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Inbound Phone Calls: Why You Are Losing New Business

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

"Lose" slot machineEvery medical provider's office gets at least two kinds of “opportunity” phone calls (described below) that potentially mean new business. Unfortunately, most doctors, medical groups and hospitals are losing new patients and cases when the phone rings…and they don’t know it.

Here’s what’s going wrong, and what do instead.

We don’t mean to be unkind here, but the person responsible for answering the phone at a typical doctor’s office is probably new, lower paid, least experienced, least knowledgeable, and maybe a part-time employee. (After all, anyone can answer the phone. Right?) Too often the position was filled out of convenience, and with the wrong person.

[bctt tweet="Doctors, medical groups and hospitals are losing new patients and cases when the phone rings…and they don’t know it."]That’s not to say that the person answering the phone doesn’t have a pleasant personality and/or a good “phone voice.” Those are good points. But in the real world, the “phone person” likely has many duties, they are busy and perhaps distracted. And, to make matters worse, some offices do not have a full-time or designated person when “whoever’s available” can “catch the phone.”

Call Type One: A Referred Patient Needs an Appointment -- Patients who are referred to your office by another doctor are probably committed to making an appointment. But patients are informed consumers, and they do have choices. If they are new to your office they have at least some degree of mental reservation about seeing a new/different provider.

If an inexperienced person handles the initial call poorly, a negative first impression instantly erodes confidence in the practice and the doctor. At best, their commitment to your office is tentative anyway, and consumers can, and often do, go elsewhere.

Call Type Two: An Individual Makes an Inquiry -- An inquiry call—from advertising or self-referral—is a distinctly different animal. And converting an inquiry to an appointment (and becoming a new patient) is your opportunity to lose. This is the biggest hole in the bucket. Many callers—as much as 30 to 60 percent—are not making an appointment.

This type of caller has not decided on choice of provider, and they are not yet convinced that they should, or need, an appointment. This caller needs to be assured that they are making the right decision, that your practice and doctor is an answer to their need. This is not a task for your newest and least knowledgeable employee.

What you need to do instead…

The value of each inbound call, and the skills of the person responsible for answering the phone, are seriously underestimated in many offices.

  • Recognize that your “phone person” is one of the most influential members of your staff;
  • Hire the right person; someone with genuine sales and communications skills;
  • Provide call conversion training for the primary and secondary staff members;
  • Monitor and measure call activity on the number of calls vs. appointments booked;
  • Understand your conversion percentage (have you lost three appointments out of 10?);
  • Assign specific responsibility for the person to be accountable for performance.

Calculate the value of missed opportunity…

Excellence in staff support can make a significant difference in converting new patient opportunity. If you’re losing just one case per day when the phone rings, with a case size of $1,000, that would be a six-figure shortfall in new business opportunity each year.

For an eye-opening look at the numbers, see: What Your Phone Conversion Rate Means to Gross Margin. And give us a call today about staff phone training that converts more first time callers and enhance customer service and satisfaction. We’re here to help.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA

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