In our previous articles, we have looked at orthodontic marketing, using social media to attract patients and most recently, how you can develop a patient-focussed website. All this has led to the important moment when the patient, after considering all that you and your competitors have to offer, has decided to contact you to take their enquiry about starting treatment to the next stage. In this article, we will look at how you can ensure your patient enquiry processes are aligned to the needs of your prospective patients.

It’s still all about the patient

You would have seen a common theme emerging across our three previous articles where we have encouraged you to put the patient at the centre of all your marketing activities. Considering the patient experience in everything you do is one of the key ways you will differentiate yourself from others and in doing so, will make the decision-making process for the patient so much easier.

On the assumption that the patient has seen and become engaged with your social media posts which in turn has directed them to your website, you should have a fairly good idea of what the patient is likely to expect when they first contact you. If your marketing suggests the patient will be welcomed by a knowledgeable and friendly team who are on hand to answer all your questions then do not be surprised if the patient, calls you the moment you open on a busy Monday morning or five minutes into your second major IT failure of the day, gets a little confused if the response is anything less than what they had been led to believe.

For many patients, making the first contact with the practice can be a little daunting and for these people, they may prefer to use email or a contact form on your website. This gives you an advantage in that you can contact the person at a time that is suitable for you free from interruptions and distractions. It is important to remember that what is routine for you and existing patients, is all very new to someone who has been worrying about getting their teeth straightened for a while. Whilst adult orthodontics is widely undertaken, there is still a degree of apprehension from patients who may have had a negative experience previously or are concerned by what you and others may say about their teeth and their suitability for any subsequent treatment.

When a patient contacts you, they are doing so at a time that is likely to be convenient to them. They have probably set aside 15 minutes when they can talk to you in privacy and it is not unreasonable for them to expect you to reciprocate. The realities of working in a busy practice often mean that the phone is answered by someone working on the reception desk, busy managing patients and dealing with clinical staff so it is unlikely that they would have the time to properly deal with new enquiries. This is a barrier we frequently encounter and one that needs to be addressed if you want to improve your patient process.

Taking a call away from the reception desk is by far the best option as this allows a conversation to develop and for the patient to get a good appreciation of the experience of undertaking treatment at the practice. Both parties have time to ask questions and explore solutions but most importantly, a relationship can be built up that takes the enquirer to the next stage which is usually booking a consultation or visiting the practice.

Not every practice has the opportunity to take calls away from the reception desk due to staffing or practice layout and in this situation, you need to ensure adequate cover so that one member of the team can take calls without feeling under pressure to close them quickly so that they can attend to other duties. Where this is difficult to achieve, it is best practice to let the person know that you would like to get their details so that you can call them back and spend more time with them later in the day. Most people will be fine with this and would rather this approach than feel rushed talking about what is often a costly and lengthy course of treatment.

Ask better questions

When visiting practices and training staff, we have observed many calls and one common factor is that very quickly the conversation moves onto what treatments you offer. Sometimes this is even before you have asked the caller’s name! If there is one aspect of the call you should change to improve your engagement with potential patients, it is to start developing a relationship with the patient early in the call and you do this by asking better questions.

When patients call you to enquire about treatment, they would likely have researched orthodontic treatment options, looked at your social media posts and website, compared you to others in the area and considered a list of topics to validate their decision to proceed with treatment. What they are not generally expecting, but often very much welcome, is someone answering the call who takes a genuine interest in them as a person.

Think about a recent conversation with someone where you started to develop a strong relationship. I would imagine this didn’t happen through rapid fire questioning but by each party taking a keen interest in the other and asking questions that made you both think. The same should be applied to someone enquiring about orthodontic treatment. Take the time to get to know them, ask them about what it is about their teeth that concern them, and ask about why they are considering orthodontic treatment now and what their expectations are during and after treatment. It is only once you have started to learn more about the patient, you can start offering solutions to the issues they have described to you and gently introduce them to taking the next step towards starting treatment. And they will be more likely to do this if they like you.

There will always be some people who are simply looking for a few quick answers to validate a decision they have already made and in our experience, this is often to go elsewhere for treatment. If they believe you will be too expensive or not be able to offer the solution they want, they will ask you fairly closed questions, sometimes prompted by competitors, just to reaffirm their decision. Sometimes people are rushed for time and what may have been planned as a relaxed call turns into anything but on these occasions, it’s always worth asking whether they would prefer you to call them back at a better time. Where possible, make sure you collect contact details early in the conversation so if the call terminates for any reason, you can contact them again.

It takes time to develop a consistent approach to promoting your treatment by phone and the best way to develop this is to simply practice it and to reflect on what went well and what you might do differently next time. Ask colleagues for feedback, undertake some role-plays and take the time to learn more about holding better conversations through reading some of the many excellent books on the subject.

The next stage

If your call goes well and the patient has validated their decision to explore treatment further, the next stage is usually to visit the practice for a consultation. In the next article, we will look at this in more detail and share with you some insights to further improve your patient engagement activities.

This article appeared in the July/August issue of Orthodontic Practice