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In the dental sector, answering the phone professionally is one of the most important aspects of the job. It sets the tone for the patient’s experience and can even influence their decision on which dental practice they use.

Good communication with patients is crucial to maintaining a successful dental practice. The telephone is often the first point of contact for your patients. It can make the difference when landing new customers and it’s an important factor in keeping existing patients satisfied. But answering calls to your dental practice isn’t always straightforward.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • The best practices for an impactful dental answering service.
  • How to deal with different types of calls.
  • Common mistakes to avoid.

Be prepared – understand the customer service systems

Before answering the phone, make sure you’re familiar with the dental service’s telephone system. To provide seamless service to callers, you need to know how to transfer calls, place calls on hold, and use other functions of the phone.

Keep a digital device handy to take notes during the call (this will save you repetitive data entry) and get your head around the office protocols and guidelines. Your employer should provide training on the equipment and bring you up to speed before pushing client calls your way.

Read more: Complete Dental Care [Case Study]

While there are things you’ll pick up over time, you should practice with the dental office’s systems before jumping onto a live call. Ask one of the other members of the team if you can have a trial run. That way, when the patients call, you’re already prepared.

Best practices when patients call

Women talking on the phone

Every dental practice has a specific way of handling patient calls. But best practices have surfaced from decades of customer service in an ever-present industry. Those are:

  • Answer the phone promptly – ideally within three rings – and greet the caller warmly. 
  • Identify yourself and the dental service so the caller knows they’ve reached the correct place. 
  • Listen attentively to the caller’s needs and speak clearly and professionally. 
  • Use appropriate language: avoid slang, jargon, and technical terms the caller may not understand. 
  • Provide accurate information and verify details when necessary, especially when scheduling appointments. 
  • Offer assistance and provide answers to the caller’s questions. While you’re not the expert, do your best to provide reassurance and clarity using simple language. 
  • End the call politely; thank the caller for their time and express your willingness to help in any way you can. These details can be the difference between keeping and losing a patient.

A study titled “Improving Telephone Communication in a Dental Practice” was published in the Journal of Dental Education. The study aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of a telephone training program for dental office staff and to assess the impact of training on patient satisfaction.

The training program included topics such as effective communication skills, active listening, and handling difficult callers. After the training, the staff’s telephone skills were evaluated through recorded phone calls with simulated patients. The study found that the telephone training program improved the staff’s telephone communication skills, resulting in a higher level of patient satisfaction. This shows that the team handling the calls directly contributes to the happiness of the dental practice’s patients.

Dealing with different types of dental calls

Scheduling appointments is one of the most common reasons for a patient to call their dentist. But it’s not the only reason. Here’s some common types of calls:

  • Responding to emergencies requires immediate attention, so listen carefully and provide instructions on what to do until the patient can be seen. 
  • When handling appointments, ensure you have the schedule in front of you so you can offer the caller a suitable appointment time. You can also reschedule and cancel appointments with the same efficiency but make sure to confirm the change with the patient. 
  • Billing and insurance inquiries can be a delicate matter, so treat these scenarios with extra care and attention. You can help alleviate their stresses by providing accurate information and directing the patient to the correct department. 
  • Fielding general questions is a way to build rapport with the patient and provide them with information about the dental service. 
  • Transferring calls to the correct department or staff member is another critical aspect of answering the phone.

As a customer service rep, you’re in the unique position of being able to impact how the client thinks and feels. This should be a motivating factor in your day-to-day role. 

Read more: Why customer service matters in healthcare

Common mistakes to avoid in dental care

Customer service can be the difference-maker in retaining a patient for years, or losing them forever. Satisfied patients will even travel significant distances to continue being a customer.

However, there are some common mistakes that can lead to customers having a less than satisfactory experience. Here are some key mistakes to avoid:

  • Don’t let the phone ring too many times. This can frustrate the caller and result in them hanging up before you answer.
  • Avoid placing the caller on hold for too long – This can also be a source of frustration. If you must place the caller on hold, inform them of the reason and the length of time they’ll have to wait. 
  • Interrupting the caller can come across as rude and unprofessional, so wait until they’ve finished speaking before responding. This is especially important if the customer is distressed about an oral health issue. 
  • Using unprofessional language – being too casual or rude can make the caller feel uncomfortable and negatively impact the dental office’s reputation. 
  • Using too much dental jargon – jargon or scientific language can make the customer feel isolated. Whilst it’s a complex topic, try and explain the situation in a way they’ll understand. 
  • Failing to follow-up with the caller can lead to a loss of business, so make sure to provide any necessary information and follow up with the caller if necessary.

In a survey by American Express, 33% of customers said the most important factor in good customer service is “not being passed around and having to repeat conversations”. If possible, try and resolve all their queries on the line. And if they need to ring back, keep yourself as the main point of contact. 

In summary

Answering the phone professionally is essential for maintaining a positive relationship with your patients. Great customer service often translates to a positive patient experience, especially in competitive sectors such as dentistry.

Following best practices can help you avoid common mistakes such as interrupting callers or using unprofessional language. More importantly, they can help you build rapport with patients and help you contribute to a thriving dental practice. By being prepared, dealing with different types of calls efficiently, and following up with callers as necessary, staff members can help ensure patient satisfaction.

Good customer service is crucial in any business. Answering the phone properly is the first step to providing excellent service in a dental office.

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Marcus Goodyear

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