Much has been written about and much has changed in the past decade when it comes to phones and the skills needed to answer a phone well. Why these skills are so important to a dental practice and how to use them best has been studied and re-studied. To any business where phones are the primary method for communicating with customers, phone skills are vital.

Making the Most Out of Your Phones

According to Dr. Mayer Levitt of Jodena Consulting, there are three foundational best-practice skills for dental practices. They are:

1) Using a script that is upbeat and that makes the last thing the caller hears is the name of the person answering the phone.

2) Smile! It will “show” to the caller.

3) Refer to the caller by name.

The first two are processes/best practices that can be followed by anyone. The second, the ability to “Smile” on the phone, can be a determining factor for who should be hired to answer phones. The third is more important than most people think because of the far-reaching effects it has on business relationships with callers. It is for the person answering the phone to refer to the caller by name without asking the caller’s name (and sometime how to spell it), until now.

Have you ever called a company that you regularly do business with and instead of them asking who’s calling, the person answering the call says, “Thank you for calling COMPANY NAME, this is NAME. Hello Mr. Berry, how may I help you?” Studies show that when the caller’s name is used up to four times on a call, the likelihood of a successful outcome for the company is much higher. This is especially true if the caller doesn’t have to spell or even say her/his name. Data shows that callers feel more comfortable when the person they are talking to knows their name.

Given that knowing the caller’s name is important, it begs the question, “How can we call her by name without asking who’s calling?” The obvious answer is caller-ID. In a dental practice, caller- ID is a great place to start, but it should be on “steroids.” It should give you “patient-ID” because the vast majority of callers to a dental practice are actually patients. Knowing who they are, who their family members are and having each family member’s patient information at your fingertips becomes vitally important to building relationships that create patient loyalty, extending the lifetime value of each patient.

Portals – “Beam Me Up, Scotty”

Among all of the ways we can communicate in today’s world, phones are still the focal point of practice communication with those who are and aren’t the practice’s patients. With the advent of phone service being beamed through internet lines (Voice Over Internet Protocol – VoIP), phones instantly became a powerful tool – a portal – to access and aggregate relevant patient data quickly.

The same data that previously had to be searched for either in the snails-pace process of looking through paper patient records or the comparatively cheetah-like process of looking in practice management software, is now available at lightning speed. Patient data can now be taken from the practice management software and be on a computer screen before the phone is even picked up.

Through the phone portal, dentists and their staff can instantly see, on their computer screen, an entire family’s patient data. Information such as:

  1. The caller and her family’s names
  2. Family birthdays
  3. When they were last in the office
  4. When their next appointment is
  5. If they are overdue for service
  6. When and what the last communication was with them – a call, an email, a text and what outcome of the communication was

While this isn’t Star Trek beaming three-dimensional objects from place to place, it is only the beginning of beaming data through wires and wirelessly that is HIPPA compliant and that will provide the front office staff with information to make their jobs easier, more enjoyable and more productive, without having to learn new skills.

Present – Future

Presently a phone sits on the office desk with a computer screen acting as the user-interface for staff members to see the patient’s information instantly provided. This is light-years away from what it took even a few years ago to retrieve patient data. The near future will allow dentistry to use this portal to move quickly to the convenience of mobile computing, like almost every other industry.

With the advent of mobile devices, a computer screen doesn’t have to be fixed to a desk or look like the desktop phones we all know and of course love. We hold miniature computers in our hands every day. We call them tablets and/or smartphones. All of the same front office phone answering tasks that are now done using a desktop computer, can be done on a tablet or smartphone. Add to them a headphone for complete mobility and the ability to answer a call anywhere in the office, with all the same instant patient data at your fingertips, is a reality. For the first time, the portal will be a mobile portal allowing for greater coverage of the phone calls, better patient service, and more efficiency.

The technology for making phones a portal and portable so the front office staff to be more efficient and build better relationships with patients without having to run to the phone when it rings doesn’t have to wait for the future, it’s already here.

Portal mobility, convenience and efficiency are coming as fast as the space ship Enterprise did at “warp speed.” Just a few years ago we had no idea how smartphones would cover the planet. Very soon dental staffers will look back and wonder how they got along having to pick up a handset that was attached to a device that sat on a desk. I predict they’ll say, “Can you believe we did that? It’s so old school!”

Clint Berry is the Chief Technology Officer of Weave, the first company to provide phones as a portal to the dental industry. Mr. Berry led the team at and the Personal Health Record department at Mediconnect Global, both of which ended in successful exits. Mr. Berry is a self-titled “entrepreneur developer” and is an active open source advocate and family man.