While it may seem like the logical place to start a new employee, answering the phone might be one of the tasks that requires the most training.
It is typical in a dental office that when we hire a new employee at the front desk, they start by answering the phones for the office. Really, when looking at it from the dentist’s perspective, that is the easiest thing to start with, right?
Other duties such as scheduling, treatment plan presentations, collections, etc., require a lot more training and knowledge of the dental office and policies.
That definitely seems to make sense, but frankly, that is one of the worst things you can do for your office with a new employee.
The best first step you can take should happen well before they start answering the phones.
Let’s go over a few scenarios of how these calls typically play out:
A new patient calls and wants to know what insurances your office takes.
This new employee says, “Umm, I don’t know exactly but let me find out. Please hold.” After asking a more senior person at the office, the new employee gets back on the phone but after putting the new patient on hold for over three minutes, the new employee hears a dial tone.
You have now lost a potential new patient.
A patient calls and says they need to cancel their crown appointment for tomorrow.
The new employee asks if they would like to reschedule and the patient says not now. They hang up and you lose a scheduled crown for tomorrow costing you not only production, but time in your schedule.
A person calls and wants to know how much a crown costs in your office.
Your new employee pulls up your fee schedule and gives them the price of your crown. The person says, “Wow, that is more than the other office down the street. Thanks anyway,” and hangs up.
Your office just missed the opportunity to get the patient in to do a proper treatment plan presentation, so the potential patient decided based on price only.
Hopefully these are specific enough real-life examples to make you recognize how much this mistake is potentially costing the practice in lost production.
Even though answering the phone seems easy, it is what happens after the “thank you for calling Dr. So and So’s office” that is the problem.
By now you should understand and agree as to why you shouldn’t put a new employee on the phones right away but you might be asking, “what do they need to be trained on before they can answer phones?”.
First, the person answering the phone needs to be friendly, welcoming and distinct.
You want the person on the other end of the phone to get the feeling that they are welcomed and their call is important.
Hopefully, the new employee is already great at customer service. However, if this is not natural to them, you want to make sure they get some training so they understand what this looks like.
This employee is potentially the first impression that the person calling in will have about your office—make it a great one. You never get a second chance to make good first impression.
Second, the new employee needs to understand what they are allowed to handle and what they are not.
If the new employee is presented an issue or question that they have not been approved to handle, they need to either pass the phone call to the appropriate employee that can help or they need to take a very good message and make sure someone calls that person back—both things that require proper training.
The worst thing that they can do is to try to handle something that they are not trained on yet or make decisions that are not within their power.
This is vital to make sure the new employee understands this because they may just be trying to help, but sometimes their help causes bigger problems.
Once this is fully explained to the new employee, I recommend that if the employee attempts to do this even once, that they immediately get taken back off the phones.
Lastly, whether a patient is calling to move or cancel an appointment, ask about fees or insurance, etc., anyone answering your phones needs to understand the ultimate goal: to get that person into the office.
The person needs to know how to handle that patient and their questions with the result being to get the patient to schedule or stay scheduled.
It is amazing how quickly your schedule can fall apart or how your new patient numbers stay low when your employees, new or long-term, don’t fully understand this purpose.
The key to success is to try to avoid the mistakes before they happen or correct them with proper training before they are repeated.
Just like with other front-desk tasks, training is vital before you allow a new employee to answer phones.
The phone is your office’s connection to the outside. You would be better off taking any money you put into marketing and gamble it, than to allow someone brand new with no training handle your phones.
A new employee that does not know your philosophy, services or policies is not educated enough to be the first impression to a potential new patient. Beyond that, this new employee needs to understand their purpose when answering phones.
It is not just to handle the call or answer the questions; it is to either get that patient to come in to the office to discuss their needs, get them to schedule or keep them in the schedule—all of which require training.