Voice mail prioritizes calls

One overlooked opportunity for increasing new-patient flow is improving telephone-handling techniques. I have concluded, after observing hundreds of dental offices in action, that the telephone is the number one source of customer service failures, a front-desk productivity killer and an untapped marketing resource.

Steven M. Seltzer, MBA

One overlooked opportunity for increasing new-patient flow is improving telephone-handling techniques. I have concluded, after observing hundreds of dental offices in action, that the telephone is the number one source of customer service failures, a front-desk productivity killer and an untapped marketing resource.

Harnessing the telephone`s power demands rethinking what you do at the front desk and how you do it. The end result is more

patients, more satisfied patients and less stress at the front desk.

This is the first part of a series of articles that maps out a telephone management strategy. I will refer you to specific technology tools and practice management techniques that can transform your front desk into a marketing powerhouse. The strategy is called the "Seltzer Institute Telephony Excellence Model" (SITEM), a powerful approach to achieving customer service excellence at the front desk.

If you properly execute SITEM, you can expect the following:

- Practice growth from more new patients.

- A front desk that is less hectic.

- Increased patient satisfaction.

- Enhanced professional image.

- More control over the office environment.

Seltzer Institute has found consistent patterns of telephone disasters due to the lack of modern tools, front desk busy-ness, undefined staff responsibilities and an underskilled workforce. These disasters account for four major categories of practice inefficiency:

- A reduction in new patients.

- Non-referral of new patients by existing patients.

- Excess failed, cancelled and open appointment times.

- Under-productive booking of the doctor`s schedule.

The first step in avoiding these disasters is to organize incoming telephone calls into "patient care" and "business" categories. Calls from patients and prospective patients are high priority. Business-related calls from vendors, personal calls and non-urgent calls from specialists are low priority.

Because most offices have patient care and business callers use the same telephone lines, they are answered with equal priorities. This approach gives too much attention to business callers and too little attention to patients.

To solve this problem, you need to designate a "business office" telephone number, then instruct all non-patients to call the business office rather than the patient care area. The business office number is answered by a sophisticated, yet inexpensive voice-mail answering system rather than the receptionist.

This allows the receptionist to spend more time with patients on the phone and in the office. It also makes her more courteous by reducing the volume of interruptions caused by business-related telephone calls.

The voice-mail system I recommend for practices who need less than 10 voice mail boxes is "Tina." It costs $199 for a one-line system or $269 for a two-line system. There are personalized messages and mailboxes for every staff member. It is available from Datacom International at (800) 324-8462.

Mention that you heard about Tina in this article and receive a $30 discount. Their internet address is www.dcint. com.

The telephone protocol changes dramatically. Instead of giving all calls the same priority, the receptionist is now in control of the telephone.

Instead of listening ad nauseam to telephone solicitors, she politely says, "You need to talk to Paula in the purchasing department. The telephone number for our business office is 123-4567. Paula is at extension 2. Please use this telephone number for all calls since the number you called is our patient line and nobody here can help you."

In less than 30 seconds, the receptionist sends the call to voice mail. You only need to return the call if it is important. In some offices, Paula is a fictitious person. She becomes the "code name" for unnecessary calls.

The doctor no longer has to jump out of the chair every time a specialist calls. Specialists are asked to leave messages in the doctor`s personal voice mail box. If the call is urgent, they can always call on the patient line to have the doctor interrupted.

Friends and family also use the business line and leave private messages for staff who check their voice mail in between patients, rather than disrupting the flow of ongoing treatment. If there is a personal crisis that requires immediate attention they can call on the patient line.

The voice mail system on the business line automatically answers the telephone with your pre-recorded message. For example, "Hello, this is Dr. Smith`s office. To speak with Dr. Smith, press 1. To speak with Paula in purchasing, press 2. If you have a question about insurance or your statement, press 3."

When the caller presses an option, there is another message. For example, pressing 1 plays this message: "This is Dr. Smith. I am caring for a patient now but would like to speak with you. Please leave a detailed message and I will return your call as soon as possible."

Pressing 2 plays this message: "This is Paula in purchasing. I am away from my desk, but would like to speak with you. Please leave a detailed message and I will return your call as soon as possible."

Tina has numerous features including nine voice mail boxes, six different outgoing messages that can be scheduled for different times of the day (for example, lunch message, after-hours message, day-time message), call forwarding and pager notification. The product won Computer Telephony magazine`s Editors` Choice award.

Hundreds of dental practices that have implemented SITEM are enjoying tremendous benefits. Tina is the first step to regaining control over the telephone and directing more effort and energy into caring for patients.

The financial investment for Tina is low, the learning curve is three to five hours and the benefits are instantaneous.

If you would like to receive sample scripts and dental usage tips for Tina that simplify installation and operation, you can e-mail or write to Steve Seltzer at Seltzer Institute.

Next month, I will discuss how telephone headsets take the headache out of working in the business office.

Steven Seltzer is the president of Seltzer Institute and publisher of DDRT (Dentists` Desktop Reference to Technology). The Seltzer Institute offers techno-marketing consulting services. He can be contacted at (800) 229-8967, ext 103. E-mail: sseltzer@hitecdentist.com. Internet: www.hitechdentist.com.

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