I’ve Just Seen a Face

Dental patients, who don’t already have an established office, often start calling random offices when they need an appointment.

It’s up to the front desk to stand apart from other offices, so that the caller feels comfortable and schedules an appointment.

Making an impression over the phone can be difficult because we can’t see the phone callers body language, we can’t look in the patient’s eyes, nor we can offer a reassuring handshake.

Over the phone, people sometimes act one way and then all too often their behavior changes when they come into the office and meet us face to face. People who don’t visit the dentist regularly often have a misconception about dentists and dental staff and sometimes take that out on the receptionist.

I’ve been doing this for over 10 years. I’ve seen it happen over and over. Patients are sometimes mistrusting over the phone, but they let their guard down when they come in, see that we are not monsters, and that we are actual people who do want to help. It’s pretty easy for people to have disregard for those that they’ve never met.

That’s why my goal is to always make a reservation for a patient. I want them to meet us and see us face to face. We’ve got a better shot of helping the patient once they actually come into the office. If we blow it on the phone with the caller, we will NEVER get that chance to actually meet them.

Nothing can replace a real smile and comforting eyes. Since we can’t see their body language or look them in the eye, we have to simulate all of that over the phone.

How do we do that?

Well, for starters, we have to let them feel like we can take care of them and that they called an office who cares.  We cannot sound rushed or distracted. Through our tone and words, it is necessary to be a calming presence. We have to be more than just a voice on the other end of the phone. We have to make it ‘click’ inside the patient’s head that we are not like everyone else.

A few times a week I get a new patient who calls and sounds rather frantic on the line. Usually the patient launches into something like this…

Caller (with a pushy and frantic tone): “Hi. I’ve had this tooth that’s been hurting for months. My last dentist did a root canal, so I’m not sure why it hurts. I paid a lot for that, too and my insurance is through Aetna. My son needs his wisdom teeth out, but he’s in college and won’t be home till spring break, but I don’t want to go back there. What’s all of this going to cost me because I’ve already paid a lot to the last dentist?”

Whoa! Information overload!

This is great example of how important it is to have a receptionist who can handle herself/himself on the phone. While the patient has valid concerns and objectives, and those will be addressed in the future, at this point, we can NOT fix any of those dental problems over the phone. What we CAN do, is offer a calming presence with a reassuring demeanor.

Some receptionists struggle with this kind of call and get wrapped into those details like this…

Receptionist: “When did that tooth have a root canal? What is your Aetna info? Did your son have any x-rays taken of his wisdom teeth that can be sent here?”

Those responses only continue the whirlwind of confusion. It’s best to break the panic cycle, and not feed into the frenzy. We also need this patient to feel differently about us than the last office she went to or called. At this point, this caller doesn’t know us. We have to separate ourselves from those other places.

Here’s how I would respond (very calmly and confidently)…

Me: It sounds like you have a few things that need to be addressed, and I’m so glad you called us because we can help you with all of them! Let’s take things one step at a time.”

This is where I usually hear the sigh of relief on the other end of the phone. With those words, we have calmed and slowed down the call and provided some reassurance to the patient. This is how value starts! For me, “taking things one step at a time” does NOT mean that I am going to specifically address those rambling questions. I’m NEVER going to do that! What I am going to do is begin the New Patient Reservation System which will be my guide for the call.

It’s necessary to recognize when a new patient starts off on a rant. It’s up to the receptionist to CHANGE that energy and offer a calm, yet authoritative reassurance. Although I cannot see the caller’s body language, I can tell from that first rant, that she may be tense, perhaps even scared and overwhelmed. The caller also cannot see MY body language. She may think that I am like all the other receptionists she’s called.

But I’m not like everyone else, and I need to let the patient FEEL that.

Over the phone, I’m going to offer a warm smile and caring eyes using my words. Those things will let the patient know that I am a REAL  person, and that our office has valuable, REAL people. I am creating the early stages of a long lasting relationship.

Once a patient comes into the office, and she can see me face to face, the relationship grows a little more. Think about it. Now that person has a face (and a smile) to make a connection with. Once inside, the patient can see our modern, beautiful office, and can feel our positive and helpful vibe. That patient may not have ever made it in if I hadn’t captured her over the phone.

Be MORE than just a voice over the phone!

At the beginning of the call, I was a faceless unknown to that caller and sometimes that prompts the caller to be pushy or a little rude. With my carefully chosen words and tone, it’s up to me to change that energy. With a more productive energy, I can change the patient’s perception of our office and gain some trust. The result is that the patient likes how I made her feel and she shows up for her appointment-which was my objective in the first place!

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