Optometric Management Tip # 115   -   Wednesday, March 31, 2004
Converting phone callers to appointments

This is a great topic for a staff meeting because even though most offices have discussed this at one time, it's easy for receptionists to get busy and gradually fade away from the goal of booking as many appointments as possible. And newer employees may not even know the importance of this task. It's important to revisit the techniques for turning callers into patients.

Start by thinking about what makes you want to do business with any business that you might call for information, and makes you hang up and move on with others. It's hard to describe the qualities in an employee that makes the difference... but we know it when we hear it. It has to do with conveying a feeling of caring and confidence. A friendly tone of voice, asking the right questions that imply an understanding of the callers wants and needs, along with a presenting a confident feeling that the caller has reached the best practice in the community.

Doctors may find that coming up with the best answers to frequently asked questions - and then expanding on that answer -- is harder than they thought. For example, consider your ideal response to these questions. Do you think all your staff members would answer the way you do? A useful exercise is to have each person at your next staff meeting answer these and other questions as if they were on the phone. It is a type of role-playing and it's a great way to learn from each other, and it sticks with you when you act it out. Each of your receptionists may have a good tip they can share - and the doctor may have a different perspective.

Another excellent learning tool is to call other eye care offices, pose these questions and listen to how the staff person responds. Take notes. Quite often, this is a great way to learn what not to do. But remember; if other practices make some common errors in telephone technique - so might yours or mine.

Don't forget to listen to how your own staff handles callers on a day-to-day basis, and meet one-on-one with your employee in a constructive way to train him or her to improve their skills.

After working with your staff on the best response to common questions, you may want to write up a short script to guide them in their telephone technique. But eventually, speaking in their own words is probably best because otherwise it may sound, well, scripted.

In my view, the main goal for the receptionist is to go beyond the short, direct answer to the caller's question, and to further engage the caller. This generally happens when the receptionist asks questions of the caller. This creates a conversation, and the natural talent and personality of the receptionist can shine through. I'm assuming the receptionist has a friendly nature and can be pleasant, or she wouldn't have been hired. A one word answer to a question just leaves the patient hanging and often ends in "OK - thank you - goodbye". When the receptionist asks questions, it shows interest and caring, and lets the caller talk about him or herself. Any relevant question will do - such as: One other key factor is needed for the receptionist to ask questions of the caller... time. If the receptionist is always super rushed, she will only have time for one word answers.

Best wishes for continued success,

Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Chief Optometric Editor, Optometric Management