Special Issues
September 2015
Volume 11, Issue 2

The Secret to Filling Chairtime

Positioning front desk staff for stronger patient connections

Naomi Cooper

When it comes to filling empty chairs, clinicians might immediately begin thinking about how to get more new patients through the front door. Before spending the time and money on external marketing, it can pay off to first examine the effectiveness of the practice’s internal processes.

A good place to start when trying to fill gaps in a practice’s schedule is the front desk. The front desk team plays critical role in getting new patients into the practice as well as getting patients of record back into the dentist chair. So why not make it easy for staff to excel in their roles by providing them with the training and tools necessary to communicate easily and efficiently with patients? There are two essential ingredients to this line of thinking—fundamental training and smart front desk technology.

Fundamental Training

While the front desk staff has many responsibilities, managing the phones should always be top priority. A phone call is often the patient’s gateway into the practice, so it is imperative that those responsible for the phones are able to make the most of every conversation. If there is only one action a dentist can take when trying to get more patients in to the practice, it should be to invest in verbal skills training for the front desk team.

Strong verbal and phone skills do not come naturally to everyone. That’s why verbal skills training for the front desk staff is a must. It’s not always easy to establish rapport with current and prospective patients over the phone, but with simple tweaks to delivery, the front desk team can make significant improvements in converting new callers into patients and tightening recall among existing patients.

For instance, does the front desk team ask patients open-ended or “yes or no” questions? Open-ended questions prompt a deeper conversation that will help unveil a patient’s needs and motivations and build a personal relationship. Also, how does the front desk handle a patient phone call about prices and insurance benefits? Do they recognize the opportunity to win the patient over, or do they judge the patient for “shopping around?”

With training, the team’s telephone skills will improve; however, a staff meeting about verbal skills is not enough. What the staff learns during training needs to be practiced consistently for the skills to become habits. Think back to dental school; your first crown was likely not your best work. Practice was needed for the process to become second nature. Similarly, the front desk team also needs to develop their verbal muscle memory. Providing ongoing training and encouraging the staff to role play and practice on an continual basis will help them refine the skills necessary to effectively communicate over the phone and get more patients appointed.

Smart Front Desk Technology

Technology is certainly terrific, but having the latest tech tools does not always guarantee that the office will run more efficiently. It is easy to suffer from technology paralysis, implementing state-of-the-art systems that have so many bells and whistles that they are rendered nearly impossible to use on a practical level.

Take practice management systems, for instance. Most of the platforms available to dentists today provide a wide range of highly detailed information with a multitude of fields and screens. Yet accessing the specific pieces of information that are most relevant on any given patient call often requires critical thinking, many mouse clicks, and navigation through various windows and menus, all of which can be extremely cumbersome, especially when the patient is waiting on the other end of the telephone line.

The whole point of implementing technology is to work smarter, not harder. To that end, imagine how much more effective the front desk team would be at scheduling patients if they could easily pull up the most pertinent information in seconds. One such solution is offered by Weave Communications (www.getweave.com) with what they have termed their “magic prompt.” With Weave, dental practices can sync their existing practice financial, practice management, and phone systems and filter the data through one smart, easy-to-use interface. What results is a window popping up on the front desk’s computer screen that provides an instant snapshot of who is calling; when their next appointment is scheduled; family members’ names, ages, and last appointments; and whether they are overdue for treatment or have an outstanding balance. This appears automatically as soon as the phone starts to ring.

What does this mean for the front desk? No more navigating through multiple systems, and no more having to put patients on hold or asking them to wait while pulling up their information. With smart technology, the front desk team’s job is suddenly much easier because they have all of the most important information right at their fingertips in real time. As a result, every patient conversation becomes much more productive and patient relationships are strengthened through better communication. This results in more appointments, a higher collections percentage, and more production for the practice.

Just the Essentials

Filling chairtime doesn’t always require a flashy new marketing campaign or a budget-breaking amount of money. Improving essential front desk processes will be time and money well spent, helping to tighten recall and keep your schedule filled. Helping your staff improve their patient communication skills and implementing smart technology solutions are investments that will reap rewards for years to come.

About the Author

Naomi Cooper is president and founder of Minoa Marketing and chief marketing consultant for Pride Institute. She is a respected dental marketing strategist, consultant, author, speaker, and industry opinion leader. Naomi teaches Pride’s groundbreaking marketing courses and works with individual dentists to craft and implement a customized modern marketing plan. She also consults for leading companies across the dental industry, developing a cohesive marketing approach and creating momentum for their marketing efforts. She can be reached via email at naomi@minoamarketing.com, and she blogs regularly at www.minoamarketing.com. For regular updates from Naomi, including dental marketing/social media tips and tricks, follow her on Twitter (@naomi_cooper) or “like” Naomi Cooper – Minoa Marketing on Facebook at www.fb.com/minoamarketing.

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