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Jeffrey Blumberg Chief Operating Officer at MGE Management ExpertsWhen we use the term “new patient conversion,” what are we talking about? Simple:

We’re referring to the process of turning an incoming call into a new patient that actually shows up into the office.

Now, with this in mind, we could also measure the performance of this area in your practice or the “conversion rate.” E.g. you get 100 phone calls and 50 people schedule and show up, that would be 50%. Easy.  And here’s where a large “marketing” variable enters the picture. You spend the same amount of money in marketing to get those 100 phone calls – whether your conversion rate is 10, 20 or 50%. Where a lower conversion rate hurts your office is not so much in what you spend – but in what you lose.

And low conversion rates are a real problem in the dental industry. And I’ll get into some “real-world” numbers to make my point, followed by ways to bring about immediate improvement in your office.

Our friends at Viva Concepts did an exhaustive study on new patient conversion rates in which they reviewed over 10,000 dental office new patient calls. And what they found is that the average conversion rate for dentists in the US is 23%. That means for every 100 new patient phone calls the average dental office receives, only 23 become new patients. It’s a staggeringly low figure when you consider the other side of this equation: out of these 100 calls, 77 did NOT turn into new patients.

So with this in mind, I wanted to provide three simple points that you can do…QUICKLY which might help you to start recovering some of these “lost” new patient opportunities.

POINT 1: Re-thinking the receptionist position.

Your receptionist is the first point of contact for your office with the outside world – whether it’s a prospective new patient, patient of record or anyone for that matter that might be contacting your practice.  And not only would they be the first point of contact via phone – but normally with where they are situated, they would be the first point of contact “in person,” along with being the individual most responsible for initial interactions with anyone entering the office.

When you look at it from this perspective – you’ll see that a number of key business processes are riding on your receptionist.

When new administrative staff are hired in a dental practice, what task are they taught first?  In most places they are asked to function as the “receptionist,” and to handle the phones!  Why? Well it’s easy to teach someone to say, “thank you for calling ABC dental, my name is ___________, I can help you.” And that’s great. But how about when a prospective new patient asks, “do you take my plan?” Or, when your new receptionist fumbles the handling of new patient intake forms? Or acts clueless when a patient of record calls in with appointment or accounting questions?

The problem is these mistakes can cost your practice an ENORMOUS sum in lost potential income and goodwill.  And keep in mind that the VAST majority of these cases have nothing to do with the quality of your new “receptionist” and everything to do with their lack of training.

As far as “lost potential,” let’s examine how this might affect your new patient flow. Keeping in mind the “average” 23% new patient conversion rate, I want to give you two other numbers:

  • The average dental practice in the US sees 30 new patients per month and,
  • The average new patient is worth $1,200 per year in their first year to a dental practice.

Again, these statistics come from Viva Concepts.

So, if the average dental practice is seeing 30 new patients per month, but….

The average conversion rate is 23%, how does this work out? In other words, what is 30 (new patients) 23% of?

130. Prospective. New. Patient. Phone. Calls…

Ouch.

130 X .23 (23%) = 30.

To get those 30 new patients, the average dental practice receives 130 prospective new patient calls.

Behind those 30 new patients that actually meet the dentist were 130 phone calls; and 100 people who never became a new patient…at least not in that doctor’s practice…

Now, what is the practice losing if they’re at this average conversion rate of 23%?

Well, they lost 100 prospective new patients at $1,200 each. That’s $120,000 per year lost because of the conversion rate! In just that month alone…

Of course, converting 100% would be unrealistic.

But 50% isn’t. And truthfully it should be higher than that. But let’s just take 50%

Using the numbers above, if this doctor converted 50% versus 23%, how does that shake out?

Well – 50% conversion of 130 calls would be 65 new patients – 35 more.

And moving that into recovered revenue? Well, those 35 new patients at an average of $1,200 in their first year = 35 X $1,200 = $42,000!

Now, you see what I mean when I say “re-thinking” the receptionist position. We’ve hired a new staff member who doesn’t know much about dentistry and we have them answering our phone. Their lack of knowledge could potentially result in a loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year! In other words, this position is IMPORTANT.  Far more than you might have ever considered. With this in mind:

  1. Don’t go “on the cheap,” when bringing in a receptionist. Get someone who has skills.
  2. When you get that personnel with skills, don’t immediately let them loose on your prospective new patients. Have them do something easy, such as reactivation calls, while getting training and settling into the office. Once they have a grasp of how to handle these, the person currently doing conversions (assuming they are good at it), can train them to take the position over.

POINT 2: Attitude at Reception

When I say attitude, I’m not referring to the receptionist not having a “bad” attitude. That’s a no-brainer. I’m instead looking at how the receptionist operates with relation to incoming communication.

The receptionist position demands sort of a “split” personality. On one hand, they are the “gate keeper,” and keep you from having to take sales calls all day.  (Unless of course it’s an MGE call, which they should definitely pass directly to you…joke) On the flip side, you want to be welcoming and friendly with patient and prospective new patient calls. So, they sort of have to flip between being a gate keeper and being the friendly, welcoming person receiving communication from prospective patients.

This concept of “receiving” is inherent in the word receptionist itself, and derives from a Latin word that means to take in or admit. So ideally, that would be the attitude your receptionist would operate with at all times. You want them to be willing to take in communication from everyone; they’re comfortable and happy about it, they’re not trying to stop it. Now, once they’ve figured out who they’re talking to they can act accordingly.

POINT 3: Quality of communication

A lot of receptionist training that I’ve seen focuses on the words to say. Always say “yes,” never say “no,” always say “this” word, never say “that” word, etc. It begins to place the focus in the wrong place.

Another interesting statistic from Viva: there is a direct ratio between the length of time your receptionist spends on the phone with a prospective new patient and the percentage that convert. In other words, the longer the receptionist spends on the phone with a prospective new patient, the higher the conversion percentage.

So, you don’t necessarily want the conversation to be short. Of course, someone could take this to a ridiculous degree:

RECEPTIONIST: Could you grab that call? I’m still on the phone with the potential new patient.

FINANCIAL SECRETARY: Really? It’s been an hour?

I’m obviously making a lame joke here. But I guess the point is – this might be a 10 minute call.  Which brings us to the point.

In order to spend time with a prospective patient on the phone it’s required that your receptionist has the ability to establish quality communication with an incoming caller.

In other words. Not this:

Caller: “Hi, I’d like to know how much your office charges for a crown.”

Receptionist: “I’m sorry, we don’t quote prices over the phone.” *click*

I’ve seen this A LOT.  And it’s a wasted opportunity.

To begin, what do you know if a patient is calling to find out how much you charge for a crown? Well, someone (we’re assuming a dentist) told them they needed a crown. I doubt they diagnosed themselves with their bathroom mirror. Second, they probably need more than one crown because they’re most likely not going to leave their dentist to get a lower fee for one crown. They may however leave their dentist if they think they can save on the fee for three or four crowns. It adds up.

So, the idea is you want your receptionist to build rapport and communication with the person that’s calling. You don’t want to just dead-end the communication. So, a receptionist who has difficulty communicating is going to have a hard time doing this and converting prospective new patients.

They have to be able to communicate because this is a real person calling with a real problem and your receptionist needs to be able to discover what that problem is.

Think about your experiences as a customer when calling a business, both good and bad. What made it bad and what made it good? I can probably guess at what made it bad: the person answering the phone was rude, could or would not answer your questions, and/or the communication was choppy. You may have waiting a long time. Well, these are things that you don’t want in your office. You want callers to feel welcomed, to speak to someone who is friendly and doesn’t sound rushed or distracted, and that is genuinely interested in the person calling your office.

I’ve been to over 1,000 different dental and health care offices across the United States. I’ve seen most everything you might imagine. I’ve walked into offices where the receptionist virtually turns people away. I’ve seen rude receptionists, disinterested receptionists and receptionists who think telling their co-worker about their weekend ranks higher than greeting a patient.  If anything, not the best first impression. And remember, your first impression is built in a very short period of time; depending on the study you read, t’s built within 10 seconds, 15 seconds, a minute, etc. It doesn’t really matter, all studies I’ve seen reflect that it doesn’t take long. And that first impression is what is going to last for the rest of that patient’s association with your business.

So, those are the 3 things you can do to improve your new patient conversion. A couple of other ideas I can give you are:

  1. We do a lot of training on this on our online training platform, DDSSuccess.com. You should check it out. There is training on phone skills as well as communication.
  2. If you want to see this live, we do go over new patient conversions and receptionist training at our MGE New Patient Workshop, click here to find out when the next one in your area will be.

I hope this helps! If you have any questions, please call us at (800) 640-1140 to get immediate help.

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