By Bridget Burris
Ben and I have learned this lesson over and over again: Nothing is more important in an orthodontic office than your schedule! Your orthodontic practice schedule creates your future, and it can work for you or against you. Many offices we have visited do not have a schedule template and we always leave scratching our heads when the Doc asks us how to get his or her clinic under control. It all comes down to your schedule! If you don’t know where you want to be then you’ll never get there. If you want to know how to create a schedule, here you go!
Now that you have a schedule template and a plan, one of the ways you can create success with your schedule is through proper training of every single team member. Even our lab technician and our records coordinator are trained on how to schedule. This is our only process on which we cross train and we do so because it is imperative that the whole team pulls in the same direction when it comes to making appointments. Otherwise that persistent mom will find the one person in the office that doesn’t follow the rules… every time. Training occurs through role-playing. Yes, everyone dislikes role-playing and sees it as “stupid” or “juvenile”, BUT we need to practice what to say so that in the real-life situations we are confident and understand why we say what we say. There is a definite psychology behind how we schedule, as you will see shortly, and it is imperative that your team understands the why behind it.
In the orthodontic world the biggest challenge with scheduling is that almost everyone wants to be seen after school. No big surprise! Let’s look at a few ways to avoid the after-school craziness that can and usually does occur. Ben always says that you cannot render good treatment if you allow your after school schedule to get out of control and that is hard to argue with based on what we have seen.
1 – We always discuss in the new patient exam that school will be missed. Period. This sets us up for success and the parent or guardian knows what to expect. Should Mom say, “My child cannot miss school” we may not start treatment on the patient if mom doesn’t come to understand that we need to share those after school appointments. Remember 95% of your problems are caused by 5% of your patients so identifying them on the front end is a great idea. This is a big red flag. Of course we explain that due to advances in technology we no longer need to see the patient every four weeks, we are open during prime, non-school times, etc. Another option that we don’t use but have heard others have success with, is an upcharge for after school- only appointments.
2 – When making an appointment, never, ever ask: “Would you like to be seen in the morning or in the afternoon?” Yes, you can guess that 90+ percent will say, “in the afternoon”. If you use this verbiage, you have just set yourself up for failure! One thing to remember as a technique to maximize “afternoon appointments” is that if you break for lunch at noon and return at 1PM, the appointments from 1-2 pm are “afternoon appointments”. Most team members assume that the patient means after school when they reply therefore making your schedule crazy at 3:30pm. Also, be smart and take what is given to you. If a patient is at your office at 10:30 am, make 10:30 the first option you give them for next appointment since you know they can make it then!
Scripting includes: “Dr. Burris would like to see Johnny back in 8 weeks, which brings us to Tuesday April 10th. I have a 10am or a 1pm available, which would you prefer?” This is followed by SILENCE…………..
The psychology behind this schedule scripting:
- Use the doctor’s name. This gives the employee more authority.
- People love having a choice, ironically enough even if neither option works for them they will most likely still choose one option as they feel in control.
- Whoever speaks last after the silence wins the negotiation of the appointment time. People generally hate silence. Our receptionists tend to be people-pleasers and want to fill that silence, they will be most challenged by this aspect. Don’t be the first to speak. Sit patiently and wait for it…
3 – Whether you schedule chair-side or at reception, most offices only schedule with the parent. Ever thought of scheduling with the patient? Yes, many are under 18 and there may be a chance the parent will call back to reschedule but the fact is patients are easier to schedule and they also know their toughest classes. Mom will take that into consideration and accept the appointment most of the time. If you can shake what you think you KNOW and allow patients to schedule their own appointments, you will see that this works out 90 percent of the time. Be sure to remember those times it works instead of focusing on the few times it doesn’t work out. This will save you time and effort all day, every day.
4 – If you are scheduling chair side then consider scheduling the patient while they are lying down. The reason for this is that they most probably cannot see the screen and they cannot see any afternoon openings! This may seem devious but in all honesty it is for their own good. What kind of treatment does the patient receive when you are overloaded in the after school rush verses an even schedule with time for every patient? Hmmm… this plan doesn’t look so bad now, right?
5 – If a patient is being seen in the morning, that means it is more than likely they can be seen during the morning in their future appointment as I mentioned earlier.
6 – If a patient is being seen in the afternoon, that means you need to SHARE those appointment times and schedule the patient for the morning next time. Scripting for the times when Mom says no to either of our options and is insistent on an after-school appointment goes like this: “Mom, as I’m sure you can understand, most of our patients are school age and we really need to SHARE those after school appointments. Since Johnny had an afternoon appointment today we would love to give our other patients a turn at this time, I’m sure you understand.”
The psychology behind this schedule scripting:
- You are putting yourself and Mom on the same page by saying that you are sure she understands.
- Every child is taught to share, by stressing that word during the conversational scripting you are telling the parent they need to be good examples for their children and share. Yes, I will use guilt to get the schedule that is best for everyone!
7 – We never offer the prime spots in our two options. First appointments in the morning are going to get filled up quickly along with those 3:30pm and after appointments. No need to offer them on the front end.
8 – For the Mom that you have no choice but give them an after school time (after using all of the above scripting on them) we will give an after-school appointment, BUT we will let them know: “Dr. Burris wanted to see Johnny in 8 weeks but since he needs that after-school time we can see him in 11 weeks at 3:30PM. I just need to let you know that this may extend Johnny’s treatment time.” Mom will either agree; in which case you schedule and then make a note in the patient’s chart that Mom understands treatment may be delayed, or if she understands that by being insistent she is extending treatment time, she will probably ask what her options were again. Either outcome is acceptable.
Customer service is something that we are always working on. We know we can do better and certainly strive for that daily. Please know that the motivation behind this scripting is to achieve the best patient treatment possible! We have purchased practices that saw 20 patients in the morning from 8 am – 9:30 am and then saw 80 patients from 3:30pm to 5:00+pm with a huge dead space in-between. We know that is not the best for patients and not the best for our team or us. We schedule for a smooth day so that we can attain the best smiles possible for our patients. It takes a great environment to render great treatment. It takes a great schedule template to get a great environment. It takes great scripting to properly use a great template. It takes a great team to properly use the scripting so that everyone gets what they want! Together you can do it!