July 13, 2015
First impressions dominate. And by definition, you never get a second chance to make a great first impression. So I am flabbergasted and certainly underwhelmed by what I often experience when I call a dental office. Here are my suggestions for proper telephone technique that are designed to impress.
1. A real live person should answer the telephone. I hate phone trees! A phone tree is an automated telephone information system that speaks to the caller with a combination of fixed voice menus in real time. The caller can respond by pressing phone keys or speaking words or short phrases. “Please listen closely because our menu options have changed: Press one for the doctor, press two for the hygienist, press three if you are in pain, press four if you are a new patient etc. Many times, after pressing all these buttons, you end up in voicemail anyway. I don’t care about listening to menu options that might have changed. I just want to speak to a real person who can take care of my request right away. When you call Lands’ End or LL Bean, the phone is always answered on the second ring and you speak to a friendly person who is ready to take your order. Why can’t this happen in your practice?
2. When someone answers your phone, please have her announce her name. “Dr. Jones’ office” is not an acceptable greeting. Patients really appreciate knowing to whom they are speaking. I like “Thanks for calling Dr. Jones’ office – this is Melissa”. And “this is Melissa” is said with an intonation that implies “how may I help you?”
3. Answer the telephone over lunch. For many people, the only time that they can call is during lunch. Arrange coverage utilizing all staff members. Pay them their normal hourly rate. But please–teach assistants and hygienists who normally do not answer the telephone the proper way to answer. You don’t want it to sound like the cleaning service is answering your phone.
4. Answer your phone on the weekends. You don’t want to miss these calls. It is very easy to arrange call forwarding to staff cell phones. Staff members should be required to take weekend coverage on a rotating basis and are compensated for their efforts.
5. If you must default to a message machine during normal business hours, please do not say “we will get back to you as soon as possible”. It is much friendlier to say “we promise to return your call within 15 minutes.” And then make sure you do!
6. Never place a person on hold without asking their permission. “Dr. Jones’ office – hold please” is simply not acceptable. If you are on another call, or assisting someone at the desk, simply excuse yourself from the primary conversation. Then answer your telephone with the normal telephone greeting – find out who is calling – tell them you are on another call – and then ask them if they would like to hold or be called back in a few minutes. That entire process will not take longer than 20 seconds. Time it if you don’t believe me.
7. Consider answering services as a possible alternative to an end of the day message machine. There are some good companiesout there that are cost effective. But be sure to do your due diligence and check references.
The telephone is the entryway to your dental practice, and the person answering your phone just might be the most important person in your employ. Exquisite telephone technique is part and parcel of exquisite customer service. You shouldn’t accept anything else.
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