In 2006, I spent weeks of my teenage life daydreaming about a particular girl, Sandy Peppercorn (name has been changed for privacy’s sake). I finally decided I would ask her to Prom. Inspired by popular rom-coms, I chose to write her a song and perform it in front of her (and the lucky students passing by in the hall). I spent hours crafting the song, the lyrics, and even employed some friends to help in the performance. Then on one fateful day after 7th period, I shot my shot.

She said yes. Now what? To my surprise, I realized I hadn’t planned what to do/say next. So, what followed was a very awkward long pause followed by a very uncharismatic “cool”, then I shook her hand (you read that right, I shook her hand) and ran off. 

So how does this relate to new patient phone calls? Glad you asked. Dental offices extoll an immense amount of effort and money marketing to new patients. However, oftentimes the same amount of energy isn’t applied in strategizing what happens next. What do we need to do when a new patient responds, when they reach out? Often, the initial outreach is by phone. So, how do we turn this new person on the other line, into a new and soon-to-be loyal patient?

If you don’t have a strategic game plan, you may end up losing that potential new customer. Afterall, I didn’t end up marrying Brittney Pend…I mean Sandy Peppercorn. Coincidence, I think not. 

To help new patient protocol, we sat down with Deborah Engelhardt-Nash, consultant, trainer, author and overall Dental Office Guru. She talked about the importance of the new patient phone call and what she considers the most important tips to employ on those phone calls. 

Debra’s first tip is to slow down. Offices tend to want to jump straight to getting the important administrative information, but it is important to establish in the patient’s mind that you care about them.

May I ask you a few questions? (That’s always number one). “May I ask you a few questions” before we launch into the, “what is your name?”, “social security number?”, “what is your medical history?”, “do you have to be premedicated?”.

Always ask permission before you start asking questions.

This can be prefaced with a simple phrase like, “so that I can schedule this appointment for you” or “so I can ensure that we meet your expectations today”

For new patients, the initial phone call is the start of the relationship. They need to feel valued. The phone is such a valuable marketing tool for establishing initial expectations.

This leads to Debra’s next important question to ask, “What inspired you to call today?”.

The patient who calls you today wants to make a difference in their dental life, and you need to find out what that is and how you can serve them well.

When you know the nature of why they called in today, you can have a more personal conversation. You are no longer simply scheduling a new appointment, you are learning about the motives behind the patient and helping provide pivotal information for the team when they get the chance to interact with them for the first time. This also gives the patient a chance to tell you more about them, not the administrative data, but about their motivations, their expectations, and the real purpose for them reaching out to you.

Debra warns that at this point of the conversation, it is very common for offices to start giving the office expectations spiel.

We have a tendency to tell the patient what we expect from them. We talk about the behavior we expect them to modify. How we want them to bring in their appointment card or arrive early enough to fill out the paperwork…we sort of give them rules and regulations of being a patient in the practice. We tell them what we expect from them.

While it is important to set office expectations, many miss a valuable opportunity to utilize the power of the phone call to establish and align patient expectations.

Rather than telling your patients what you expect from them, let them know what they can expect from you. The telephone is a marketing tool to let your patients know that what you are going to do for them, how you’re going to help them and how you are different from another dental office.

Many times in your marketing messages, you preach about how your practice is patient-centric. How you are different from other practices. The new patient phone call is a way to validate those messages and showcase how your office puts patients first. Debra summarizes by saying,

When your telephone protocols are different and they are exceptional from another standard call, your patients are gonna realize that you’re a different practice and they’re gonna learn to expect greatness from you and be excited to make that appointment.