Article Date: 5/1/2010

Phone Protocol Is Never Casual
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Phone Protocol Is Never Casual

Proper phone etiquette separates your practice from the competition.

RICHARD S. KATTOUF, O.D., D.O.S.

Q There seems to be an increase in the number of practices that don't insist upon proper protocol on the phone and with patients in general. What's your definition of proper?

Dr. S.A. Young
via e-mail

A: Society in general has become very casual in all aspects of life. Years ago patients paid attention to their appearance prior to a doctor visit. No more. Anything goes… including rude behavior with cell phones.

Yet the consumer, young and old still notice and appreciate proper phone protocol. When you establish this as part of your practice tice, you exhibit practice separation — that is you separate your practice from the competition.

The proper protocol for all practices:

Establish an answering script. Have an “organizational” way of answering the phone to show patients your practice is professional. Call a Ritz Carlton or Hyatt Regency Hotel and you'll hear this method. “Thank you for calling Advanced Eyecare Melynda speaking” is a great example for an optometric practice.

Never allow staff to put the patient on hold for more than 30 seconds. This is poor patient service. It truly amazes me when I'm put on hold for three minutes or more. When an employee realizes a task will require more than 30 seconds, have him simply take the patient's full name and number, and return the call within five to 10 minutes — no longer. Also, when taking the patient off “hold,” always have staff use his name: “Thank you for holding, Nathan.” This establishes a rapport with the patient.

Have staff identify themselves by name. If a patient has spent 10 minutes explaining an insurance issue he needs to re-connect with the same employee he spoke with to prevent repeating the entire situation. Here protocol increases efficiency and productivity.

Don't allow staff to answer the phone sounding like a robot. Have them speak slowly distinctly and always have a smile on their face. One's facial expression and therefore, attitude, transfers through the phone.

Have staff respond in a calm, professional manner. Because my last name is difficult to pronounce, I consciously speak slowly and as distinctively as possible. Regard-less, many times the answering employee screams back,“DOCTOR WHO?!” It takes no more calories to respond: “Doctor, would you please spell your last name for me? Thank you, Dr. Kattouf.”

Have staff ask for the proper spelling of a patient's name and address. This is important, as patients could be offended if this information is wrong.

Have staff use proper titles. Have your staff use “Dr.,” “Atty.,” “Rev,” “Pastor” or “Rabbi” when appropriate. This attention to detail creates practice separation.

Have staff acquire all pertinent information, and repeat it. Your staff should always get first and last names and repeat spellings numbers and e-mail addresses. Many employees assume the doctor knows the patient's first name but this isn't always the case.

Outlaw gum chewing, eating or drinking. These actions distract the employee from paying total attention to the patient and look unprofessional.

Proper phone etiquette is essential to communicate to your patients that your office is special and unique from other practices. OM


DR. KATTOUF IS PRESIDENT AND FOUNDER OF TWO MANAGEMENT AND CONSULTING COMPANIES. FOR INFORMATION, CALL (800) 745-EYES, OR E-MAIL HIM AT ADVANCEDEYECARE@HOTMAIL.COM. THE INFORMATION IN THIS COLUMN IS BASED ON ACTUAL CONSULTING FILES.

Optometric Management, Issue: May 2010