Empathy & intuition: essential qualities of people that work in your dental business hub By Jonathan Fine. November 9, 2016.
Some time ago I calculated that I spend about seven per cent of my waking life looking for my glasses. I can’t answer the phone or do much of anything else without them, and laser eye surgery seems like a good solution. I’ve phoned up three times about it but my concern is I’ll end up blind, not as a result of my deteriorating eyesight but through dodgy surgery. I hang around with medics who tut about the laser option, fuelling these doubts, but the main reason I haven’t gone ahead, if I’m honest, is that I never feel reassured that my call is being handled well. I want to feel properly taken care of, I want my anxieties acknowledged and I want to feel safe, but so far this hasn’t happened. It’s not about money — I actually don’t care whether it’s five grand or 10.
This sort of thing is happening to thousands of people in the UK and Ireland every day, people who reason they should probably get dental implants to escape the discomfort and annoyance of their dentures, or get some other scary dental treatment for an equally rational reason, but who are unconsciously seeking evidence of poor service as an excuse to jam the brakes on. Someone in this situation has already decided they want treatment and a phone call is their way of feeling out whether you’re safe; it’s your job to make them feel safe and offer a clear pathway through, with no glitches.
So how do you get your team to offer these callers nothing, nothing at all, to hang their fears and doubts on? It’s a task that takes considerable skill, so you start by making sure you’ve got the right people. You’ll have noticed the convention in dentistry that says the people who answer the phones are always women, but really what matters is that calls are answered with empathy, good listening skills and a clear speaking voice, never mind the age, sex or accent of the operator.
Your callers will be able to detect the absence of one or more of these qualities in seconds and they won’t just be looking for a lack of empathy as an excuse to politely disappear; being repeatedly misunderstood or made to wait will serve just as well.
If I get to my hotel check in and there’s someone in front of me who doesn’t speak English talking to an east European receptionist for whom English is not a first language, I will inevitably get involved to help things along. Why? Not because I am a good person but because I want to get to my room. I don’t want to wait, and the truth is that a different receptionist who is a better listener could deal with the person in front of me faster, improving the quality of my experience. But this hasn’t happened so I jump in.
Your enquirers are just as intolerant of waiting and, lacking any way to hurry things along themselves, will simply disappear if you make them wait too long to get what they want. That’s incredibly wasteful because you’ve already done all the hard work to get them talking to you, and the whole point of a business hub is to stop this happening by eradicating poor quality communications and delays.
If your operators can demonstrate a little intuition they’ll be able to feel out any areas of objection or concern for the patient quickly and, crucially, recognise the difference between booking an appointment and nurturing a lead — handy if you want to avoid scaring prospective patients off. Many new patient enquiries are simply a case of softly softly — remember, they’re simply checking whether your practice feels safe — and your operator needs to understand this, provide information and arrange a callback. Hub operators must also appreciate the difference between providing information and providing a recommendation, and understand they can’t offer the latter.
When a business hub is manned by people with empathy and intuition you’d be amazed at how effective it becomes as a machine for generating new patients and retaining old ones. I can honestly say that in all the practices I’ve launched hubs in no one has ever wanted to go back to the old way of doing things and they’ve all enjoyed growth. In hub practices at least 80 per cent of enquiries make it to appointment stage versus just 50 per cent normally — I say “normally”, but business hubs will be the norm in dentistry before too long, as they are in most other service industries already.
Of course, just hiring better people won’t deliver this change, you need the hub systems to put around them too. The other day I was listening to a recording of one of our telephone enquiry tests (we call and email our clients’ practices to gauge their performance), and one of our guys phones this practice and the poor receptionist, clearly doing her best, starts with, “Sorry, I’ll get to you when I can” and puts him on hold for four minutes. Four minutes. I’m not sure I would survive that and, listening to the recording, it seems like an eternity. When she comes back it’s clear the whole tone of the call had been affected through no fault of her own — what else could she do? She may have had empathy and intuition in spades but the system failed her.
Getting that tone right really matters, especially to people who are already nervous because they hate the thought of going to the dentist, so if you need help with it, whether that means setting up a business hub or reviewing your inbound traffic handling, give me a call. I’d love to help you get more new patients.
“Your enquirers will simply disappear if you make them wait too long”
Jonny Fine, MD