Best Practice Management
Do Your Callers “Have You at Hello”?

If our practices took its cues from the movie, Jerry McGuire, we might expect that callers (aka: potential patients) don’t need to hear anything other than the expected “hello” for them to fall in love with your practice, hook, line and sinker. Ah, the movies.

Welcome to real life, where we know it takes more than a simple “hello” to win patients over. In fact, given that 20-30% of potential new patients are forever lost on that first phone call to your practice and 9 out of 10 offices use improperly trained staff costing thousands each year in missed revenue, maybe the more appropriate phrase should be “Show me the Money!”

The primary phone call is, most times, the first actual interaction individuals have with your practice. Not the beautiful building you have or the flashy foot sign; not the smiling receptionist, and unfortunately not because you are an excellent caregiver. In fact, potential new patients might never get to BE new patients and have the chance to realize what a great caregiver you really are if that first call experience goes poorly.

Yes, it is the phone call itself that influences their first impression. And we all know about first impressions and second chances, don’t we? Every caller should be greeted (and treated) as a very special guest, and yet, this is not something that every receptionist is able to do well. The question is why do so many doctors willingly (and naively?) hand over this key, practice-building tool to their staff (sometimes to brand new staff) without making proper phone training a mandatory prerequisite for the job? Sure, applicants will affirm that they have “excellent phone skills” during the interview, except…what if it turns out they don’t?

Why trained receptionists? Skilled, qualified receptionists utilize clarity of thought and expression, a keen sense of vocabulary, active listening skills and persuasive voice characteristics. They are also trained (and well-versed) in specific phone protocols, among them effective appointment scheduling, referrals, billing questions and/or payments, and emergent calls. Be mindful of the person currently situated in that “hot” seat in your practice. As your “Director of First Impressions” they need to demonstrate all the above attributes PLUS have the knowledge, temperament, good manners, and personality to fill that role. According to a telephone training course, approximately 70% of patients who decided to seek care elsewhere did so because of staff discourtesy. It is never too late to make some positional changes and provide the quality training needed for their success – as well as yours.

Unless you are willing to play secret shopper and call your office disguised as an anonymous caller, you may never be fully aware of how professional (or not) your phone is being handled. As a general rule, if the caller’s phone experience was a pleasant, informative one, it is very likely they will make an appointment or call again. However, if their closing remarks are, “I’ll give you a call back,” or “thanks for your time,” there was a possible disconnect and you may have lost that patient to the next podiatrist on their list.

The following short list of phone tips will help convert a caller’s phone inquiry into a patient appointment. (Request the complimentary complete list by emailing Although they may seem basic, don’t automatically dismiss them. What may appear as nitty-gritty fundamentals of practice management to you, are considered by established management gurus to be the true secrets of success.

  • Identify what the call is about and if appointment-related, move immediately towards making one. Get them in the schedule first; then address additional questions.
  • Develop scripted responses for common patient questions and role play them at your next staff meeting. Doing this as a group exercise coaches everyone in the office on how to deliver consistent, accurate responses.
  • Offer placement on a cancellation list for patients when a sooner time is unavailable. This win/win is a great opportunity to fill openings due to cancellations and oblige patients preferring an earlier appointment. Be sure to follow through if you say you will.
  • The close of each call is just as important as the greeting. Before ending the call, be sure to ask if the caller has any questions; repeat day and time of appointment; thank them for calling, say goodbye and WAIT for them to hang up first.

A final thought. I will forever be impressed by how our local heating and air conditioning company answers their phone. Regardless of the kind of day she is having, their receptionist always knows exactly how to make me feel welcome. In her most pleasant voice, (I hear her smiling) she says, “Hello, Good morning! This is Amanda and thank you for calling ABC Heating and Cooling.” (And then without skipping a beat, here it comes…) “How can I make your day better?”

WOW! If an HVAC business makes such an accommodating, professional and friendly greeting a priority, surely a medical office can too! Pure and simple…She had me at “Hello!”