It’s Make or Break Time
Handling prospective patients’ first phone calls
Richard P. Gangwisch, DDS
You've worked extra hard on your internal marketing program, almost literally begging patients for referrals, and you've spent thousands of dollars on advertising to get the calls coming in, so don't blow it all by messing up a potential new patient's first phone call. For many people, it is a difficult time to pick up a phone and call a new dental office. Whether they heard about you from their good friend or spotted you on the internet, they still need to be sold on the idea that your office is the right one for them. Mishandling first phone calls can cause prospective patients to call the next dentist on the list. Remember, first impressions can be lasting impressions.
Don't Forget to Smile
I teach my staff to smile as big as they can before answering the phone. Try it for yourself. On a morning when you wake up and aren't feeling very chipper, look into the mirror and smile as wide as you can. You can't help but feel better. And when you speak while smiling, that boosted mood will come across in your voice as energy and enthusiasm and make for an excellent start to a first phone conversation.
The smile in your voice should continue throughout the conversation. Voice inflections are vitally important. The old adage, "It's not what you say; it's how you say it" certainly rings true during new patient phone calls. And always end your last sentence with an upward inflection. An upward inflection at the end conveys a feeling of positivity and that you have a sincere interest in the caller.
Your greeting should be short and simple, but full of energy. Thank the patient for calling the practice, introduce yourself by name, and ask, "How may I help you?" Remember that an upbeat tone is extremely important, especially at the end. You want to convey an eagerness to assist the caller, but don't overdo it. You should sound genuine and believable, not phony and insincere.
If the caller is a prospective patient, then he or she will probably have some questions. It is best to keep your answers short and then lead the caller with questions of your own. As early as possible in the conversation, try to establish whether callers are prospective patients or not. If they are, then it's time to deliver the sales pitch.
Guiding the Conversation
When callers have been determined to be potential new patients, put them at ease by responding with excitement in your voice. "So, you are looking for a new dentist. That's great! Let me be the first to welcome you to our practice! You have found the right office; you will absolutely love our doctors. How did you find out about us?" If they mention a referral, then acknowledge how appreciative you are.
Callers will often have specific questions that they want answered before they are willing to schedule an appointment. Due to the variable nature of various dental conditions, questions about specific fees other than routine prophylaxes and examinations are best handled by offering a free consultation. For example, if a patient asks, "How much are your crowns," you can respond with something such as, "There are different types of crowns, and there may even be alternatives for your situation. Let's schedule you for a consultation with the doctor to see what is best for you."
Insurance questions are also high on the list. Sound familiar? If you are a contracted provider on a potential patient's plan, then it's time to make that initial appointment. But even if you don't accept his or her insurance plan, don't just throw in the towel.
If the prospective patient has a preferred provider organization (PPO) plan that allows for out-of-network coverage, then you can say, "Many of our patients have dental benefits with your insurance company. We don't happen to be contracted with that plan; however, those patients have told us that after looking at all of their options, they haven't been able to find another practice that provides the same level of quality care that we do. Our emphasis is on providing the highest quality of dentistry available, and our dentists do absolutely fantastic work."
If the caller has a health maintenance organization (HMO) plan that you do not accept and that will not pay for out-of-network dental care, acquiring him or her as a new patient will be much more difficult, but team members should still be prepared to make an attempt. Instruct them to respond with something such as, "We are not a participating provider for your plan. If your insurance will not pay for out-of-network services, you are still more than welcome to come to our office for care; however, you would be responsible for the entire fee for treatment. We do have quite a few patients who have that type of plan, and they still come to see us because they know that they are going to get the best dental care."
Convert Leads to Appointments
Now it's time to close the deal. You don't want prospective patients to end the call without making an appointment. Don't ever ask, "Do you want to make an appointment?" Assume that they are going to make an appointment by saying, "When is a good day and time that is convenient for you to come visit us?" This approach avoids putting the idea of saying "no" into the caller's mind and many times will lead to success.
Even if the individual is unwilling to make an appointment during the initial call, give it one final try by asking, "Can I get your name and phone number or email address so that I can follow up with you?" Oftentimes, a follow-up can be all that is needed to net a new patient.
How you sign off from a first call is as equally important as the greeting and should be delivered with the same enthusiasm. Because this is the last thing that the patient will hear, it will set the tone for their memory of your phone conversation.
Regardless of the number of referrals that you get or the quality of your advertising, if prospective patients' initial phone calls are mishandled, your practice isn't making its best first impression. Proper command of the phone when speaking to potential new patients can be a significant differentiator in the success of a dental practice.
About the Author
Richard P. Gangwisch, DDS, a master of the Academy of General Dentistry and a diplomate of the American Board of General Dentistry, is a clinical assistant professor at the Dental College of Georgia at Augusta University and maintains a private practice in Lilburn, Georgia.