One of the most well-liked memes of all time is one that says, “The best time to call me is text message.”
Now that more than 95% of Americans have a mobile phone, texting is taking over as the preferred method of communication.
A phone call can be seen as an inconvenient interruption, and several productivity gurus suggest that you stop answering calls from unknown numbers to limit the number of disruptions during your day. The extreme end of these gurus will recommend turning off your phone all together while you are trying to get work done. Therefore, if your standard operating procedure is to call your patients and clients for every appointment reminder or conversation, you could be fighting an uphill battle.
But, you’ve probably also learned that the key to providing an excellent customer service experience is to be personable and go the extra mile to talk to your clients. You know that a friendly and personable approach is key to building relationships and keeping clients coming back to you. Text messaging might be perceived as lazy and impersonal.
We’re not suggesting that you stop calling customers altogether. Instead, we recommend selecting a method of communication for each correspondence that provides an ideal customer experience. There are likely going to be situations where a phone call is more appropriate than a text, but have you considered the concept of texting the customer first before calling them? See more best practices for text reminders here.
Text, Then Call
Now, wait a minute; you might be thinking. We’ve already established that people don’t like being interrupted, and now we are advocating two interruptions in a customer’s schedule, not just one!
Though the idea might seem counterintuitive, it makes sense to double up on the messaging if you consider how you conduct your real-life personal relationships. If you need to talk to someone about something important, have you ever texted them first to ask if they’re available to chat? Or, you might have sent a text message asking if they’re free to have a discussion after dinner.
Have you ever called someone, and they didn’t answer, but they sent you an immediate text saying that they’re in the middle of the something, but they’ll call you back as soon as they’re free?
The point is that now that we are tied to our phones, we are theoretically reachable at any time, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a convenient time to have a chat, especially if you’re not expecting a call.
So, what happens when you do have something you want to discuss with a patient or customer over the phone, but you don’t want to intrude on their day? In this case, we suggest texting them to facilitate a time that works well for them.
Here are four examples of how this would work:
- Mary missed her last two appointments, and your records show that she hasn’t answered your previous four phone calls. You want to chat with her about when she can come in, while also making sure she’s committed to keeping her next scheduled appointment.Instead of continuing to call her and get voicemail, we suggest sending her a text and asking her to let you a good time to call to go over her calendar and get her next appointment reserved in your system.
- Sam financed a procedure with your office, and he is currently on a payment plan with an automatic deduction sent to you each month. The most recent payment attempt failed. One way to ensure that Sam gets back on track with his payments is to text him notifying him that his payment didn’t go through and ask him to call your office to update his details.
- A family of four schedules their appointments with your office all at once. Sometimes they’re all able to make it on the same day, while other times, they need to stagger their appointments. Instead of trying to manage the calendar of four people with an endless stream of back and forth text messages, it can be more convenient to send a text to schedule a call to book everyone’s appointments at once.This method ensures that the person making the appointment on behalf of the family will be prepared with a calendar, and all of the visits can be scheduled in a single call.
- Daniel is a new patient, and he had some questions about an upcoming procedure. He called your office after hours, and he left a voicemail. When your staff returned his call in the morning, they couldn’t reach him. However, his inquiry was urgent, and answering his questions promptly is critical.
A smart course of action would be to immediately reach out to him via text and ask when a convenient time would be to call to address his questions and concerns.
Why Texting Should be a Preferred Communication Method for Your Business
We’re not advocating eliminating the use of voice calls, altogether. In fact, quite the opposite! We think that to serve customers and patients best, you should maintain a personal relationship with them that involves real and actual conversations. But, to facilitate those conversations and make sure they happen, it can be helpful to schedule them first via a text message.
Here are the top seven reasons why texting should be your default communication channel, especially when it comes to scheduling:
- It Is More Convenient
We mentioned that a phone call could be an intrusive and unwelcome interruption. Often, people ignore their ringing phones and use text to communicate with their friends and loved ones.
- Not Everyone Checks Voicemail
It’s estimated that only 33% of voicemail messages from business and professional contacts are listened to. So, if you’re calling a customer to confirm or schedule an appointment and you leave them a voicemail, the chance of them listening to it and calling you back is slim.
By contrast, more than 99% of text messages get read, so if you want to reach someone, texting is the ideal way to make yourself heard.
- You Give Back Control
People like to be in control of their time and their schedules. We’ve already established that phone calls interrupt the day and cause the customer to relinquish control over their schedule because they have no idea how long a phone call will last. The same principle is true for voicemails. Your voicemail could be 10 seconds or two minutes, and most people aren’t interested in sitting through a long message.
- Avoids Phone Tag
Phone tag is the least fun game ever invented. It’s also a major time suck and incredibly frustrating. Your office might have time slotted during the day for phone calls, and it’s likely that these allotted times aren’t going to coincide with all of your customers’ available free time.
So, the situation might go something like this:
- Your staff calls people first thing in the morning to confirm and schedule appointments and talk to patients and customers about any outstanding issues.
- Your customers work during the day, so they can’t answer the phone. However, they call back during lunch, when they’re free.
- Your staff is away from the office at lunch, so the customer’s phone call goes to voicemail.
- When your staff returns from lunch, they call the customer back, but the person has already gone back to work and doesn’t get the voicemail until they’re done at the office.
- By the time your customer has clocked out for the day and can call your office back, your staff has left for the day.
Your office staff can potentially change the hours they call, stagger lunch breaks or adjust their hours. Or, they can simplify the process by arranging convenient times with customers and patients to have a phone call.
- Allows a Customer to Prepare for a Discussion
Phone calls can catch people off guard. If you’re trying to schedule or confirm an appointment, your customer might not have their schedule in front of them, or they might have forgotten about a potential conflict, and they make or confirm an office visit without thinking of the potential conflict.
If you send a text instead of calling, your customer can review their schedule and know their availability before you call.
- Keeps a Written Record of Correspondence
It’s doubtful that your office records phone calls, and even if you did, the recordings would be a nightmare to sort through if you were looking for specific information.
While most offices keep detailed records of phone calls by writing notes in a patient system or CRM, the notes can also be subjective. Often, they’re just a summary of what was discussed, and not an actual transcript of the conversation, either.
The advantage of a text message dialogue is that you’ll have a written record of everything that was said. If there is ever a payment issue, a complaint or other type of conflict, you’ll have proof of what actually transpired.
- It Saves Time
Have you ever called someone for a quick chat and noticed that 30 minutes have gone by and you’re still on the phone? The truth is that phone calls take a lot of time, and while it can be okay to occasionally indulge a long-term patient or customer in a friendly dialogue, imagine how much productivity would be lost if each of your staff’s phone calls was five or ten minutes.
When your customer has been prepped with a text to expect a call, then there’s a clear purpose to the phone call. You can accomplish your business quickly and efficiently, while still providing a warm and personal touch.
We live in a world where convenience is highly valued, and unwelcome interruptions are frowned upon. To create a positive experience and maintain personal contact with your customers, we suggest adapting to the shift in communication preferences and scheduling your calls via text first, especially when they’re time sensitive or important.