One of the keys of the art and science of questioning is understanding the difference between open-ended questions and close-ended questions. An open ended question is one that invites the person to whom you are speaking to elaborate. A close ended question is a question that can be answered with one that can be answered with one or a few words like yes, no, up, down, I will, I won’t. Open-ended questions invite people to elaborate, and the other that we recommend that you follow in a call with a first-time telephone caller is close, open, close. The oil can is just to illustrate and underscore the fact that questions are the lubricant between effective communication that really make the machinery of communication run. So, it’s key that you get comfortable with them.
So, let’s revisit our TAFI intro, and now, you’ll understand better why it is structured the way it is. “Thank you for calling our practice where we, your tagline, your name. How may I help you? I can help you with that. My name is…” Note the next item. This is a closed probe, “With whom am I speaking?” What it does, in a very subtle way is not only are you getting the person’s name so you can use the person’s name and we’ve already discussed why that’s so important, but it’s also placing you very subtly and very firmly in control of the call.
The next question is, “Are you in any discomfort presently?” Now, that is another closed probe and note that we used the caller’s name. The other very important distinction I’m going to share here is you know that when we ask questions, it’s an opportunity not only gather information. It’s also an opportunity to impart information. When we ask somebody if they are in discomfort, and I asked people why we’re asking that, the ones who yet don’t know what they don’t know, they say, “Well, we need to know if it’s an emergency and when we need to get them into the office.”
I say, “That’s absolutely right. What information are we imparting by asking this question?” The answer is, and I’m sure many of you don’t realize it, is that we care enough to ask. We care about you. Within 15 seconds of the call, you’re already establishing rapport and conveying empathy, and I said earlier you can’t do it too early.
The next question that we ask is, “Who may we thank for referring you to us?” People say, “You want to do that to see how good your marketing is, how it’s working,” and you actually want to know who you can thank. You can send them a gift, and that’s true. Then, I ask, “Which information are we imparting?” This is a little subtle. What we’re imparting here is that we’re confident that you must have been referred to us by one of our many happy patients, and, again, this is a very subtle way to exude this professionalism, this caring, and this confidence because people like work with people who are confident and professional.
Then, the last question on our TAFI intro is, “Would you mind if I place you on hold for just a moment so I can get to my desk and give you my undivided attention?” Another closed probe. You are now asking the questions, and, again, this key bridge here is what buys you time to reprioritize to give this caller your undivided attention provided you have a cordless headset and an on hold message that is professionally produced and occasionally maintained.
So, those are the closed probes. We basically completed the closed cycle so to speak. Now, you really don’t move to asking open-ended questions until you have been given explicitly or implicitly permission by the caller, and you will know, with practice, when the caller is comfortable opening up with you.
I actually met with a client yesterday about a health coaching opportunity, and I could tell he really wasn’t ready to open up to me yet because we kept talking about, well he was on one side of his brain talking about the logic behind the program and how he wants to do this to help his clients get healthy, and I was trying to get him to see that he needs to lead by example which is what about you? Why are you doing it? I realized I was asking that question a little bit too early. He wasn’t sufficiently comfortable to open up to me. Eventually, he did, but that’s really important to understand.
That’s where the art comes in. I’m sharing the science, but the art is actually responding to the feedback that you’re receiving from your prospective patient. Once you do have permission, these are some good open-ended questions. This one actually isn’t a question but a statement, but it does open them up. “Please tell me what it is about your smile you’d like to improve. Can you share what’s kept you from addressing this until now? Why do you feel now is the time to get this taken care of?”
Here’s a response to somebody who was probably told by somebody else or believes they need a crown, and you obviously address it. You show you’ve heard them and, “A crown is certainly one way to achieve great cosmetic results. Would you mind if I asked you a few questions to help be sure we’re giving you the information you need to make the right choice?” They say, “Sure.” Now, that’s permission for you ask questions, and when you get it, now you’re gathering information, and then, you’re listening.
As I said, that’s where the listening comes in because, as I said, effective selling is having your radar out and listening closely and carefully to find out what’s important to the caller and then matching those needs with your ability to fill those needs. If you don’t have the ability to fill those needs, honestly share that information, and they’ve made the right choice. Maybe you’re not fit for them, and that’s okay. We’re not asking or suggesting that you should be right for everybody.
Then, when you’ve identified the wants or buying signals, as we like to call them, you move to the close of the procedure, and, again, you move to the close probes. “Would mornings or evenings be better for your first visit to our office? What form of payment will you be using today? Can we help you process your benefits paperwork?” So, remember, closed, open, closed.
That takes us to the final component of the art of first impressions which is effective listening technique. When you listen, listen fully and completely. Try not to be distracted, and, again, that has to do with the environment in the office which is why we recommend the on hold message, the cordless headset, and the quiet area.
Concentrate on what they’re saying. Sometimes people thing that listening is just patiently waiting for your next opportunity to say what you want to say. That’s not listening. Also, don’t assume that you know what the patient is saying or thinking or invalidate them by finishing their sentences for them. You will have heard many things over and over again. You’ll probably right about what they’re going to say, but it’s important that you let them say it. That shows respect and understanding. I know you all know this. Feel free to explore with them why they are here and let them talk.
These are just some verbiage cues that you can use as far as how to address concerns about fees and reimbursement and turning everything into a positive. If somebody wants to know about it, you let them know that you care. There’s some coaching services that will try to sidestep the question if someone says, “Are you in my insurance plan?” You say, “We can talk about that in a minute. You know that most insurances doesn’t really cover most dental procedures. Would you mind if I tell you what our practices is about because it’s really great?” Most people will say, “Yes,” but that’s almost the same as saying, “While I’m telling you this, would you mind not thinking about a pink elephant?” They really can’t really think about anything else.
Our approach is to address the concern, and say, “Yeah. That’s a really good question. Obviously, affordability and being able to maximize all the benefits that you’re entitled to are very important, and that’s why we have a treatment coordinator/benefits coordinator with us on staff. Do you have your insurance card with you? If you do, let me jot down some information, and I’ll share that with Peggy. We’ll get back to you on that. Now, would you mind telling me why you’re calling?” You see, they’re not really calling to see if you’re on their plan. That’s, again, a little hook they hang their hat on. There’s a question they’d like to ask, but why would they, all of a sudden, have a burning and sudden need to know if your dental practice participates in their plan? They must have a dental need, right?
What you want to know is address that first question so they want to know that they’re going to be dealt with, that that’s going to be addressed. Then, that frees them up to share why they’re really calling. These are good verbiage to use: “All financial considerations are share in advance of any treatment so rest assured. We’re going to make sure you’re making an informed decision, and you let us know how and when you want to proceed because we never want to let affordability get between you and the care you want and deserve.” I already talked about good old Peggy.
Now, if people press you for pricing, offer them a range. This is a little advanced, but we offer them something called the triad close which is to dazzle them with data. If somebody says, “I really want to know what a crown costs.” Say, “Well, crowns are practically all we do. We love it, and would you mind if I just asked you a few questions and told you a little about our procedures?” Then, proceed to tell them all you want about crowns and let them know always three options, low cost, high cost, and why one’s low cost or high cost is convenience or durability or aesthetics.
Then, say, “But, you know, I’m not the dentist. Even if I were, it would be tough to diagnose you over the phone. That’s why we offer a complimentary meet and greet where you can meet with the professional, and he/she can do an examination and let you know what we think your options are. Then, it’s up to you to decide how and whether to proceed.”
So, you’ve given the information, and at some point, they’re like, “I’m sorry I asked. This person is talking my ear off. Just to get off the phone, I’m going to make an appointment to come in.” So, that’s the approach. Again, enthusiasm, positivity, if some a word exists.
Another issue is directions. I spoke to somebody just yesterday. It wasn’t the dental office. It was the library because I moved to this area. I was looking for the library. I said, “Where is route 12?” “I have no idea sir.” Okay, they lived there for 25 years. That’s fine. They don’t know where is route 12, but other people do. So, I would encourage you if there’s frequently used public transportation in your area, or some people deal with east and west. Some people need landmarks. Take the time to know where you are and communicate that to people. They will appreciate it.
So, essentially, by way of wrap up, if you want to connect with callers, you have to first sell by having the “yes we can” attitude, by establishing rapport, empathy, exuding enthusiasm, avoiding those self-fulfilling prophecies, using effective questioning technique, that close-open-close protocol, translating the attributes into benefits, listen for the wants or buying signals. Only then, qualify because a wise man once said if we’re going to do business, we’re going it discuss details later. If we’re not going to do business, the details don’t matter.