I recently moved from New York to Florida. Prior to this move, my primary residence had been in the same town for my entire life with the exception of college and optometry school. Obviously, I had come to know the local businesses in my town very well and rarely needed to shop for services. Moving away necessitated choosing all new service businesses from contractors to health care providers. Of course, I started each search by doing some investigation and web searches on my own and asking friends for referrals.
Despite carrying out this due diligence, I encountered a remarkably wide spectrum of initial interactions with businesses. More than once, I chose to avoid a business that was closer or was recommended or looked promising on the internet because I was not happy with the first communication I had with them. Frankly, I was surprised at the poor quality of the initial human contact in many cases. Based on these interactions, which were primarily phone calls, I now have an even greater conviction that an excellent “telephone experience” can set your practice apart, resulting in booking more new patients to drive practice growth.
Convert Callers to New Patients
Every practice should have a template for information that needs to be obtained before booking a new patient examination. To ensure that conversations with shoppers actually get that far and more patients book an initial appointment, strive for the following:
- Make sure staffing is adequate to handle telephone calls in addition to other tasks.
- The telephone should be answered by your staff (not the answering service) within a few rings during all hours that your website and signage state that you are open.
- Keep on-hold time to a minimum. If the caller needs to be placed on hold, always ask the caller first and give them a realistic expectation of hold time. Avoid repetitive music and messaging during on-hold time. If the person cannot hold, call them back promptly.
- If call volume warrants, consider dedicating separate staff and space away from the check-in and check-out areas as the primary telephone center.
- Telephone staff must have voices and speech patterns that are easily understood by the patient population.
- Telephone staff should take notes as they talk to avoid asking repetitive questions which waste time for the caller and the practice.
- A positive attitude is essential. Telephone staff need to make the caller feel that the practice wants their business. Assume that they want to book an appointment and make it easy for them to do so!
- Find a way to monitor calls (recording, secret shopper, manager observing, etc) and review the results to help telephone staff improve.
- When booking a new patient appointment, inform the caller of your process for reminders and confirmations.
Remember, when a potential new patient decides to go elsewhere, the practice loses not only that patient, but their family and friends. My recent experiences indicate that the sensible recommendations above are not so common any more. If your new patient metric is lagging, a thorough review of the patient “telephone experience” is in order.