Editor’s Note: MGE Client Justene Doan, DDS practices in the San Diego, CA area with her husband, Roger Tran, DDS. Since first becoming a clients, their practice has grown considerably; now a multi-provider practice with two locations, three General Dentists and two specialists. Looking for ways to maintain the highest level of personalized service in a large practice (that is still growing), Dr. Doan adopted a number of successful actions, one of which is detailed in this article. And while this article is most applicable to a larger practice, many of the concepts therein can be useful to improve efficiency and production in offices of all sizes. We hope you enjoy! – The Editor.
Over the last few years, we’ve been growing at a steady clip, getting busier and busier and busier. (In fact, since we started with MGE our collections have increased by 500%!) And recently, we got to see just how chaotic things can get at the front desk if you’re not organized properly for this growth!
We wound up needing four work stations at the front desk—one for the Receptionist answering the phone and checking patients in, two for checking patients out and collecting payments, and another for the Office Manager or Assistant Office Manager.
This wasn’t a very efficient set up, because we still had a few specific problems:
- My Office Manager had to train and apprentice 3-4 other staff members on answering the phone, because it was ringing so often.
- Even still, the phone would ring for a long time—and I didn’t like this, because I have a policy that the phone should always be answered on the first ring.
- When a patient was being checked out of the office, they would often be interrupted because the phone would ring and the staff member would need to take it. Not good customer service!
- There were too many mistakes on the schedule, because there were so many “hands” involved, and the staff setting the appointments were often distracted.
Then I heard of the “call center” concept which is used by large dental corporations. The idea is to get the phone answered in a separate area, away from the front desk so that front desk staff can focus on helping the patients in front of them and not be bothered by the phone ringing.
Now, I certainly don’t want to outsource the phones to an external call center agency, but I figured that I could rearrange my office so that my staff answering the phone were in a separate room from the staff checking patients in and out.
It worked out fantastically for us! As a direct result of this:
1. My phone is answered more effectively and professionally, because the only people answering the phones are thoroughly trained and skilled in doing so.
2. The phone is always answered on the first ring, and nothing is missed.
3. Extremely minimal mistakes on the schedule.
4. My Office Manager only needs to oversee two staff members on the phone, and doesn’t need to answer the phone herself.
5. The customer service is much better, because patients in the office get 100% of the front desk’s attention and callers get 100% of the receptionists’ attention.
6. My front desk staff are much happier and less stressed throughout the day.
7. Production has increased so much that we added two more days of hygiene and one more day of doctor production per week! This translated to a 10% increase in collections (an additional $30,000+ a month).
Here’s how we did it:
We were lucky to have an extra private room with space for two work stations in it. So, I put two front office staff in there and assigned them the responsibility of maintaining a full productive schedule. This is our “call center.” They focus on the phones and filling the schedule. They are not interrupted by having to greet or check a patient out.
Now, of course there aren’t enough incoming phone calls to fill up entire 8 hour days of two employees. So, when they aren’t answering the phones, they are making calls or writing letters/emails to:
- Confirm appointments
- Schedule patients who are overdue for recall.
- Reactivate patients who haven’t been into the practice for a while. (We generally follow MGE’s Reactivation Program to get old inactive patients back in the chair. You can find out more about reactivation in Jeff Blumberg’s blog post Reactivating Your Patient Base and download a free copy of MGE’s Reactivation Program here.)
- Schedule patients with outstanding treatment to come in for a consult.
- Do anything else they can to fill areas of the schedule that are a little too light.
And then the other two staff are at the front desk: one to check patients in and one to check them out and collect payment. This means that patients arriving are always greeted immediately with a smile, and the employee checking patients out can follow up on collections without being distracted, meaning we get paid more promptly and consistently.
Looking back, I wish I had implemented this “call center” concept sooner. It keeps paying off in little ways. In fact, just the other day, I noticed that the following day was only 50% filled for three hygienists—way too much open time! I was busy at the time, though, so I wasn’t able to follow up on it personally. Then just a few hours later at 4:00 PM I checked again and saw that it was now 85% filled! My two call center staff said they just worked well together, un-interrupted and got the work done! They could do it because they weren’t so spread out doing other duties.
I encourage you to try this in your office, even if you don’t have as many staff as I do. As soon as you have three front office staff (including your Office Manager), you can split them up so that one can see patients and the other can take the phone.
If you have any questions, email me at JusteneDoanDDS@yahoo.com. I’d be happy to help. And of course, I highly recommend getting in touch with MGE. They’ve helped me grow, organize, and improve profitability, and they can help you, too!