Increasing income through effective communication

Two things recently happened in my practice that led me to choose this as a topic. Upon my return from attending the Excellence in Dentistry seminar and suitably jet-lagged, I was met on the Wednesday evening with the request from a patient for her son’s lateral ceph X-ray so that she could seek to have his proposed orthodontic treatment carried out elsewhere. It transpired that his appointment had been cancelled at short notice and not handled well by my staff. Obviously as leader the responsibility rests with me.

The second occasion involved receiving a podcast by email of a ‘mystery shopper’ phone call made to my surgery by a company in the USA I had joined up with a few years ago but I had not yet implemented their systems. They train staff how to answer the phone effectively and schedule appointments. I was shocked to hear the prospective new patient in essence being turned away from the surgery because she wasn’t entitled to PRSI or medical card benefits, although this was done very pleasantly. Again the fault was mine as I hadn’t instigated any training in this area.

The company in question is Jay Geier’s Scheduling Institute based in Atlanta. Although Jay’s background is in chiropractics, he has branched out into dentistry and now helps many dental offices to turn around the numbers of new patients by effectively incorporating his systems for call answering and scheduling. In his presentations he invites attending dentists to pass forward their practice telephone numbers and he then proceeds to call purporting to be a new patient. I have seen him twice and on neither occasion did he manage to secure an appointment. Too often he is bogged down by admittedly very pleasant staff talking too much about treatment details or insurance benefits – what he calls ‘verbal vomit’!

His theory is that the person is calling to book an appointment and that is basically what should be done. The other issues are better dealt with in the office. You need to get the person in and then sell yourself and your team.

This was brought home to me recently when a new patient attended due to her previous dentist not accepting medical card patients. After explaining that her tooth required a crown and covering why that wasn’t included in the scheme, I was pleasantly surprised when she scheduled an appointment for the crown prep. It didn’t relieve the pain of losing an ortho case but it does show how important it is to put the bums in the seat so we can present ideal dentistry.

Jay covers five key areas in every phone call and prioritises the calls that come in every day. Obviously new patients come first and personal calls are bottom of the list.

The five areas are :

1. Greeting – staff introduce themselves by name and ask how they may be of help

2. Question answering – staff answer questions briefly without engaging in ‘verbal vomit’

3. Transition – staff take control of the conversation, effectively stopping the patient from carrying on with questions. This is achieved in two ways :

• Is this your first time contacting us? Let me be the first to welcome you to this practice

• How did you hear about us?

4. Dual alternative close – the patient is offered an appointment by an either/or method, starting with day followed by morning or evening, followed by early or late. This stops the patient being given an open choice. In effect the staff are scheduling to suit the day book

5. Data capture – the staff collect necessary data, e.g. reconfirm name and collect mobile, work and home phone numbers. The appointment is reconfirmed and the patient told that we’re looking forward to seeing them at their visit.

Carrying out this scripted and systematic method has proven invaluable in the many practices Jay has helped. I’ve met many of those who use his system and not heard a dissenting voice.

I’m currently dusting off my training materials and will be implementing this system as soon as possible. It re-emphasises for me what was said on the final day of the Destin seminar: ‘It’s no use having the knowledge or attending the seminar unless you implement what you’ve learnt and acquired’.

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