Serve impatient patients better with a hub

by Blog, Business growth

Serve impatient patients better with a hub   By Jonathan Fine. November 2, 2016.

I can’t believe how impatient I’ve become. It’s embarrassing. When I go to fill up my car and the petrol doesn’t come out in 30 seconds I have to wave at the man in the box, and if it doesn’t start flowing inside a minute, god forbid, I’ll notice the blockage begin to transubstantiate into a coronary. These situations didn’t bother me when I was younger. Why now? I think it’s because, as a customer, I’ve been gently trained to become intolerant of poor service thanks to technology-driven improvements in pretty much all the services I consume. And I’m not alone.

Now everyone hates waiting, so how are we coping with this in the dental practice? Poorly. Which is odd, because efficient ways of handling customer traffic have been around for yonks — the gas board was using them in the 1960s — yet when I came into dentistry six years ago I was shocked to see what receptionists were tasked with: meet and greet, phone calls, emails, emergencies, bookings. Possible in a one-surgery practice perhaps but sadly, as we know, the one-surgery practice is history.

Everywhere we’re seeing much bigger practices emerging, and what’s struck me is there’s usually no plan to deal with the increase in volume of inbound voice and email traffic, apart from just getting another receptionist in. That only exacerbates things. Have you ever been checking into a hotel late at night and had the receptionist take a call in front of you for 10 minutes?

Although you may have been smiling, you were thinking “just let me go to my feckin room” weren’t you?

A new patient phone enquiry about adult orthodontics handled properly is going to take at least 15 minutes because explaining treatments with empathy is complicated. Voice traffic into reception has increased and email bookings especially are on the rise, and that’s before we start talking about reactivating dormant patients and reselling cancelled appointments. Where is meet and great in all of this? Shunted to the bottom of the pile.

When I suggest to my clients, as I inevitably do, that they need to remove all this confusion from reception and have just one receptionist standing behind a lectern, they usually look at me with incredulity. But if a practice is going to grow it has to have an efficient patient journey (efficient both for the practice and the patient).

That doesn’t just mean not having to wait, it means having high quality interactions with all members of the team in all contexts, whether you’re a new or old patient and whether you’ve just walked in off the street on impulse or you’re phoning up to ask a question about your treatment plan.

The only way to make this happen is to set up a business hub to take all your traffic, apart from walk-ins, off reception. It doesn’t need to be in the same building, but it will require the following essential ingredients:

  1. Irrespective of size it needs to be light, airy, properly ventilated, sound proofed and be a lovely place to work. If you try to squeeze it into a cupboard it will undermine the quality of the calls (I learnt this lesson when I ran call centres for McCann Erickson).
  1. It needs to have a trackable telephone system so you can analyse the traffic and see when the peak times are.
  1. It needs to be manned at all times when the practice is open. It can’t close for lunch, obviously.
  1. The people working in it need to understand all the treatments offered by the practice and be able to talk about them with confidence while appreciating that they can’t cross the line and start giving recommendations.
  1. They must be able to provide information about treatments, prices and the availability of appointments and be able to confirm everything electronically in real time.
  1. They must be able to recognise the difference between providing an appointment and nurturing a lead. Some new patient enquiries are simply a case of collecting information before the patient commits to an appointment later on and so it’s important the person handling the call can understand this, provide information and arrange a callback.
  1. Your team needs to make routine use of supporting marketing material. For example, when a new patient is booking an appointment with Dr Sam Smith, the handler will send a confirmation email with a video of Sam introducing himself. Increasing the patient’s sense of obligation makes them more likely to attend their appointment and priming them with a little trust in Sam makes them more likely to agree to a treatment plan a little further down the line. Another example: when someone rings to enquire about implants and gets an idea of the cost for the first time it’ll probably be a bit of a shock. They’ll need time to reflect, so instantly sending them a video of someone of their sex and age who’s recently had an implant at your practice, and a video introducing the clinician who placed it, increases the likelihood of them agreeing to a consultation when your operator rings them back.

In practices I’ve seen that monitor new patient enquiries, about 50 per cent of enquiries never make it to appointment stage. That falls to 20 per cent or less when they’ve introduced a business hub. I don’t need to explain what that means in terms of profitability and ROI, but it’s worth remembering the other complementary effect; a vastly improved patient journey. That makes your patients stickier, which means they’re less likely to ever leave.

In my next blog I’ll be talking about the essential qualities of an effective hub operator. In the meantime, if you need help setting up a hub, give me a call, I’d love to help you make more money.


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“About 50% of enquiries never make it to appointment stage. That falls to 20% or less with a business hub.”

Jonathan Fine, MD

Author: Jonathan Fine