The phone is definitely not the most high-tech device in your office, but it’s the most important and it can make or break a dental office. Without it, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to use all those other pieces of equipment.

The phone is the technology that keeps us connected to our current patients, and it’s what allows potential new patients to reach us.

That phone is our connection to the outside world. Is there any way you would allow a brand new assistant to use CEREC without training? Would you let your hygienist take digital x-rays without training on how your system works? Would Invisalign allow you to start doing cases with their technology without the required training?

Absolutely not! And that is how we need to treat the telephone.

Just because the new, untrained employee knows how to physically use the phone doesn’t mean that the employee will be able to interact effectively with the person on the other end.

Think of the phone as the one piece of equipment that makes possible every other interaction in the patient process.Greeting them in the waiting room, meeting with them in the consultation room, performing examinations and procedures, billing and rescheduling—none of these things will happen without appropriate handling of that initial telephone call to get a patient scheduled in the first place.

If your office prides itself on having high-tech equipment and a highly trained staff, then make sure that you also view the phone as an important piece of technology that requires significant training.

Big companies need to use telephone scripts because it’s an efficient way to get a lot of people productive on the phones and ensure that they follow a “recipe” to attempt to gain or keep clients. They need to hire and train a lot of people and meet their selling goals with phone interactions, and they understand that they are giving up personalized customer service in order to get more bigger numbers of employees on the phones more quickly.

I’m aware that there are companies out there aimed at dental practices that teach telephone scripts as a way to train your employees to answer the phones. Our focus isn’t about selling to consumers, it’s about meeting our patients’ needs and maintaining their health. We are dealing with people that want to be seen as human and have their concerns heard. We are dealing with fears and pain. Your patients (customers) can very easily decide that if they are not getting heard in your office, they should move on to the next dentist.

Great dental is not just about competent care for people’s teeth—we also have to show the patients that we care in order to build long-lasting relationships and get referrals. A telephone script does not do that at all. In fact, it shows patients that you don’t care.

This is why telephone scripts do not work in the dental industry. I think the phone should be handled with H.E.A.R.T. If you use these 5 tips on the phones in your office, your patients will be happier and you are more likely to gain more new patients.

  1. Honesty is the best policy, as the saying goes. In terms of phone interactions with patients, being honest means your responses need to be genuine and authentic. Reading off a script never feels real to the person on the other end of the line, and it also doesn’t address the patient’s concerns or questions directly.
  2. Energetic, not robotic.  No matter how much you “fake it” when you read off a piece of paper, you are going to sound like you’re reading off a piece of paper.  Think about it—there’s a reason why actors don’t read their lines from note cards.  When the things you’re saying to a patient on the phone comes from you, it sounds and feels different than when it comes from a script.
  3. Attention on the patient and not on the script.  It’s impossible for an employee to really hear a patient’s concerns and respond appropriately if they are focused on the next lines that they are supposed to say, or scanning a checklist for an exact response to a specific cue. We all know what it feels like when someone is busy thinking about the next thing they want to say instead of hearing what we’re saying.
  4. Really listen to the patient to address their needs.  Communication is not only talking but listening.  Patients feel disrespected when we don’t hear and acknowledge their concerns. In contrast, when we really focus on what the patient is saying as well as their tone of voice, we are able to be empathetic and really make sure the patient feels heard. This is relationship building, which is what leads to return patients and referrals.
  5. Training is the only way an employee can learn.  Many times we have a double standard about training in dental offices. We think that front office staff can learn the job by doing it, but we would never dream of expecting clinical staff to learn how to do a procedure properly by picking up an instrument and giving it a try on a few patients. It’s important to understand that the telephone is a tool, and a very important one. The phone is your connection to the outside world, your patient base, and your potential patients. That tool needs to be respected as much as any piece of dental equipment.  You spend a lot of money and energy to get that phone to ring, so make sure to train your team thoroughly on how to handle that tool. No one should answer a telephone in a dental office until they are fully trained.

It is better for patient relationships and the long-term health of your practice to take the money you would have spent on scripts and invest it into thorough phone training for your team. Remember, without the phones, we have no relationship with current patients, no contact from future patients, and ultimately no dental practice.