A well-organised practice will always have a telephone checklist visible to all team members who answer the phone. When you hear someone say, "I don't need a checklist," that usually means the team member believes the only aim of the phone call is to make an appointment.
Each item on the checklist is there for a reason: It's to prevent problems!
Here's the checklist:
1. New or current patient
If you simply say to the caller, "Have you been here before?" you might be annoying someone who was there last week and they expect you to remember them.
You'll be safer if you ask "when were you here last?" and if they are a new patient, they'll tell you they haven't been before. Asking this question allows you to get the same answer without risking creating offense.
It's easy to gather useful personal information so that the patient has a comforting "Warm and Fuzzy" experience. We always want to build better relationships, so if the patient mentions something notable about themselves, such as their occupation or some other piece of information, it's useful to jot it down so you can remember.
Using this information poorly can do more harm than good, so make sure you don't overdo this.
3. Past dental history
Whoever takes the call can be trained to ask a few questions so as to give the team advanced notice of what this patient might need. This information is useful in setting an appropriate time.
Say "I want to make sure that I book you more than enough time for you and it's really helpful if you can give me just a quick summary of the type of treatment you've had in the past."
The team member should know when to drill down on what the patient says.
For example, if the patient says "I had a tooth out", you'd want to know which tooth it was and whether the gap was filled.
If they had a root canal treatment, it's useful to know whether a crown was used to support the tooth.
4. Set expectations
Some people expect to have treatment or see a hygienist. It's best to tell them what will happen and avoid mis-expectations. If it's an emergency appointment, the patient should be told that the aim of the next appointment is to get them out of pain and then they'll probably need another appointment if more treatment is needed.
5. Quote fee
Tell them approximately how much the next appointment will be and how payment can be made. You want to avoid situations where the patient was expecting an account or was shocked at the fee. If you quote a fee bracket, it's a good idea to actually charge the lower fee.
6. Get email or phone number
It's vital to be able to communicate with the patient. You might be running late or have to re-schedule them. It's also good to ask if they prefer a text.
7. Marketing source
It's important to be able to track your marketing effectiveness. Asking "Who can we thank for referring you?" implies that most patients are personally referred.
8. Quick call list if booked far in advance
If you were not able to see the patient as soon as you would have liked, you should put them on a quick call list.
Say "If an earlier time becomes available, would you like me to call you?"
If they say yes, now ask: "If I do call, how long would it take you to get here?"
Note the time. Now your quick call list will be much more useful.
In addition to the Checklist, there are 3 communications tips that are good to have on the telephone checklist.
Telephone communication tips
- Use your name when you answer.
- Use the patient's name often when you speak.
- Make sure you sound relaxed cheerful and show empathy when appropriate.
It's a great idea to do some training exercises and record the best calls. This way, a new team member can quickly hear how "good" sounds.
If you always use this checklist, you'll be preventing lots of problems.
In summary, here's the checklist again:
- New or Current Patient.
- Past dental history.
- Set expectations.
- Quote fee.
- Get email or phone number.
- Marketing source.
- Quick call list if booked far in advance.
Dr Michael Sernik is the CEO of Channel D.