The front desk is the aorta of the dental practice. It allows an office to begin to differentiate itself from other surrounding practices. It is where:
- A new patient inquiry call is utilized to identity the patient’s needs and help fit them with an appropriate appointment.
- It is where the administration team helps set up appointments, especially if the patient has a deadline of when they would like to have treatment completed.
- It is where treatment is presented and a payment plan is arranged to meet the patient’s financial needs.
- It is where patients share their inner most feelings and personal stories that allow the practice to build personal bonds leading to trust.
- It is the hub where the front desk communicates vital information to each department to keep things running smoothly and to meet the goals set.
ANSWER THE PHONE:
Knowing how important the front desk is, you can begin to see how it can be viewed as a major artery of a practice – yet it is amazing to me how it is the most clogged artery in a dental practice. I would normally say that the key is to answer the phone well and listen very closely to the patient. However, the step before this would be to actually answer the phone. On average, more than thirty percent of calls to a dental practice go to voicemail when the practice is open! Even worse, a recent study showed that more than 34% of first-time callers will never call back should they get sent to voicemail or hang up after being put on hold for a long time. That’s a staggering loss of potential new patients. It’s not good business. Make sure you have enough people to answer the phone whenever it rings, and have a policy that everyone in this office needs to dive for that phone if it goes beyond three rings.
HIRE TOUGH AND HIRE SMART:
Build a profile and recruit someone that matches it – only hire the ones that match what you were looking for, stay true to your profile. At times it may be hard to wait for the right person with the pressures and stresses that go with be short staffed; however, hiring the wrong person could be just as stressful and very costly. Recent studies show that wrong hires costs a practice anywhere from $45,000 to $60,000. This includes training costs, damaged relationships with patients and costly mistakes. Look for someone that is gregarious, flexible, able to mirror various personalities, a problem solver, naturally helpful and openly compassionate. Obviously, these are different personality traits than what you would choose for an insurance biller or account manager; however the front desk is a key position and should not be confused with either of the above mentioned roles. I suggest you place someone else in charge of the account management and in a different location in the office so patients do not overhear any collection related conversations.
SET THE EXPECTATIONS:
Set the expectation for the front desk to achieve and provide training and coaching whenever necessary to ensure success. Below are some suggestions:
- Answering all inbound calls
- Aiming to get 100% of inquiry calls to schedule appointments within 24 hours of the call.
- There are multiple studies that show new patients want to come in right away, and the further out you schedule them, the more likely they are to not show up
- Keep the schedule filled a minimum of three weeks in advance for the DDS and six months in advance for hygiene
- Following “block scheduling”
- Strive for 100% patient satisfaction
- Don’t pre-judge patients or pre-qualify them; rather focus on establishing the value.