You only get one chance to make a first impression, so you have to make sure to get it right when a new patient calls.
I have two general rules for talking to patients on the phone.
The first rule is be positive.
And, of course, this means answering the phone with all the proper etiquette, like having a smile on your face and using the caller's name. But I mean that you should literally be positive. There is almost always a way to give an affirmative answer to a question without compromising your policies.
So, in my office, we don't participate with any dental plans. Since most people don't know how to choose a dentist, they tend to use plan participation as a screening tool to narrow their choices, even though they realize that their plans cover less and less each year.
So we answer the insurance question with a positive statement. We say, "That's great that you have dental benefits to help you cover the cost of your care. Not everyone is so lucky. Lots of our patients have coverage with your plan. Dr. Forgosh is an out-of-network provider, which lets us simplify things by having your reimbursement check sent directly to you. That way, you can collect your benefits before your credit card is due."
This tells them that, even though they will pay out at the time of service, they can certainly make use of their dental benefits. Instead of saying no to the question they asked, we said yes to what we do.
Even questions that beg for a direct and negative answer can be turned into a positive. If the answer is no, simply state a yes response. So if a caller asks, "Are you open on Saturdays?" Tell them, "We're open Mondays through Thursday. The doctor is here late on Monday, and we open early the rest of the week so you can get in before or after work. What time works best for you?"
Notice how I wound up that positive answer with a question?
That's the second rule for phone calls; ask questions.
Most people don't know what to ask when they call the office. They may have expectations that our first concern is money so they'll lead with their insurance information. Or they may have anxiety from previous experiences that eroded their trust of dentists. Others just don't know where to start, so help them out.
Ask them questions to guide the conversation away from barriers and towards solutions. Get to know what drove them to pick up the phone and call. Ask, "Are you having a dental problem now?" Or, "Most of our new patients have been referred to us by specialists or one of our patients. Who can we thank for referring you?"
By asking them questions, it takes the pressure off of them to interview us. They'll see that you care about them and their well-being while giving you valuable information you'll need to treat them like part of a family.
So be positive and ask questions.
And here's a fun exercise to try with your team. When I was in college, we used to play the question game. The only rule was that you had to answer every question with another question. If you hesitated or made a statement, you lose.
So try a variation of this, and I'll call it the Question/Yes Game. In this version, you can answer with either a question or a positive statement. Keep going until someone fails. It's up to you to decide what the penalty for messing up is. It's harder than it sounds.
Lastly, understand that you might not be the right dentist for everyone, and that's okay, but treat every caller with respect and dignity.
Even if they don't schedule, you never know who they are going to talk to or what they may choose to do if their circumstances change. And remember, the best way to come across as genuinely caring is to genuinely care.