It also unnecessarily lengthens the time of the outgoing message, which is another inconvenience. While we’re on the subject, when repeat callers call you, it’s very nice and convenient to say, “To bypass the remainder of this message please press pound or zero.” Make sure that your system accommodates it because sometimes I will do that and press pound, and then it says, “Please enter your password.” Then, you have to hang up and call back and listen to the whole message again.
In general, we like the answering message to not be longer than 45 seconds; 25 seconds is even better, and we have a lot clients who are able to convey all the information they need which is, “We’re glad you called. We’re sorry we’re not available. We care about you. Please leave a confidential message of any length or visit our website,” and that is it.
Remember that you’re actually communicating with people. The person who’s doing the recording may not be talking to a person at that time, but obviously, that message is intended to be heard by human beings. So, be enthusiastic. Be excited. Select the person in your office who gives the best phone, and let them have at it.
Now, if you have an answering service, I strongly advise that you check it often. We have had very little success with consistent reliability of the quality of an answering service. They will often begin good, and they reach their own level of incompetence by taking on more clients than they can handle or what it is, but I just had another experience last week trying to make an appointment to an ophthalmologist that I was referred to by a doctor. They said, “Well, are you a patient?” I said I’m a prospective patient. “Well, you have to call back. We don’t take messages.” I said, “I was referred by a doctor who’s friends with the doctor.” “I’m sorry. You can leave a message.” I said, “I’m a consultant who actually evaluates how telephone calls are being handled,” and then she hung up on me.
Now, that could be that she was actually following the policy of the office, too. So, whatever your protocol is, you want to evaluate that and make that it’s open to prospective patients because you don’t know who’s going to be calling you, and if you’re accepting new patients, you certainly don’t want that to be the protocol.
Now, on hold messages are what callers hear when you’re placed on hold, and I place you on hold, you hear this. That message runs for 4 minutes, and because I use a VoIP system, it always begins in the beginning which I like. The reality is that every office will place callers on hold. Sometimes, we’ll talk to practices that say, “We never place callers on hold.” If that’s true, you’re probably overstaffed, but in any case, we will actually get into this and show you where we recommend it under certain circumstances, mainly a new patient caller.
We recommend that you place them on hold provided that you have a high quality, regularly updated on hold message that entertains and educates callers that is no overly commercial and obviously is not dead air. Tests have shown that when people are placed on hold and listen to dead air or an out of tune radio station or something else ridiculous like a competitor’s commercial that they are tapping their foot waiting, but when they hear an entertaining and informative on hold message, it literally cuts the perceived time on hold in half. That’s great because it buys time for the team to do what they need to do to return to the line and give this caller their undivided attention.
In terms of the proper implementation of an on hold message solution, we do recommend that you update it frequently, and we do offer a service that does this. It’s all online. Quarterly updates are sent to you, and we’ve made it really very smooth and almost seamless because otherwise practices don’t have time to do it. We want you to do it because this is another touch point that demonstrates you’re not only a professional that’s committed to high quality dental care but that you’re also a vibrant, engaged member of your community.
This gives you an opportunity to share what you’re up to, what you’re doing, what you’re doing, and that you are people, too. I think that’s a particularly valuable thing for a dental practice to remind people of because as we all know, in general, people are a little bit trepid when it comes to seeing their dentist. So, the more you can connect with people on an emotional level, the better, and, again, we recommend that you call and check the system frequently to make sure that it’s operating. Our systems are pretty much fool-proof. We use a USB so that there’s no moving parts, but switches can be turned. Volume can be reduced, and if nothing happens, it’s good to remind yourself what it says, especially if you’re updating it regularly. Again, if somebody asks about it, you can very seamlessly and adeptly respond to that without thinking too much about it.
We’ve already talked about the purpose of it. It builds a professional image, and we will also talk more about this. It is a tool that used to prepare you to speak with the most important person in the world which is your newest patient.
This is what we call the TAFI intro. TAFI is short for the art of first impression, and if you walk away today with nothing more than this, I believe that your time today will have been well-invested. This is not just randomly put together verbage. I will deconstruct it throughout the rest of the presentation so you can see why it what it is, but I thought I would introduce it right now just to show you.
So, the first thing that we do is say, “Thank you for calling.” In our case, it is, “Thank you for calling AIM Dental Marketing where we take aim with your marketing. This is Danny. How may I help you?” In your case, you would say, “Thanks for calling our practice where we,” and I hope you have a tagline. The tagline is basically a distillation of your brand. It is a memorably simple statement about what makes you special and different. I strongly advise practices to go through an exercise to establish a tagline with the input of the team, and another benefit of using it in your introduction is it reminds the team who you are, what you do, for whom you do it, and why. It reinforces, in their mind, why we’re all here.
Now, whatever the person says, they may say, “I’m seeking a second opinion. I would like to accept my insurance plan. I’d like to know how much a crown cost. I’d like to know the purpose of life or why the sky is blue.” I don’t care about the question. The answer really should be this or a slight variation on this: “I can help you with that. My name is Danny. May I ask who I’m speaking with?”
Then, the next question that you ask is, “Are you in any discomfort presently?” Use their name, even though you know they’re not in any discomfort, and we’ll about why in a little bit. “Who may we thank for referring you to us?” Again, it’s interesting that you include these in the introduction. Then, here’s the transition.
To help you buy time to get to a quiet area to clear your mind, we prioritize because it’s show time with the patient. The verbage is, “Would you mind if I place you on hold for just a moment so I can get to my desk or a quiet area and give you my undivided attention?” People will never have a problem with that, and if you have a quality on hold message system, you will have easily 60 seconds to do what you need to do to prepare to talk with this person and to give them your undivided attention. On the East Coast, it’s called take away. I’m in the Midwest. It’s called take out, but this is a big take away. So, if you get nothing else from today’s presentation, I hope you will walk away and take away this.
So, let’s talk about the components of effective communication. There was a study done in UCLA by Albert [35:07], a professor, who was commissioned to evaluate what comprises effective communication as well as the percentage contribution was each component to effective communication. Those elements are verbal, vocal, and visual, and verbal is the actual words used. Note, it accounts for a whopping 7%. So, it’s not so much the words that we use. It’s how we use the words, and it’s our body language. It’s the gestures of the face and the hands. You may realize already that when you’re on the telephone, we really don’t have this component, and that’s why we talk about the visual gap because when you’re on the phone, callers can’t see you. Actually, they can because they have a mind’s eye, but they develop that impression based on what they hear which makes the use of the verbal and the vocal components all the more vital.
Let’s talk about the self-fulfilling prophecy trap. This process is when we label someone as undesirable. The quality of our communication changes, and unfortunately, it inevitably changes for the worse. Typically, we judge a book by its cover, and we write the book. I’ve seen this time and again. This is very important when you talk about prospective patient. More and more practices are engaging external marketing because they have control over the growth rate of their practice. There’s a certain assumption somehow that somebody who calls asking about a price or second opinion is somehow lower quality than your community in general.
That’s just not true. The reality is that people are calling you because they’re interested, and if they weren’t interested, they’ve got better things to do than call you. How you respond to those inquiries makes all the difference, and Bill Ross of Advanced Practice Management in Edina, Minnesota writes this: “Externally generated patients do not yet know or trust you. That doesn’t mean they are not good enough patients.” The thing is we tend to focus on the negative, the clinkers as he calls them, but put yourself in their place.
When you are calling for a service, especially one that you don’t know much about, I bet the most likely question you’re going to ask is, “How much does this cost?” That means you’re interested. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re interested in the lowest cost. What it really means is that you don’t know what else to ask.