Orthodontists love to save money. We will save money by cutting or delaying essentials and then turn around and buy Sh*t We Don’t Need! We are funny that way. One of the most egregious examples of this is how we handle phone lines and the people answering them. We want as few phone lines as possible because phone lines are expensive and we need to keep our staff overhead down so we can’t possibly have more people answering the phones! Instead of having enough phone lines we allow people who are calling, wanting to give us their business, to go to our answering service or we make them sit and listen to the on hold messaging that we are very proud of. But have we really thought this through? How much is a new patient phone call worth? $6000? Not even close, each new patient phone call is worth way more than a single case fee. Each and every one of those new patients calling have family and friends and co-workers and people they meet at Walmart and on and on and on. So, if we are lucky enough for a patient to call us, we darn sure better do what it takes to answer the phone and deliver great service.

Step 1: Answer the Phone!! If you are missing calls, any calls, get more phone lines. If you are getting messages left consistently on your voicemail then get at least two more phone lines. Once you have enough lines, if the phone is ringing more than twice before you pick it up or if you have to put people on hold regularly, get more people answering the phone. NOW! This is not an optional deal. I don’t care if you can’t afford it. Sell the car you currently drive and get a used Prius and that will give you plenty for a new employee more than likely. To not answer the phone is to admit defeat and to embrace the fact that you’ll never grow and you may fail.

Step 2: Give Great Service on the Phone!! Answering the phone is the minimum. You must be able to deliver great service and make your practice stand out among the long list of offices today’s new patients will shop before deciding where to spend their time and money. Great service means smiling while you’re on the phone (your voice sounds different when you smile), having all the info the patient will need at your fingertips, respecting the patient’s time (people are in a hurry and have things to do), not wearing them out for every bit of info on the new patient intake call, and generally being helpful and happy they called.

I’ve talked to orthodontists who get 50+ voicemails a day and as incredible as that sounds, it’s not uncommon. Forget about the work it takes to listen to dozens of voicemails and let’s just assume, conservatively, that 5% of the voicemails were left by new patients. Let’s also ignore the new patients who get frustrated, don’t leave a message and call someone else instead. So let’s get back to the 2.5 new patients per day that leave a voice message. How many of them do you think you’ll ultimately start? Let’s be generous and say you start 1, however unlikely that is given their impression of your office. So, conservatively, you’re allowing 1.5 new patients who want to come see you to go elsewhere. Actually, you’re forcing them to go elsewhere. At 4 days a week and 45 weeks a year that’s 270 new patients who could have visited you but won’t. Let’s assume you have a terrible conversion rate of 50%. At that conversion rate and at a $5000 case fee, you’re turning away $675,000 in production annually. Tell me again that hiring an employee or two to answer the phone and adding some phone lines is expensive? This is obvious stuff though it flies in the face of what your consultant and your buddy and your bank account are telling you. You only get one shot at a new patient and then they are gone. Forever.

Be smart. Be proactive. Start today! It’s simple but not easy. How your practice handles the phone will dictate your success or failure. Period. These days it’s just too easy for a potential patient to pull up a list of orthodontists on their iPhone and, when the office they call isn’t responsive or helpful, they end the call and push the contact info for the next orthodontist on the list. How does your office handle the phones? When is the last time you checked? From what I’ve seen this is not something you fix and forget. It takes a lot of work and constant maintenance to do phones right and keep them that way, but you must do whatever it takes to make your phone lines assets instead of liabilities if you want to succeed in the modern dental landscape.

One thought on “Success Is Calling, Will You Answer Your Phone?

  1. I totally agree. I consulted with a doctor who was complaining that his top referring doctor was not referring nearly as many patients. He spoke to the referring Doctor and he said ,” I am referring to you as normal. If you are not seeing them, you have a problem you need to fix.” I uncovered the problem during the consultation. The orthodontist’s phone was being answered 27 hours a week! The staff were in the office all day Tuesday with no patients. They staff said, ” If we answer the phones we can’t get anything done.” I told them that their phone needed to be answered a minimum of 40 hours a week and cover the lunch hour. The results were quick and positive. His new patient exam numbers immediately increased by 20%. The referring dentist was correct. The orthodontist had created his own problem.

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