We were standing by the front desk taking a break from a team meeting, and Jackie decided to use the time to return a call to a new patient. “No, we are not a participating provider in that plan,” we heard her say. Eyes rolling we moved away from the desk and went back to our conversation. One of “those” calls.
As the rest of us talked, Jackie continued her phone conversation. Occasionally a word or phrase drifted our way. “Nebraska.” Later, “Well I wouldn’t let my family go to anyone else.” I was curious.
After she hung up the phone I asked about the conversation. Jackie said she had scheduled the new person for an initial exam appointment. “Why were you talking about Nebraska?” She said the patient had asked her where the doctor went to dental school and she told her, Nebraska. She also asked if it was a good dental school and Jackie assured her it was. In the end, the patient asked Jackie “Is he a good dentist?”
I smiled and shook my head in wonder. A conversation that started with a question about insurance ended with a question about whether or not the dentist was good at what he did. In one phone call Jackie had become a trusted advisor to that stranger. How does that happen?
I remembered this experience while planning for our February workshop with Dr. Lee Ann Brady, “Step by Step.” (Click here to learn more.)It’s designed to help dentists and team members develop practical skills and strategies for growing their practices. A new patient phone call is certainly a great practice building opportunity.
When patients are looking for a new dentist they generally call asking for information. Do you have evening hours? How much is a crown? Are you a member of my plan? This story reminded me that asking for information is what they know how to do, but they also want something more. They want to make a connection.
I don’t mean to diminish the importance patients place on their dental plan or our office hours, but I believe that fundamentally patients want to find a dentist they can trust. They don’t enjoy shopping for a dentist. Most people would probably prefer to stay with a dentist they know and who knows them. Sometimes things go wrong in that practice, or their insurance plan changes, or they move. For whatever reason, they feel they have to find a new dentist. The greatest gift you can offer a new patient who calls your office is the gift of connection.
After that new person spoke with Jackie she did not just have an appointment in a new office with a new dentist. I believe she hung up looking forward to seeing Jackie. She had a connection to someone in that office; someone who knew her and cared about her. That would be my goal for every new patient anticipating their first visit to your office.
Whether it is the person who picks up the initial call or a dentist or treatment coordinator who follows up after the appointment is scheduled, there are certain qualities that contribute to a sense of connection.
Welcome: A welcoming spirit embraces possibility, rather than barriers. A genuine desire to get to know this new person takes us beyond fact finding into relationship. Answer the initial question as best you can, then move on. For example, “Sounds like you are searching for a new dentist. Are you new to the area or just wanting to make a change?” Stay present to that conversation. Or you might ask how they heard about the practice. I might follow with, “What was it about our website that caught your attention?” or “What did you hear from Mr. Jones about our practice that prompted you to call?” If you listen with genuine curiosity to their responses you can learn a lot about what is important to them.
Compassion: Stay aware that this phone call to a new dentist may be difficult for them and walk gently with them into the process. If someone says they are new to the area you might offer, “Moving can be stressful. How is it going for you?” Or you might ask about the nature of their call expressing concern, “I hope you are not experiencing any discomfort today.” You may be surprised how easy it is to help people open up when they have a sympathetic ear. Look for ways to connect, human to human.
Responsiveness: When you understand their needs and wants you can guide them to the best possible experience in their initial visit. “Based on what I am hearing from you, I suggest we allow enough time at that first appointment for the doctor (hygienist) to do a very thorough and gentle exam. How does that sound to you?” You can move beyond a rigid script or set of rules to meet them where they are.
Enthusiasm: There is no substitute for genuine enthusiasm for you practice and the work you do. Talking to a potential new patient you should believe wholeheartedly that the he or she is fortunate to have called this practice. You should be able to say authentically, “I wouldn’t let my family go to anyone else.”
Every new patient who calls will not come to see you as a trusted advisor. Some will choose to go elsewhere. But what message would you like them to take with them about your practice? Welcoming. Compassionate. Responsive. Enthusiastic. Confident. Sounds to me like a pretty good message to have out there in the community when people talk about your practice . . . and all it costs you is a phone call.