Having acted as a ‘mystery shopper’ for dentists for a number years, it’s about time I shared the 7 biggest mistakes I see dental teams make when dealing with calls from potential patients…and how you can prevent them occurring in your practice!
Mistake 1 – Assuming every caller wants to be seen on the NHS
Our mystery shopper callers are regularly met with a swift ‘we can’t take on any NHS patients at the moment’, or ‘our yearly allowance for NHS patients is exceeded’. Sometimes, before the caller has had chance to explain about the nature of their existing or past dental service.
Imagine this is the first thing you are told when calling in to your practice. You appreciate that it puts up a barrier early on in the conversation and appears unaccommodating, even if you are looking to see a dentist privately.
GUIDANCE: Focusing on capturing information about the caller early in the conversation. This leads to a more engaging and personalised exchange.
Train your receptionists on how to open up rather than close down a conversation with a potential patient – whether or not they are looking to be seen on the NHS. A good trainer will train your team on how to ask questions to understand what the caller is really after.
Mistake 2 – Not providing receptionists with training on price enquiries
Some callers are obsessed with price. They want to know how much you charge and will sometimes express surprise or even distain about the level of fees.
How you illustrate the value of your treatments and services to these people is not always obvious. However, your reception team should not be put off doing so as this leads to more potential patients booking appointments.
GUIDANCE: Rather than simply accepting price enquiries as a fact of life, train and use role play with your team members so they can address and not be knocked sideways by them.
A good trainer will provide your team with effective communication skills. They will arm your team with techniques to engage patients in conversation so they prolong the call, open up the conversation and get to the heart of the caller’s situation.
Mistake 3 – Not taking the opportunity to extol the virtues of their individual clinicians
It’s not uncommon in my experience to ask if a practice can provide hygiene support and be told ‘yes we have a hygienist who works two days a week’. Similar responses are given when callers ask about in-house orthodontists and other specialists.
This information is relevant of course, but it does represent a missed opportunity when given in isolation.
You appreciate that there is every chance that a potential patient will be told something similar when they call your local competitors. So what are you going to do to make your practice stand out?
GUIDANCE: Your hygienist or specialist may indeed do the ‘same thing’ as their peers along the road but they are unique as individuals. Highlight their fortes, their personalities, their idiosyncracies! These are the things your potential patients can form an opinion on, rather than their clinical skills.
Mistake 4 – Not arming receptionists with plain English explanations of treatments
Just like mistake no.3, your practice provides services and treatments which are also provided up the road. If your receptionists are simply able to confirm that particular treatments are carried out at your practice, does this make your practice stand out from the crowd?
GUIDANCE: I would argue that your receptionists are the ideal people to discuss treatments with potential patients when they first call in. Chances are they don’t have a clinical background, so they’ll be less inclined to blind callers with science or use jargon the caller won’t understand. All it takes is for you to give them training on the salient features and benefits of each of your treatments. Tell them how to explain what they entail and what the patient gets out of them. Also how pain is controlled / relieved during each process and deal with the other common concerns patients have.
REMEMBER: the key is to provide your receptionists with enough information and guidance to get potential patients through the door – this gives your surgery team the chance to convince them to go ahead with the treatment.
Mistake 5 – Missing the opportunity to offer potential patients the chance to book an appointment
When you’ve got your reception team avoiding the majority of mistakes in this post, they’ll be having informative and valuable conversations which give potential patients confidence in your practice. So why then would you let them miss the final step? Some potential patients want to consider their options and think about booking an appointment of course, but some will book then and there!
In my estimation, less than 5% of UK dental practices actually ask people who call in whether they want to make an appointment. Imagine for a second just how many missed opportunities to get new patients in the book this represents…
GUIDANCE: Establish a protocol for your reception team to offer an appointment to callers systematically. They should of course automatically respect the callers decision not to book when this is the case, but overall the amount of potential patients who call in and book an appointment will increase.
Mistake 6 – Missing the opportunity to invite the potential patient to visit the practice before making an appointment
If a potential patient isn’t yet ready to book an initial appointment, it is a nice touch (and a rare one in my experience) to offer them the chance to come in, look around and meet the team.
Imagine you are made this offer. It would give you a really welcoming and affable impression of your practice, wouldn’t it? Particularly if you or your family members were nervous of the dentist or you had young children who could be more confident about their dental appointments.
GUIDANCE: Ask your receptionists to make this offer as standard to anyone who doesn’t automatically book an appointment.
Mistake 7 – Missing the opportunity to keep the ball in your court
I estimate that only 3% – 4% of dental practices ask for the contact details of every new caller. This only takes a minute and allows you to send them further information. A POINT TO NOTE: Many potential patients will want to discuss going to a new dentist with their spouses and family members. If they are looking for a particular treatment or service, they may wish to confer with others in their ‘decision-making unit’. This is particularly the case while family finances are restricted. You have increased the chance of people booking an appointment when others can read some great materials about it in their own time. Plus you will build a marketing list for your business.
GUIDANCE: Instruct your receptionists to ask for each caller’s details and train them how to explain that this enables your practice to send them more information and let them know about any offers which will benefit them in the future. Your receptionists should automatically respect the wishes of anyone who doesn’t want to receive this information of course.
Do you have a query or are you making progress converting new patients? Please share your comments and insights below!
Need my advice on your practice marketing? You’ve got it! Just email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or call me on 01249 712074. I’ll gladly have an informal, no obligation chat with you.
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