Article Date: 12/1/2006

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Going Off The Script

Allow staff to use their own words to create a personal patient encounter.

GARY GERBER, O.D.

"How much do contact lenses cost? Why so much? Do you take my insurance? Why not?" Questions like these can rattle even the most seasoned receptionist, let alone a veteran practitioner. Yet, they continue. Beyond throwing your hands up in disgust, how do you handle these calls? Do you have scripts prepared for your receptionist to answer these and other tough questions?

Hopefully the answer is, "no." Our consulting company prefers a strategy different from the oft-used phone scripts. Here are three reasons why.

1. Is that filed under S for stigmatism or F for phone? Just setting up simple logistics of finding the correct script or knowing which one to use are reasons enough to avoid them. If you ignore our advice on using them in the first place, at least have the scripts accessible as a clickable icon on your staffs' desktop computers to avoid unnecessary delays when employees have to look them up. Also, put together a meaningful logic tree that allows the scripts to be cross-referenced since seemingly different questions might require similar scripts. For example, the answer to, "How much is an eye exam?" might morph into, "Which insurance plans do you take?"

2. We've been open for 12 years — Oops, sorry, make that 14. Technology changes. Staff changes. The services you offer change. Have your scripts changed? In our experience, probably not. We were in an office where a newly hired receptionist read from a script that referred to a doctor who was no longer associated with the practice!

3. Receptionists make bad actors. No matter how skilled your phone staff is, it can't be disguised that they are reading from a document and not delivering personalized information to the caller. This robotic tone of voice can be a major distraction from the content of the message, which severely dilutes its meaning.

So what do you do instead?

Concentrate on the core goals, message and sentiment you want your staff to deliver to the caller, and have them memorize those. For example, when a prospective patient calls and asks, "How much are contact lenses?" the goal is (hopefully) to convert that prospect into a patient. Yes, you have to answer the question, but if you focus too intently on the point-counterpoint aspect of the answer, you'll miss the opportunity to convert this caller into a patient. So, when working with your staff, set the goal of the call first, then deal with the question.

Next, concentrate on global messages and content instead of word-by-word scripts. For example, when asked how much contact lenses cost, have your staff give an answer that doesn't require a script, but references a range of fees.

Allowing staff to focus on the key content points and goals empowers them to use words they are comfortable with instead of reading from a script. Doing so provides a higher likelihood of the real message being delivered and heard.

Follow-up

To reinforce these goals and messages, role-play during an office meeting. Hand out an outline of the main bullet points you hope to convey to each caller, have staff "answer a call," and include these highlights using their own words.

To ensure compliance and make sure your message is being accurately delivered, have friends and family "mystery call" your office, and solicit their feedback. In particular, make sure the main points you practiced during the role-play were delivered.

DR. GERBER IS THE PRESIDENT OF THE POWER PRACTICE, A COMPANY SPECIALIZING IN MAKING OPTOMETRISTS MORE PROFITABLE. LEARN MORE AT WWW.POWERPRACTICE.COM, OR CALL DR. GERBER AT (800) 867-9303.



Optometric Management, Issue: December 2006