Ring in the changes for a better reception

A dental practice reception team consists of possibly the most important people you employ. Get your practice telephone answered in a professional way and you can turn opportunities into appointments and – ultimately – into new clients. I am seeing more and more practices bring their reception team to my two-day Ethical Sales & Communication programme, and I have to applaud them. Practice owners need to wake up to the fact that unless you have the right people answering the telephone – dealing with patients effectively, confidently and empathetically – then you run the risk of have ‘Sales Prevention Officers’ (SPOs) answering your phones. SPOs who treat that phone like a hot potato i.e. they cannot wait to put it down!

Clients often ask me what the receptionist’s role should be when new patients enquire about available services. The focus of the reception team is not to sell the treatment, but to build a relationship with the patient. They should find out the patient’s problem and help to solve it by ensuring that the potential patient makes an appointment. Let me repeat – the end game is the appointment. Then it is the job of the dentist and the dental team to communicate the benefits of the treatment to the patient during their visit.

Call waiting

Before we look at the actual dialogue itself, one of the areas that you must measure is how many new patient enquiries you are getting a week, and where they are hearing about you. This is an area that is vital and has to be measured. Very rarely do I find practices that keep a record of this info. Why is it so important?

There are two main reasons:

• You need to know where your new leads are coming from. You might be spending significant amounts of money advertising in the Yellow Pages, local

magazines and newspapers and you need to know whether it’s working. Are you getting a return on this investment, or are you wasting your money?

• It might be that you have a loyal band of patients who are recommending your services to friends and relatives. You need to know who they are and you can then thank/reward them for doing this. It does not mean payments, but flowers and thank you letters are a nice touch.

What can frustrate patients is the length of time it takes to get a call answered. How annoying if it takes up to a minute or longer before the telephone gets answered. Even worse when it rings for a minute and then you get transferred to an answering machine. So I’m a great fan of the telephone being answered within four or five rings. Any more than this, I feel, it’s too long.

Even if your receptionist is busy with patients, she can at least apologise to them and answer the phone. Ask the caller if he or she is willing to hold, or get their number to ring back. Give the patient the opportunity.

Check list

In short, the receptionist should:

• Mention the name of the practice, their own name, thank the patient for calling and ask them how they can help

• Find out the patient’s name and use it throughout the dialogue. It builds rapport with the client. Ask the patient how they heard about the practice

• Find out what the patient’s requirements are. Be genuinely interested in the patient’s needs and encourage them to talk

• Only offer the practice’s treatment price range, not specific treatment costs

• Book an appointment for a consultation and sell the benefits of the visit to the patient.

The receptionist can then transfer all this information to the dental team who can use it when building a rapport with the patient. This personal treatment should go a long way.

So, review your practice reception now. Have a discussion with your team about the things that frustrate them when they ring, for example, a utility company who avoids them like the plague.

You only get one chance to make a first impression. Ensure that your reception makes an exceptional one.

• Ashley Latter will be speaking at The World Aesthetic Congress (WAC) on Friday 6 and Saturday 7 June 2008 at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in London. To book your place, call Independent Seminars on 0800 37152 or visit www.independentseminars.com. Costs: Dentists: £567+vat Subscriber discount: £510+vat Team members: £310+vat

Hygienists: £257.50+vat Technicians: £257.50+vat.

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