In my many blessings of speaking with offices all across the United States, it continues to perplex me as to why so many offices still don’t extend 40 hours of phone availability to their patients. I am not talking an answering service, who in my humble opinion are nothing more than a glorified answering machine – I am talking real availability to your patients to meet any and all of their needs during this time and this includes LUNCH HOUR! I am always amazed at ANY office that sets an answering machine over a lunch hour. Holy cow! Don’t you know that is when working moms make the majority of their appointments??? And how frustrating it is for someone calling your practice to hear “We’re out to lunch for an hour and half, your call will be important to us when we get back” (that IS what they hear you know!)
Not to mention the fact that you most likely spend thousands of dollars on marketing, aimed at driving patients and potential new patients to call your practice only to be greeted by a voice mail that says we’ll be back in 4 days.. Scheduling is based on emotion, so you need to be on the ready when the emotion is hot – and that is when the patient decides to pick up the phone and call! If you’re only available 26 out of the 40 normal business hours to welcome new patients, you might be throwing at least 35% of your marketing dollars out the window!
I personally do not believe that you need to have someone answering the phone until 9 pm at night nor on Saturdays or Sundays. But when your office actually only offers 26 hours a week phone availability, you need to start thinking about what opportunity you are missing out on with the uncovered 14 hours!! THAT is a lot of phone time (and opportunity) missed. Every single phone call is an opportunity.
The practices that I have talked with who scramble to have someone take a cell phone home after hours or have hired an answering service for the weekends have been sorely disappointed. Some employees get ticked off that they are chained to a cell phone and the results of weekend coverage usually amount to an emergency that could have waited until Monday, or the cowardly patient who wants to cancel their appointment via message ONLY. Invest into the highest level of service and coverage during the normal 40 hour work week, when patients actually EXPECT you to be available.
Adjusting your phone hours a bit is something I am totally in for! Start answering at 7 am and answer until 6pm? Heck yeah! That is taking advantage of the opportunity that will roll in from working patients for sure! Be sure that your patients know, that you TOOT YOUR OWN HORN – “We support our patients by being available to speak with you Monday through Friday from 7 am to 6pm”
Here are the 5 top reasons to offer 40 hours a week phone availability:
1) You’ll be available to directly welcome new patients. True story: My niece was looking for a new dentist in Chicago – After research she found one that she was pretty comfortable with and called. During the day. Got voice mail. Left a message that her family would like to become new patients and could someone give her a return call? Waited. For two days. NO CALL. Called AGAIN. Went to voicemail AGAIN. She left another message. Waited. For two days. No return call. She was so upset she posted on their facebook wall (which someone had been making posts on the whole 4 day time period!!) that they just missed out on 4 new patients! No one ever acknowledged her post or did she ever hear from anyone in that office. That is an epic failure of patient service.
2) You’re available to intercept attempted cancellations. How many times have you checked messages after lunch or after your days off to find it loaded with cancellations and schedule change requests? Now these calls have to be returned, appointments cancelled and not rescheduled because they aren’t answering their phones. Do you know how much of a time suck this is? And how many patients get lost in the shuffle because of inappropriate notes for follow-up? Or never get rescheduled because someone just deleted them off the schedule in a hurry with no follow-up? Now, by being available, you can intercept these calls, get the patients to stay on the schedule somewhere or encourage them to keep the appointment they currently have. Believe it or not, you are missing out on loads of production because of this system failure.
3) You are able to assist a patient in need NOW. When a patient in need calls they want to talk to someone NOW. They are in pain, scared, frustrated and then they get the voice mail that says you’ll be back in 4 days? Even if dr is not in, the patient will get the TLC they need. The emergencies can be routed appropriately assuring the patient that “we care” we are here for them and are ready to take care of them. By taking all the pertinent information the dr can be contacted via text or call and RX’s can even be called in – ALL without the dr having to step foot in the office and the patient is happy with being taken care of.
4) You’ll be able to fill holes NOW instead of scrambling when you get back. How many of you have Thursday afternoons and Fridays off? Or Wednesdays off? When you come back into the office (with no phone coverage) you have a bazillion messages to return, a ton of cancellations and now your entire day just got blown to smithereens? And there are still 4 or 5 patients who haven’t been confirmed, so you’ll be waiting with baited breath and a knot in your stomach wondering if they will show? By offering appropriate phone coverage, the cancelling patients will be kept on the schedule somewhere (right??!) and your lists can be actively worked to fill these holes and keep your schedule full. Short call lists are (we personally have 5 points of lists that we actively work when trying to fill holes) Also, patient appointments can be confirmed, verbally if need be, but none-the-less you can come back to a FULL/CONFIRMED day after being out for 4 days. Just how would all of this feel to you???
5) Your time, opportunity, production and collections will all be maximized. You won’t miss out on the call where a patient wants to make a credit card payment over the phone, a patient finally bit the bullet and was calling to schedule that crown that they have been avoiding (SCHEDULING IS BASED ON EMOTION!!!)but they got the voice mail so that was their excuse for not scheduling , you’ll never again have a list of 20 messages to return on a Monday morning especially when you are scrambling to fill the four holes that were just created by patients who left messages to cancel….
I am sure you are getting the picture by now, right? Want to maximize your opportunity, AND your marketing dollars? Answer your phone. Cheerfully would be super!
I write of this with experience. We support our offices daily in making the most of these opportunities. We answer every single phone call with the intent of building a relationship – not just scheduling an appointment.
We strive to make sure that next day business is full, confirmed and that there are minimal messages to be returned. We process payments, call in RX’s, handle emergencies, schedule appointments and offer the best TLC ever, all with not a single employee even being in your practice.☺
With all this being said, please answer your phones. Set your practice apart from every other practice. Be the ones who always cheerfully answer the phones and your patients become to feel secure in the knowledge that you are always there for them. That my friends, is priceless.
Here’s to the best week ever!
It’s time you replace that boring, non-productive answering service with a result producing, relationship building, appointment scheduling AWESOME service!
Opportunity doesn’t quit calling when you’re out of the practice..Let it call US!