Front desk staff can create lasting, positive impressions — when trained

Who is usually the lowest paid employee in a bank? It’s likely a teller. Who is typically the lowest paid employee in a restaurant? It’s likely the greeter. Who is usually the lowest paid employee in most O.D. practices? It’s likely the receptionist or “front desk greeter.”

Of course, lowest paid doesn’t necessarily equate to lowest skill. But it does show that human resources decision makers (likely you in your practice) have decided to allocate as little pay as possible to someone who is “just answering the phones.” After all, you surmise, how hard is that? Or how hard is it to say, “Welcome to Steaks Are Us.”


Because many optometrists equate low wages to low skill, they also associate low wages to low priority — particularly regarding training. Specifically, we’re likely to put more energy, thought and resources into training a technician to operate an OCT than a receptionist booking an appointment. Yet, if that appointment isn’t booked, there won’t be a patient to be tested with your OCT!


Training should end where most of us start; with the mechanics. Things like, “After you book the appointment, click here and enter X, then click here and enter Y” should, but rarely do, come last. The first thing to discuss is why you are about to ask the receptionist to do a particular task:

“Our practice was built on a foundation of trust. Being a fourth-generation O.D. practice and being a part of the community for more than 70 years, patients trust us. That’s at the core of why they come here. Yes, we have cool glasses and lots of new technology, but so do many other doctors. Trust is paramount and the bedrock of our success. Now, let’s talk about how to book an appointment.” This is very different than saying, “Memorize this script for callers.”

Scripts are OK as general guidelines, but should not be read verbatim. When they are, they sound like — well, they’re being read. Instead, use a script to reinforce what the key elements to an encounter should be. Make sure to always get back (trust in our example above) to why the script says what it does:

“Dr. Senior can’t see you for three months, but his new associate, Dr. Junior, has an opening next Tuesday, and she is really a superstar doctor” will be more credible, as it’s delivered from a position of authenticity built on trust. That’s very different than, “Sorry; Senior is booked, but Junior isn’t.”

Also, make sure your staff knows when to stop talking:

“I’m so sorry, but your contact lenses still haven’t come back, and we feel terrible about that. I’ll check on them and get back to you within the hour” is good. Adding, “It wasn’t our fault” or “Company X does that all the time; it’s so frustrating” or “UPS lost them and is tracking where they are” doesn’t add to the patient’s goal of getting their contact lenses. Make sure your staff knows how to politely and succinctly get to the point!


The main point: Put in the requisite time to train your front-line staff as they will be the ones who set the tone for everything else that follows, including for follow-up communications with patients. (“Are my glasses ready yet?”) These same people represent all that you’ve worked for your entire life. Of course, in today’s digital world, the first entrée to your practice might be your website or social media presence. Make sure to put the same amount of thought into that as training your front-line employees. OM