Recently, ProSynergy added a new phone line. As you probably know, there is a period of time before the number gets added to the “Do Not Call” list, and during this time, we have received more than our fair share of marketing calls. First of all, the callers struggle with pronouncing my name. With the last name, “Head”, you would be surprised how many times they get it wrong! They are hesitant, sound like they are reading a script or have rehearsed a couple of lines, and just want to get to the next call. I want them to move on too!
Why do these types of calls annoy us so much? I find them impersonal, the timing is never good and what they have to say is irrelevant to me. In many ways, follow up calls to patients are very much like telemarketing. Why else would we call it “Dialing for Dollars”?
Because the economy is not as good as we would like and people’s financial situations are challenging – many patients may be choosing to delay dental care they perceive as not vital or that can wait until times get better. Others may be putting off even basic care that is not urgent. Of course, we want our patients to re-think that strategy and in some cases there is a lot of pressure being put on staff, usually the “front desk” or the scheduling coordinator, to call and “get people in.” Thus, the DENTAL TELEMARKETER is born.
Team members,who experience the frustration of calling patients and not getting them to answer and leaving endless voice mails without returned calls are likely to question whether this futile effort is worth their time. And they would be right to wonder.
Let’s examine this a little closer. The first thing you must understand is that your financial anxiety cannot be laid on your patients. When dentists get fearful about the “holes” in the schedule they put pressure on the staff to fill them – as if it were merely a matter of calling the thousands of people who have been dying to get in but who have been put on hold by the practice. Let’s be honest. The only people who will respond to this kind of approach are those who have asked either to come in sooner or be seen at a time more convenient to them. It is a wanted call that delivers a wanted service. No problem here.
But for those other patients who, for one reason or another have chosen to put their care on hold, the call – leave a message – rinse – repeat approach will do the opposite. It will discourage people from following up with you when their circumstances do change.
Let’s think like our patient for a moment; Things are a little tight right now. You have some dental concerns and Dr. Baker has offered some solutions. You agree with his recommendations and you’d like to proceed but you heard layoffs are coming at work. You share this with him and, buying a little time, you mentally put it on the back burner.
Two months later, although you didn’t get laid off, your car is towed to the repair shop for some needed repairs at about the same time you get a message on your voicemail from Barbara, Dr. Baker’s receptionist:
“Donald, this is Barbara from Dr. Baker’s office. I’m calling to see if you’re ready to schedule those crowns yet. We are concerned about your dental health and what could happen if you neglected this needed care. Please give me a call to make your appointment.”
Ugh. The car thing is something you hadn’t planned in your budget and since your teeth aren’t hurting, you’ll have to wait on the dental work. A month later, you see on caller ID that it’s Dr. Baker’s office again. The voice message she leaves pretty much says the same thing. You’re still paying off the car repairs and now your visit with the hygienist is coming up. If you go, you know they will ask you again to schedule the crowns and you really aren’t up to having that conversation. You begin to feel guilty because you hate to disappoint Dr. Baker but you don’t know how to tell him “no” without hurting his feelings.
Then you decide to call after hours one night to cancel your hygiene appointment saying that something has come up and you will have to call them back to reschedule. Now you are avoiding the calls to reschedule your hygiene appointment!
Crown call. Hygiene call. Crown call. And you can pretty much guess they are not happy with you now. You ignore them all.
Several months later, work is going well. In fact, you’ve gotten a promotion. The bill for the car repairs is long gone. You are ready to take care of your mouth but you are so embarrassed that you just don’t know how you can face Barbara or Dr. Baker or your hygienist. Instead, you decide to start fresh and call a new dentist.
Another patient lost.
You can begin to understand how the method of calling, reminding and finally, nagging and guilting has caused another patient to leave. And it could easily have been avoided with a different, more effective approach.
Consider a personalized letter outlining the patient’s concerns, the doctor’s findings and recommendations and what the implications of the decision to delay might mean for them. By thoughtfully putting it in writing, it provides a relevant, clear opportunity for your patient to safely re-engage when the time is right. A detailed example follows:
We have been thinking about you lately, and since a bit of time has elapsed since we last spoke, we wanted to give you a written review of what is pending. You may remember that we made some recommendations when we saw you last April. At that time, you were quite concerned about the appearance of your front teeth, the food that was packing between your back teeth and the puffiness you were experiencing in your gums. We suggested the following:
*Porcelain veneers on your four upper front teeth which would replace the stained old fillings and eliminate the new decay that has formed around those fillings. If you choose this option, we will be able to not only stop the disease that is progressing but also create a beautiful appearance for your front teeth. We are concerned that delaying this will only make the situation more difficult to treat, and, of course, we would wish to avoid that if possible.
*An aggressive approach to battling the gum disease you have developed. We are as concerned as you are about this ongoing problem, and we believe the most appropriate clinical approach is to begin treating the disease before it gets worse (which you know it inevitably will do, if left untreated) and causes other problems you wish to avoid. The treatment would consist of four sessions with Jean, our dental hygienist who would deliver thorough yet comfortable therapy. We remain concerned that in delaying this treatment, your disease may progress and be harder to treat.
*Gold crowns for those four teeth in the back which are allowing food to be caught and annoying you to no end. New crowns will solve this problem by making sure there is enough space between teeth for you to clean yet not so much as to allow normal chewing to pack food into the gaps. While this is not the most pressing situation for you, this situation can contribute to further decay and gum problems if left unaddressed.
Donald, we certainly want to offer you the right help at the right time. From a clinical perspective, the time is now, for none of these problems, or the conditions that are causing them, will get better on their own.
Perhaps there are some personal issues which have made it difficult for you to choose this care for yourself right now. If that is the case, we may be able to suggest an interim approach to getting your disease under control until you can opt for the more long-lasting and durable solutions. Of course, we can only help you if share with us what you are thinking now, so I hope you will take this letter as encouragement to call for an appointment to re-evaluate your condition and strategize with us.
I have asked Barbara to give you a call in a few days to follow up and learn what you are thinking at this point, so I do hope you will respond to her call.
Dr. Randy Baker
PS – Please let us know if this is not the right time for you so we can look for another approach which might work better. While we have expertise on clinical matters, only you know what will fit into your life. For these reasons, you will always be in charge of the timing that will best suit you.
More work? Yes. Lost patient? Highly unlikely.
This approach to contacting and maintaining an open link of communication with your patients will give you a better chance of helping them when they are ready.
Dialing for dollars? Leave that to the telemarketers.