Staff at medical practices feel that their job is to inform the patient, inform the caller, how well you do at informing the customer, is not going to translate to sales, because their number one job is to get the booking. Nothing else really matters on incoming calls.
Practice Perfect: Actionable business information to take your medical practice to the next level. Now, your host, Nick Dumitru.
Nick: [00:00:31] Welcome to Practice Perfect, the podcast for medical professionals and anybody running a professional services business as opposed to a bricks and mortar store. Thanks for joining me again. On today’s episode we’re going to talk about how to handle incoming phone calls. This is a recurring topic that we see in our own business when we work with clients. It’s one of the areas where you can lose the most amount of money out of anything that you do. And I’m going to explain why in just a second.
Nick: [00:01:03] Phone calls are usually the first point of contact between a prospective patient and your staff. Phone calls are what people remember. Phone calls are what they use to make a decision about coming in and phone calls are also handled by some of the lowest paid staff in your practice. And I’ve always argued that that can be a big issue. You have to treat that phone call like gold. You have to staff it with some of the best people, the friendliest people that you can hire, and compensate them enough so that they care and make sure that you build a culture around them so that they do a great job on the incoming calls and they build that rapport with people. The way that I explain phone calls to our clients is this: you think about your marketing. You spend a lot of money on advertising. You spend a lot of money on building a website. You’ve spent a lot of money on maybe radio ads or print ads, online ads, wherever you’re putting that ad spend, you’re spending considerable cash trying to generate this wave of traffic. So I want you to picture it like a wave. It’s a wave that builds. The swell builds up. It comes in. You’re looking forward to all of this new business that you’re going to get. You’ve paid to get this. You’ve paid to generate this momentum, this wave coming into your practice. And as soon as it gets there, bang, it just hits a wall. And that wall typically is reception. It wastes everything that you’ve done up to that point. It takes all of the money that you’ve spent and flushes it down the toilet. So the first thing I want to talk to you about is, even before we get into the phone handling, I need to ask you if you’re recording your incoming calls. The answer to this typically is no. And if your answer is no that’s OK. Point of leverage, you’ve got something to work on. Fantastic. You could pause this podcast right now. Go get to work. Come back to it later. You’ll make more money guaranteed.
Nick: [00:03:00] The reason why I advise recording calls is that if you’re not recording, you don’t really know what’s happening. You don’t know what’s going on in your practice. You’re a physician. You’re out there doing medical work. You may be in surgery most of the day. Some days you’re not in the office. If you don’t have somebody monitoring that communication, and even before the communication, monitoring if the phones are even being picked up and after how many rings, flat out you don’t know what you’re doing. You don’t know what’s going on. You don’t know what’s happening in your own practice and until you know that it’s very hard to implement everything else that you’re going to learn on this podcast because there’s going to be no accountability and there’s going to be no way for you to track and understand if things are working. So point number one, before we get into phone handling, is make sure that you put something in place for recording calls. If you’ve got paid ads, there are services out there you can check out CallRail.com. It’s one service that we use with our clients. There’s a ton of other services if you Google them, that will record incoming phone calls. Use one of them. Put out a tracking number. Start slow if you have to. If you can’t, put it into your full practice to record incoming and outgoing. Just start with a simple online service like that. Put it on your online ads. Put it on your print ads. Put it in your radio ads. Let people call a direct phone number that you then can monitor and access. And I guarantee you in addition to the accountability and to the understanding that you’ll get from recording, you will get a wealth of information. I learned how to do a lot of what I do not just by testing and trial and error but also by listening to thousands of incoming phone calls from our client. So I know how the patients speak and you need to know what the patients say. You need to understand their hopes, their desires, their fears, their dreams. And if you start recording those calls, even if you start listening in the evening, on the way to work, load them up onto your phone, blow them up in the car and just listen to them. And try to listen for the language, but also for your staff. Pick out what matters to people. Pick out the phrases that they’re using. Start using those things in your advertising and you’ll start doing better. If something’s prohibiting you from recording the calls, if you have a law that you need to comply with in your state or province or country or if you just feel that it is prohibitive technologically, your staff is afraid, they’re fundamentally opposed to it, the first thing I’d say is get new staff because you’re paying people to help you. You’re not there to run a charity. You need them to do what you need them to do. And that’s for them to be accountable for their actions. But if you’ve got any kind of barrier to that I want to eliminate those excuses. And what I would suggest you do is get a mystery shopper.
Nick: [00:05:48] You can hire a professional service. You can hire somebody you know that your staff is not familiar with and you should really do this anyway whether you record calls or don’t record calls because it’ll really help in the overall understanding of what your practice is doing and how you’re doing and if things are being adhered to. But even if you just do it for calls, it will help tremendously. Have a checklist of what the staff is supposed to do. Make sure that your mystery caller understands what they need to go over, what they need to ask, and what they need to look for and get a report of how your staff did and do this more than one time. Don’t just do it once. If it came out well, you know, you figure well, they’re doing a great job. It must be something else, right? A lot of times it’s not. A lot of times, what I find is that staff can be on and off. They have moods like everybody else. And if they’re not treating the situation professionally they will allow themselves to get into whatever mindset they happen to be in that morning. If something went wrong for them at breakfast, they carry that into the office. So you want to run multiple mystery shopping sessions.
Nick: [00:06:52] All Right. I had to get that off my chest. I had to let you guys understand what it means. I had to let you know that if you’re not recording you’re not really getting the information that you need to make a decision. So let’s get to the meat of it and we’re going to start talking about how to handle your incoming phone calls. The best practices that you can do to help convert more patients and help you bring more people to your consultations and help them ultimately become paying clients in your practice.
Nick: [00:07:20] The first step in handling incoming calls is understanding what your receptionist’s real job is and having her understand what her job is. Oftentimes when I speak to staff at medical practices they feel that their job is to inform the patient, inform the caller and give them all the information that they need so that they can make the decision. Unfortunately, for them that is not a metric that matters. How well you do at informing the customer is not going to translate to sales. So I’ll tell you the two primary jobs of anyone that picks up the phone in your practice to handle an incoming inquiry call from a prospective patient or incoming booking request from a prospective patient that’s not someone that’s been at your practice before. Their number one job, I want you to note this down, is their number one job is to get the booking. Nothing else really matters on the call. Their job is to book that patient. We’re going to get into how to do that in a second. But it’s a real mindset shift when you understand that their job is not to inform. It’s to book. If they haven’t booked that procedure consultation they’ve failed at that particular call. That call wasn’t done. They can give people information for an hour. If they haven’t booked the consultation request it was for nothing. So the primary objective on any call is to book it. Book the consultation. And there’s a secondary objective when that’s not possible. There are times when the reception can do their best and they can do everything right but they have a hard time with the person on the other line or they’re somewhere where they can’t talk. For example some people will pick up at work or call in from work and then a co-worker walks in and then they get all quiet. So there are situations where they may not be able to book directly on the phone and say everything that they want and they may want to try to get off. So we have a backup objective and we teach this to everybody that we deal with. And I want you to take this back to your practice and teach them these two objectives. The backup objective is to get an e-mail address, a phone number and the full name so that you can put them into your follow up sequence. It’s very important that they understand that. If they hang up that phone having given the information that the person asked for, and only the information and they got nothing back in return, they didn’t get the consultation booking, they didn’t get a phone number that they can use to follow up in a couple of days to see if the person has any questions, you no longer have options. You are at the mercy of that person that called you. You’re at the mercy of life in general, of the world. You’re at the mercy of happenstance. You’re no longer in control of your practice, your processes or your advertising. So your staff has to understand that they need to take control of that call. They need to get you the information that you need so that when you need to follow up you can follow up you can send a thank you e-mail for calling with additional information. You can follow that person up and ask them follow up questions and see if they’re ready to book their consultation. You can call them, leave a voicemail, talk to them directly, ask them if they have any other questions in a couple of days and then again after that and again then the week after that. And I want you to see the difference in that. I’m hoping that you are recognizing what the differences between having zero control and having full control with this simple process. By just changing the mindset of collecting the information it puts the control back in your hands. It lets you direct the flow of your business and you’re not at the mercy of the weather or if the person’s child walked into the room and they had to go take care of them and they had to hang up the phone. You’re not at the mercy of the world. You’re making things happen. Things are not happening to you. And I call these kinds of insights key leverage points. This is the kind of insight and leverage that can completely turn around everything that you’re doing. Because the best way to grow your practice without spending a single dime is to just get more out of what you’ve got. You’ve already got the phone ringing to some degree, whether you’re happy with that or not it doesn’t matter. If 10 phone calls come in over a period of time and your receptionist was handling eight of them poorly and two of them booked, all she has to do is book two more and you’re doubling the incoming lead flow to your practice. The incoming number of patients that are coming to see you. That’s just going from two to four out of 10 calls. And by them understanding that their job is to collect information gives you the key leverage that you need to start changing the practice and I don’t want you to take this lightly. This is the type of thing that can really make a difference. It’s the type of thing that I’ve seen be the difference between a practice that is flourishing and successful and one that is floundering by doing absolutely nothing else in the practice. All right so that’s your first key takeaway.
Nick: [00:12:01] So let’s say you’ve started to record those incoming calls. You know that the phone is being picked up when it rings, you know it only takes a couple of rings to pick up. Everything’s ideal in that situation. Your staff understands what their objectives are and they’re doing that well. Where do we go from here? Let’s start talking about exactly how to handle that incoming call.
Nick: [00:12:20] Understand that when a patient calls your practice, they’re in a vulnerable state. They’re in a state of uncertainty. They’re in a state of having dealt with their problem for years and not knowing what to do about it. And they’re in a state of finally being hopeful that they have recourse. That they have somewhere to turn for help and that place will be you. One of the key things that your staff has to understand is that they need to show empathy. They need to show sympathy empathy and understanding. And there’s only one real way to do that and that’s to let the person talk by asking them the right questions. When you’re creating the script, and I use the word script very loosely here, we have talking points is how we do things. So I want you to develop the talking points that they have, the questions that they need to ask. We make sure that we don’t ask yes or no questions. When you ask just yes or no questions, there is no opportunity for dialogue. There’s no opportunity to take the person deeper into their own psyche, deeper into their own emotions and have them come out the other side feeling good about having chosen you for their surgery. When you ask your questions it’s crucial that you let the person talk. There are a lot of people that have a habit of waiting for their turn to talk. I’ve seen this happen with receptionists. I’ve seen this happen in regular conversations that you may be having with people. I’ve seen it all over the place. People rarely listen these days. They don’t truly listen and try to hear what’s being told of them. All they’re doing is waiting for their chance to talk and for their chance to speak in the conversation. If you want the person to start building a bond with your staff, you have to make sure that your staff shuts up. There’s no other way to say that. They asked the question, they closed their mouth and they let the person talk until they’re done talking. And only after they’re done talking do they reply with something that shows empathy. Something that shows that they have feeling for what that person is going through and that they’ll be able to help and reassurance when they respond to. Great idea to have them echo what they’ve heard. So if the person says, you know I’m not happy with my breast size. The left one’s always been smaller in the right. I’m really worried about the asymmetry. I’m not sure if this is something that can be corrected. Before the person goes right into the spiel about how it can be corrected, she should first show that she understood. OK. What I’m hearing is that you’re not happy with the breast size. We can certainly help you with that. And then you’ve got some asymmetry issues. And I got to let you know that we handle those all the time. You don’t have to worry, it’s absolutely correctable. May I have your permission to tell you a little bit more about that. OK? So she’s echoed what the person has said and understands that the information that’s going to be coming at her is going to be information that she asked for she’s been heard. That immediately will build rapport on your phone calls. .
Nick: [00:15:15] The next thing that your staff should be trained in is credentialing. And we credential in three primary areas. You want to have them credential the physician. You want to have them credential the practice facilities and you want to have them credential the procedure itself. We don’t do this by just spewing information at them. So there’s an old saying in sales that goes like this. It says, when some people come to present they show up and throw up. What that means is that they come to the presentation and I’m sure you’ve seen reps come and present to you whether it be a laser machine or some new kind of surgical equipment or a new type of filter. They come up, and rather than asking you about your practice and figuring out what you actually need, they come up, they spew their presentation at you. They’re basically throwing up the information at you. Everything that you maybe don’t even need to hear and then they hope for a sale. Your staff should be intimately familiar with your credentialing points. What makes you different. What makes you special and what makes you advantageous over your competitors. But they shouldn’t treat that as something that they’re forcing down that prospect’s throat. It has to be given at the right time and in the right sequence and you have to ask for permission to ask these questions and to tell them these questions and give them the answers that they’re looking for. So I’ll give you a quick example.
Nick: [00:16:37] Let’s say that part of my mandated reception is to credential you as a physician. I’m going to say that your name is Dr. Jones. We work our way towards giving out that information once the patient has asked for it. So I would say something like, have you seen Dr. Jones before? And the person will say no. If they say yes then they are an existing patient. We don’t need to handle that case. So they say no. No I haven’t. Oh may I tell you a little bit about them before we go on? And the person, of course, because you were polite and we tend to not want to disappoint people, we tend to want to please people, we will most likely let the reception stock. So the person will answer yes sure. And at that point you’ve gotten their permission and they’re now asking for the information. You’re not ramming it down their throat because you think it’s something that will help you sell. It comes across very very differently from a psychological standpoint. At that point, I would start telling her about Dr. Jones and I would say OK great. Well, Dr. Jones has been in practice for 22 years. He’s performed over 5000 breast augmentation surgeries. He’s absolutely an expert at this. I can’t tell you the number of happy patients that we have. You’re going to see a lot of before and afters when you come in. You’re going to see a lot of testimonials when you come in and you’re going to just absolutely love your consultation with him. He has a very special technique for breast augmentation. It creates better results. He’ll go over it with you when he comes in. But you’ve definitely made the right choice. .
Nick: [00:18:01] So what I’ve done there is I’ve fully credentialed that physician, the fictitious Dr. Jones. I would have gone into further detail if this were an actual case and dug up particulars about what would make Dr. Jones special and advantageous, double board accreditation, whatever it might be and then also explain that to the patient because not everyone knows what that means. And I would have done all of this with the patient’s permission and understanding and she would listen to the whole thing without it sounding like a sales pitch because it was done in a natural way. So when you’re teaching your staff to do this make sure that they understand that they have to get permission from the patient for anything that they want to put forth.
Nick: [00:18:40] The next thing that you can do is credential either the practice or the procedure, depending on how that comes across in the conversation. If you’ve got your own surgical state of the art facility you can certainly work that in. And definitely if you have anything that you do that’s advantageous in the procedure you want to put that forth. I’ll give you one example. We worked with a doctor in Toronto and he had a different technique than what a lot of people were doing at the time. He was cauterizing every blood vessel before putting in the implant and when interviewing him he made a sound. He said, well I asked them, how do people do this surgery normally, because I thought everyone did it like this. He said, “no no no. Usually people will put this instrument in and they’ll go in and [tearing sound] they’ll put a pocket in and then they put in the implant. I don’t do it like that.” As soon as I heard that sound I knew that was gold. We were on to something. His procedure was unique because the rest of the market wasn’t doing it with a cauterization technique. There were a few doctors doing that but we were the first to mention it. And we were able to position it as a bloodless breast augmentation so that there’s no blood before the implant goes in and we position that as reducing capsular contractures, that’s what he believed based on the research that he did in his own practice. And we went to market with that and did quite well. He was booked eight months out by the time we were finished working there and he was making a ton of money and doing the kinds of surgeries that he wanted to do and it was done because we were able to credential this procedure. We were able to make it advantageous and unique in the market and we trained the staff to say that on the phone calls, as well as obviously in ads and in the website.
Nick: [00:20:19] So let’s recap quickly where we’ve been. You’re recording calls. Your staff is showing empathy, letting the caller talk. They’re showing them that they understood by echoing back what they heard from the patient. They’re credentialing everything along the way as they go in natural conversation without sounding like a greasy salesman. It’s all very naturally based, as the issues come up with the patient. But there’s one last thing that I want to talk to you about.
Nick: [00:20:45] So far we’ve done really well but there’s one other job that they have to do in addition to what I said the primary objectives are and we’ll get to that one in a second. But the next thing you wanted them to do is make sure that they have qualifying questions so that they’re not wasting your time with patients that may not be ready for surgery. How this rolls out in your practice is, of course, going to be up to you. You need to understand what you’re doing there and what you want to do and what your objectives are. I’ll give you a few simple questions and guidelines to start you thinking in the right direction. One of the first questions we always ask is Have you had this procedure before? This eliminates people that may be trying to get in because they need a revision or they’re not happy with their current doctor, problematic patients. If you handle those kinds of cases, if you’re happy to get that potential backlash and dissatisfaction from people (some physicians we’ve worked with are extremely good at fixing other people’s problems and then they get very happy patients — if you’re that type of doctor you don’t necessarily need to ask this question) but most times what we find is that they don’t want to handle other people’s problems and you may not want to handle other people’s problems. And this is a great way for your staff to eliminate that kind of inquiry immediately and filter that out on the phone.
Nick: [00:21:59] The next question is, when are you thinking of having surgery? What this question does is it gets the person to admit whether they are very close to buying. So if you’ve got a wait list you don’t want to be spending your time with people that want to have surgery in six months or three months or four months. You want to spend your time with people that are a few weeks to one or two months out at the most. And then you want to book the people that want to have that surgery sooner upfront and if you’ve got consistent lead flow as you should have with proper advertising, that you’re getting leads every single day for your procedures, you can afford to be this selective. And what you want to do is prioritize the now buyers. The people that are going to go through surgery within the next couple of weeks to a month month and a half before the people that are six months out. So those people that are six months out, you start to push off. You just tell them that, OK well we have an appointment and then you do it a couple of months before their surgery. When you’re not busy, if you happen to be in that unfortunate situation and you haven’t got your lead flow going yet and things are not rocking and rolling with the incoming calls and e-mails, you can certainly afford to spend time with them. Then you have to have an aggressive follow up sequence for the next six months to make sure that they don’t forget about you because they are most likely shopping around to four or five other doctors potentially. So you have to have that in place and of course see that patient. But if you are doing things right and if you’ve got the patient flow coming in, then you want to make sure that you’re prioritizing those people.
Nick: [00:23:28] The next question that we put in there and like I said you’re going to have several questions. You can start credentialling for a BMI or whatever it is that you have hanging belly fat or is it internal, is your stomach hard. You know you get it. Those are of course the medical prequalified questions. But the next one that we want to go after is the one that everyone feels uncomfortable with and that is the price. Does that patient have money? Are they ready to go and can they afford to pay? You obviously can’t ask it outright. You know it would be, it would be an interesting conversation if you said, well do you have money? It probably wouldn’t go very well for that receptionist. But we tackle that in a very gentle way. And we say would you like to hear about financing options. And that opens a conversation. If they say no, you don’t push any further. If they say yes, then you start to go into the talk about the financing and then it’s very easy because you’ve already opened up that discussion and the patient has given you permission to talk about money, to ask, you know, will you be needing the full financing? Do you have a deposit? What’s the situation currently? And that becomes a much nicer and gentler way of easing into it that doesn’t make the patient feel uncomfortable. But it also allows your staff to qualify people and maybe book them during downtimes or if they feel that that person probably won’t be able to afford it and book them further out and give them more time to save up and what not.
Nick: [00:24:49] Now those are the primary areas where you can go and get leverage immediately in your practice. There’s nuances there’s the minutiae of how to handle this in particular. You can certainly brainstorm that with your staff. You can figure out the questions that you need to ask. You can do some trial and error of course and get that going. But there’s one other thing I want to say before we finish this particular episode and that’s to reiterate the number one objective.
Nick: [00:25:17] We Went through a lot of things here. They all were great. They all were great. Showing empathy. Letting the caller talk. Qualifying them. Credentialling you. All of those things are fantastic. But the number one thing that the receptionist has to do at the end of the day and at the end of that call is ask for the booking. If she doesn’t ask for the booking it may never come. And don’t assume that the patient knows to ask. It’s not their job to figure that out. They are going through your process. You’re not going through their process. Remember, you want to be in control of the process not the other way around. You don’t want the world controlling your practice. You want to control what the world serves to you. What you’ve made happen in the world. The advertising that you’ve created, that swell, that wave, when it comes in you, want to be able to receive it. You want to be able to channel that power and instead of it hitting a barrier, you want to take that energy and flow it through the generators. You want to get them to create power in your practice and to be able to do that. You have to take control and to take control, your receptionist has to ask for the booking. She has to ask for those secondary objectives and you can do that right up front. You know, may I have your name and email address and phone number in case we get disconnected so that I can call you back if anything happens. There’s a nice gentle way to ask for it. Very few people will say no. But now the receptionist is doing data gathering, data capture. She can do that up front and on the back she has to go for her primary objective right she’s landed on the beach. Now she has to take the beach head. She has to move things forward and to win, she has to get the booking. And that is her number one job and she has to understand that if she hasn’t done that she hasn’t done her job plain and simple. There’s no way to sugarcoat it or be nice about it. Her job is to book consultations so that you’re not wasting your day sitting around twiddling your thumbs or meeting the wrong kind of people.
Nick: [00:27:10] I Hope that’s been helpful. That wraps up this episode. I hope you take this information and you immediately go and implement in your practice. I hope you take it and make a ton of money with it. I hope you found this extremely helpful and useful and the best way that I can think of to appreciate information like this is to take action on it. Good luck with your calls and good luck with the staff and I hope that you implement this immediately. I’m Nick Dumitru. I will see you on the next podcast.