You no doubt have plenty of expensive equipment in your office, but the most valuable tool of all doesn’t actually cost that much; it’s the telephone. This little electronic wonder is the conduit by which patients form their first impressions about your practice. Particularly in communities or in specialties where there are more than enough doctors to go around, the way your staff uses the telephone can make the difference between having a full schedule and one with too many open slots.
It’s likely that everyone in your office is already skilled in basic telephone protocol such as answering the phone promptly, identifying the practice and oneself, speaking slowly and clearly, asking permission before putting someone on hold, and using a friendly tone during calls. But there is more that your staff can do to make a good impression over the phone. Here are four ways.
- Match your style to that of the caller. If a patient is “all business” and it’s pretty clear that he/she is in a hurry to make an appointment and get off the phone, be pleasant and polite, but take care of the call quickly. On the other hand, if someone has a number of questions about the appointment being made or about the practice in general, take the time to respond to each inquiry.
- Use the patient’s name. Don’t overdo this one or you’ll come across sounding like a robot, but wrapping up a call with something like, “Okay, Mr. Peterson, you’re all set, and we’ll see you next Friday at 10:30,” adds just the right personal touch.
- Tailor your terminology for the layperson. You know that “b.i.d.” means twice a day and that “NPO” means nothing to eat or drink, but your patients likely have no idea what shorthand terms like these mean. Make sure you’re speaking in a language that the average person understands. Anytime you’re giving instructions or conveying clinical information, ask at the end of the call if the patient has questions or needs to have anything clarified.
- Meet anger with composure. From time to time, you will find yourself on the phone with a patient who is frustrated, angry, or upset. Perhaps the caller can’t get in to see the doctor as quickly as he/she would like, or a bill shows a charge that the patient thinks is an error. It’s critical in situations like this to remain calm and professional. Listen carefully, acknowledge the caller’s frustration, apologize if needed, reassure the patient that you’re going to help, and engage the caller without getting pulled into negativity yourself.
One final note: Invest in enough phones, phone lines, and staff so patients do not get busy signals, get sent to voice mail, or placed on hold for more than a few seconds at a time. Everyone is busy; don’t make anyone wait because they just might not.