Swipe Right

The Art of Turning New Patient Calls into First Dates

I own a marketing company.

Our job is to drive new patient phone calls, emails and texts to a dental practice.

However, I’ve learned that marketing success often creates (or better, exposes) other problems. These days I find myself more and more involved in the issues created by the increased volume of phone calls.

I’ve spent a good chunk of this year listening to hundreds of real calls (that we created) to real dental practices (that we work with). From what I’ve tracked this year (and I have run this by a few others in the industry who aggreed it was very much average) out of every one hundred marketing-driven phone calls, 62 were answered and 26 were scheduled.

For the sake of clarity: These 100 phone calls were all paid for. Anywhere from $20 — $150 on average. Only 62% were answered. The rest just rang until they hung up or went to voicemail (didn’t leave a message nor did they call back). And only 26% were scheduled.

26%.

Turning strangers into friends is definitely not an easy process, but what if we didn’t quite take it that far at first? What if we only had to turn strangers into first dates? “Start here, give it shot, let’s see where it goes.”

What if we asked the question, “What matters most on a new patient call?” and then developed a set of values to guide our conversations? Could we answer more of those calls? Could we increase conversions? Could we get more potential patients to swipe right?

With any relationship, sharing a similar set of values increases the likelyhood that two people will connect and find friendship or even romance. It’s no different for a dental practice.

Here are my top five values to help guide your new patient phone calls into first appointments:

  1. PATIENT EXPERIENCE REPRESENTATIVE

Every team member that picks up the phone and takes a call from a new patient is the first impression of your practice. Their voice represents the experience these patients can expect to have. In a world of snap decisions, you’ve got about seven seconds to win their attention. Twelve if you’re lucky.

Fair or not, your team members telephone skills reflect the clinical skills of the doctor and practice. If they can efficiently schedule an appointment in five minutes with little friction, the patient’s confidence in your clinical ability soars. If it takes five minutes to explain insurance and another five minutes to find an appointment that works and they’re still now sure how much they’ll have to pay… their skeptisim takes over.

It’s vital for anyone in this role to come to terms with the fact that new patient phone calls are a “sales” position. Like it or not, this is a money driven process directed towards people’s needs to provide a solution. Your job is to match your solution to their need and do it with confidence.

2. FOCUS

Let’s start by saying that I rarely meet someone who’s sole responsibility is handling new patient calls. Most front office positions are required to multi-task — you’re (1) on hold with an insurance company, (2) trying to check out Mrs. Smith, (3) the doctor needs a financial arrangement printed and (4) a new patient just called.

While those skills are valuable… amazing, really; that environment erodes the attention a new patient deserves. As much as possible…

Please. Don’t. Multi-task.

As soon as you discover a new patient is on the line, practice active listening by turning away from your computer, picking up a pen and start taking notes. Learn their name and use it as soon as possible.

Here’s two other tips: Asking to put them on hold should be the last resort possible and only for 30 seconds to tell everyone else around you to “Shut up!” Kidding. Not kidding. Also, minimize pauses in the conversation. In listening to hundreds of phone calls I can tell when a team member is dutifully filling out the new patient worksheet, or trying to multi-task because that three-second pause feels like an awkward eternity to the patient.

3. CONFIDENCE

Let’s start here: what’s the number one question new patients are asking themselves when they pick up the phone and call your practice?

“Am I making the right decision?”

Now, what’s the one thing you should communicate to them right from the start?

“I’m so glad you called. You made the right decision.”

They have needs, they searched for solutions and they decided to call you. Reinforce that decision and give them confidence.

Smiling is helpful too. Actually, super helpful. It’s been statistically linked in study after study to better phone call experiences. So smile when you’re on the phone. And minimize negatives. Instead of saying “no”, find ways to rephrase it. Be positive and always offer ways you CAN help. Even if that patient may not be a good fit for your practice.

4 EMPATHY

I personally believe that empathy should be the number one value at the heart of any healthcare practice. Your job is to care for people and while care can be demonstrated, it must also be communicated.

“I understand.”

“You’re not alone.”

“We’ve had many patients in your situation.”

These phrases are all tools of empathy and should be a regular part of your new patient phone calls. Regardless of a person’s situation, decisions or dental values, we must gratefully affirm their decision — “I’m so thankful you called us.” You never know, for some it’s a step that requires bravery.

If you ever want to diffuse tension or break through an awkward phone call, try using empathy. You’d be surprised how it bridges the gap and covers so much distance. It might just be the superpower you’re looking for.

5. INSURANCE & FINANCES

I operate by two main rules when it comes to insurance and finances:

(1) Clarity is KING and,

(2) Honesty is QUEEN.

Following these rules will minimize “problem patients” and prevent bad reviews later on.

If we’re clear and honest (See what I did there), we’d admit that insurance questions are always about money.

Always.

When someone asks, “Do you take MetLife?” what they’re really asking is “How much will I have to pay out-of-pocket?” I will never (and I mean NEVER) understand skirting questions like this and using verbal jujitsu just to get patients in the door. If you’re going to say, “Yes! We submit to MetLife. What days typically work best for an appointment?” then you need to explain what that means in the next sentence — “Many of our patients here have MetLife. Even though we are not in network we can submit all of your paperwork to them. Their fee schedule is different than ours so the majority of our patients with MetLife pay a $45 copay at their first visit.”

It’s clear and it’s honest.

I believe you ought to be able to explain their insurance benefits to them in a way that’s simple and easy to understand in about 30 seconds. I also believe a new patient ought to know what their out-of-pocket expense will be that day. There shouldn’t be any surprises.

Side note: Just for clarity, I would never discuss finances with a new patient who calls and asks, “How much for a crown?” Due to multiple variables, including the patient’s overall oral health, individual procedure fees should never be quoted over the phone.

Decisions in a dental practice are always easier when we can identify the underlying values. Maybe you agree with mine. Maybe you have some others to add. Either way, set aside time with your team to communicate what matters most on a new patient phone call. Then give them the freedom to turn strangers into first dates.


Joshua Scott is a marketing speaker and consultant. He has been speaking to audiences for over 20 years and has spent the last 15 years in the dental industry. He works with practices around the country to create confident marketing strategies.

He leads Studio 8E8 (pronounced “88”), a creative marketing firm specializing in brand creation and digital marketing solutions. He is also the host of The 8E8 Show — a regular podcast show answering dentistry’s most important marketing questions.

Discover more about Josh’s approach to marketing at joshuascott.com.