Articles, Dentistry

Off the hook

An amazing number of practices still only have one phone line, which means that contact is virtually impossible since it is a permanently engaged line.

Sometimes patients are in luck – of sorts – and the number they dialled rings… and rings… 

Sometimes, patients get an educational treat. A recorded voice will tell them the hours that the practice is open and requests they ring back then. A quick look at the clock will confirm that they are ringing during the hours quoted. It is like a recipe for high blood pressure.

If the patient is requested to leave their name and number to enable the practice to call back as soon as they can, is this done before the beep, after the beep, during the beep? And if there was not a beep, are they actually being recorded, and how would they know, do they ever get a ring back anyway?

Value the telephone

There are too many practices that are attempting to handle two or three times more patients than has ever been seriously possible. The telephone is probably viewed, or again more correctly heard, as a darned nuisance because it can often mean more demands on top of those with which you are already coping, but demand can vary. 

The steady evolution of dental techniques and available services, does not seem to embrace the installation or use of the landline, although such ‘vin ordinaire’ telephones are still the backbone of any practice. The typical recordings often rear their ugly heads:

  • ‘The person you are calling knows you are waiting’
  • ‘Please listen to the following options then select the appropriate service you desire’
  • ‘Please hold, your call is very important to us.’

In reality how hard is it to organise an answer phone message that is understandable, or an out-of-hours instruction that is both audible and sensible. 

Take charge

Why not take matters into your own hands and place yourself in your patients’ shoes and phone your practice at different points in the day. This is one way you can find out if your patients are able to get through and thus you can learn how many you are unknowingly turning away.

Let’s not bother with points and scores, let us calculate the number of existing patients lost, the number of new patients never gained from your experiment.

If a conservative estimate is just one per day, and the average gross value in turnover is just an average fee of £50, then £50 times 220 normal working days in your year equals £11,000 lost gross. However, a little realism will show that a new patient in a quality practice is usually productive of a gross of at least £500 in year one, then the loss of gross could easily exceed £100,000 in a year. Even if an associate treats the patients, that could be £20,000 on your net.

Answering the phone

Now, if you are going to have some focus on landline telephones, then there is no rocket science involved in broadening that focus to the voice and personality that answers your phone.

It is alarming to report that in our survey at least 60% of the practices we called, responded with the greeting: ‘Allo, dental surgery… can you hold a minute?’ 

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