost less and could be constructed in a foreign dental laboratory. Higher quality crowns have a higher investment and are constructed in high quality laboratories.
Patient: I never really thought about that.
You: I understand. It can be confusing. Here's what I recommend we do. Let's have you come in this week for a complimentary visit. That way we can get to know each other. We'll show you some crowns we've done that are similar to the one you need. We'll take a quick look in your mouth. Then we can give you a fairly good idea what your investment will be, and you can decide if you want to come back. In addition, we can show you a no-interest way to pay for the crown over the next 12 months. Does that sound OK?
Patient: Sure.
You: Great. Does Tuesday morning at 9:30 or Wednesday afternoon at 4 o'clock work better for you?
Patient: Tuesday morning.
You: Excellent. We'll see you at 9:30. In the meantime, check out our Web site at

3) Emergency patients

Some of your best comprehensive cases come from emergencies, as some people have avoided the dentist for years. Keep emergency calls simple and quick. Get all their contact information and schedule them as soon as possible. When they come to the office, take great care of them, relieve their pain, and schedule them for a new patient visit.

4) People looking for a new dental office

Follow these 10 steps:

• Answer the phone within the first three rings. Have the team member who is the best at getting callers in the door answer the phone. If he or she's busy, have the next best person answer the phone. If the phone isn't answered within the first three rings, play a message that says, “Thanks for calling. We're presently serving other patients. Please leave your name and phone number. We will call you back within 30 minutes.“ Then follow through on that promise. If Domino's can deliver a pizza in half an hour, you can return a phone call in 30 minutes.

• Write down the caller's name the first time you hear it. If necessary, have the caller repeat or spell his or her name. Mention the caller's first name two or three times during the call.

• Get them in the door. Don't screen calls by trying to analyze who will or won't be a “good“ patient. We've all had patients we believed would accept comprehensive dentistry and didn't. Conversely, we've all had patients we didn't think would accept comprehensive implant treatment plans who did, then paid with cash. Please resist the temptation to weed out the “bad“ ones on the phone. Get people in the door so they can decide to receive your comprehensive dentistry.

• Tell them you can address their desires. If they ask about any service you provide, say, “I'm so glad you called us. That's one of the things we focus on.“

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• Capture all their contact information. In addition to getting their first and last names, get their home, office, and cell numbers, mailing address, and e-mail.

• Ask who you may thank for referring them. If they answer, “My neighbor,“ ask, “What did your neighbor say about us that prompted you to call?“ If they say, “She had some implants done in your office,“ reply with, “That's right. She did. Are implants something you or a member of your family are interested in?“ If they say yes, they've taken one small step toward case acceptance.

• Establish commonality. Discover something you have in common with the caller and talk about that for a short time. This could be the referring person, an area of town, someone you know at their workplace, or kids.

• Invite them to the practice. Ask invitation questions that have two possible answers. Here's an example: “We see new patients on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Does next Tuesday at 4 o'clock or Wednesday at 11:30 work better for you?“ Follow what leadership expert and author John Maxwell said, “Every time you speak to people, give them something to feel, something to remember, and something to do.“

• Welcome them to the practice and ask a caring question. After they have scheduled a visit, say, “Let me be the first to welcome you to our office. You're going to love Dr. Johnson and our entire team. Is there anything you'd like to share with us that will help make your visit more comfortable?“ About 80% of them say, “I can't think of anything.“ This is fine. Just asking the question lets them know you care. About 15% of the time they mention that they have an extreme fear of dentistry. You answer, “I'm so glad you let us know about that. I'll let the whole team know about it, and we'll take extra special care of you.“

• Preview the first visit. Briefly, let them know what's going to happen during the first visit. Then refer them to your Web site for directions to the office, health and dental history questionnaires they can download and complete, before-and-after photos of cases you've done, and pertinent educational material. End the call with, “We're looking forward to seeing you next Tuesday at 4 o'clock.“

After this phone call, the patient's reaction should be, “Wow, this office is different. They didn't just ask me a bunch of insurance questions. They cared about me as a person. I'm looking forward to meeting them. I'm even going to call my sister to tell her how great they were.“

Time between the first phone call and the first visit

The time between the first phone call and the first visit is another step leading to comprehensive case acceptance. In addition to referring callers to your Web site, send them a “welcome to our practice“ folder. It's also a great idea for the doctor to call them a day or two before the first visit to welcome them to the practice. You can say, “Hello, this is Dr. Johnson. I understand you're coming in to see us tomorrow at 4 o'clock. Katie mentioned that you (insert some personal information or a concern of theirs). I just want you to know we're looking forward to seeing you, and we'll take great care of you.“


If you believe this information is valuable, take action now. At your next team meeting, role-play with the people who answer your phone. Pretend to be each of the four types of first-time callers and practice until team members handle each type appropriately. The first call is the gateway to your practice. Be sure your gate is attractive and well-oiled.

Dr. Nate Booth is a speaker, consultant, and author who provides dentists with the information and systems they need to thrive in their dental practices. Dr. Booth teaches at the South Beach Dental Institute, and is a practice management advisor for ChaseHealthAdvance. He is the creator of the in-office, DVD-based program, The “Yes“ System: How to Make It Easy for People to Accept Comprehensive Dentistry. For more information, go to or call (800) 917-0008.

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