Receptionists are some of the most important team members in any dental practice. And one of the most important tasks they perform is answering phones. When people call your practice, your receptionist is the first person they interact with.

Whether it’s a prospective patient interested in potentially making an appointment or an existing patient who needs help, the way your receptionist handles the phone call is critical. If they make a poor impression, the caller will feel unimportant. If they are a prospective patient, they will likely move onto another practice. If they are an existing patient, they might tolerate the inconvenience for a short while but they will eventually find another practice.

But if they make a positive impression, callers are more likely to make an appointment, refer their family and friends to your practice, and leave positive online reviews. All of these things can help your practice grow. Here is what every receptionist needs to do to make callers feel great about your practice.

Answer the phone promptly.

Nothing good happens if your phone isn’t answered promptly. Potential new patients will hang up and call the next office. Current patients will get the impression that your office is too busy for them.

To avoid losing potential patients or making current patients feel unimportant, make sure your phone is answered promptly. Aim for it to be answered within two or three rings. If the person answering the phone is on the other line, they should politely ask the caller to hold for a moment while they ask the new caller to hold. When they answer the other call, they should ask the person to hold if they expect the other call to end within the next minute. If not, they should get a callback number so they can call them back or get another available team member to assist the caller.

Set the tone for the call with a pleasant, professional greeting.

Set the tone for the call with a pleasant, professional greeting. When answering the phone say, “Thank you for calling,” give the name of the office, your name, and then finish with, “How may I help you today?” If you need to put someone on hold, make sure to thank the person for holding when you pick back up.

During the call continue the pleasant, professional tone. Listen to the caller’s concerns. Respond with empathy. Remember, many people are anxious about going to the dentists. Others are in pain or are struggling to afford the care they need. Our team members often don’t know what the caller is dealing with in their personal life.

Our goal should be for each caller to leave the call feeling better than they felt when before the call. Using a pleasant, professional, empathetic tone throughout the call can ensure just that.

Gather the right information.

If a new patient is calling be sure to ask them how they heard about the practice. This important for many reasons. First, it helps the practice understand what marketing channels are working, especially if it has multiple active marketing campaigns such as brochures. This allows you to better utilize your resources, shifting them from lower-performing campaigns to higher-performing ones.

Second, if the person answers that they were referred to your practice from someone else, you thank them or send them a note or gift. Nurturing relationships with your most loyal referral sources can help you stay top of mind with them.

Similarly, if a person is calling to schedule an appointment, ask them about the procedures they need. Then, set up the appropriate appointment for the procedure. This is especially important if your practice uses block scheduling to reserve certain times for high-fee procedures. It also allows you to schedule time with the right person.

Finally, when asking for insurance information make sure you get the following information: insurance company name and phone number, member ID number, the group number, whether the insurance is through an employer, the policyholder’s name and birth date, and the patient’s birth date.

Take notes.

No matter how good someone is at their job, when they hang up the phone they will be onto something else. The likelihood that they will remember everything is very low. Thus, whoever answers the phone should make notes about the call while they are on the phone. That way, not only will they be able to remember what was discussed but so will anyone else with access to the notes.

Similarly, if someone calls to reach the doctor or any staff member who is not available, get the callers name and number, the name of the person they are calling, and a brief message so the person they are trying to reach can prepare for the call.

Help the patient prepare for their visit.

Make sure patients know what to expect for their appointments by the end of the call. Are they new patients? Let them know what they need to do to fill out new patient forms. Do they need to come in early to complete paperwork? Can they print out the paperwork on your website? Is there an online form they can fill out beforehand? So they can just come in and sign? Make sure patients know exactly what they need to do. This will help them speed up their appointment and help you keep on time with them and other patients.

Does your receptionist help your practice grow?

Too many practices are making patient attraction and retention too hard by not training their receptionists well. That gives people an inconsistent experience when they call your office, at best. At worst, it gives people a bad experience.

If you need more help keeping your patients from leaving your practice, get support and direction from thousands of your colleagues in the Nifty Thrifty Dentists, Trapped in an Op, and the Dental Hub 360 Facebook groups.