Last updated on February 15th, 2023 at 12:29 pm

In an effort to stimulate practice growth, you may spend thousands on marketing (SEO, postcards, care-to-share programs, reactivation efforts, etc.).  And unfortunately, you may be doing this while overlooking the most important factors in practice growth… Your Receptionist.

And while it’s fairly obvious that the Receptionist position ranks high in importance with regards to new patients, it also has a large impact on retention and referrals – whether patients-of-record keep showing up, leave positive reviews online and refer their friends and family.

And despite the potential impact it has on a practice, you’ll often find the “receptionist” to be the least experienced and often lowest paid person in the office! When you look at it this way, it doesn’t make all that much sense does it? I mean all they’re doing is handling ALL of your incoming calls and clientele…no big deal, right? (I’m kidding).

Why does this happen?

Well, it’s easy to train a receptionist on the rudimentary functions of the job, as compared to more complex positions in the office (e.g. Financial Coordinator). All you have to do is teach them how to answer the phone and greet patients, maybe schedule a bit. Far easier than billing insurances, double booking a schedule and so on. A couple of days of training is all they need. Then what happens? They do it well and get promoted, you hire a newbie for reception and the cycle repeats.

(Related: 6 Mistakes That Dental Front Offices Make)

I’d suggest that we need to take a different view of this position. The receptionist is the key ambassador for your business. They’re your partner in growing the practice. They are the first point of contact (and hence the first impression) for your office. They are the first person someone sees when they walk in and the first person that they speak with when they call in. They have an incredible influence on the potential success of your entire practice.

Whenever we have a client pouring money into proven marketing that doesn’t seem to “work for them,” the first place we look is the receptionist. And nine times out of ten that’s where they are having a problem. Maybe it’s the wrong person for the job or it’s the right person that has no idea what they should be doing to operate effectively.

I won’t hammer on this point too much, because we have tons of content about how to answer the phones and improve the new patient call conversion rate. You can find some more articles here and videos here. Plus, we have an entire course dedicated to phone skills and receptionist training on our online training platform, DDS Success.

(Related: 3 Ways to Improve New Patient Conversion)

What I wanted to focus on this post was the ideal skillset for a receptionist in a dental office.

1. The receptionist needs great (not good) communication skills.

You don’t want someone that is shy or backed off when it comes to talking to people. You want someone that is upbeat and sounds cheerful. Now you can’t always control how someone sounds over the phone but one rule that I find helps is if you tell the receptionist to answer the phone with a smile. It’s hard to sound frustrated or bored when you’re smiling.

I can’t tell you how many doctor’s offices I’ve called and thought, “Yikes, if I had been a patient calling this office, I would have gone somewhere else…” regardless of how good their online reviews are or how beautiful their website is.

Communication skills can definitely be improved – in fact, we have multiple courses on our online training platform at www.ddssuccess.com dedicated to the receptionist position, phone skills and communication skills. We also teach how to answer the phones effectively at the MGE New Patient Workshop. There is a lot to learn for anybody to be highly competent at the receptionist job, but the basic raw talent has to be there and to put it simply, they must like talking to people and can’t come across as miserable or frustrated. If that basic raw talent is in place, you can make them a superstar employee with these courses.

2. You want someone with a good ability to manage their environment and other people.

By this I mean two things: A) someone with the attitude that they can proactively make things happen and doesn’t just sit back and watch.

Can they get that new patient scheduled or on the phone with the OM, Scheduler or NP coordinator? Can they handle the patients in the waiting room and the ringing phone without anyone noticing he or she has 5 things happening at once?

If I’m constantly hearing “They didn’t answer…” “I don’t know, they didn’t show up…” or I hear the phone is ringing multiple times without being answered or see that patients in the waiting room are upset or don’t know what’s happening – and the receptionist is just going about their own business and not working to handle it, I know that this person probably isn’t a good fit for the position.

Of course, there are times when patients don’t answer their phone, or some situation comes up that the Office Manager needs to handle, but the person can’t have the viewpoint of “What am I supposed to do about it? It’s not my responsibility…”

(Related: One Incredibly Simple Change to Make Your Front Desk More Efficient)

And B) they can’t get frazzled or overwhelmed with a lot going on. I can tell you as someone that has been a receptionist myself, sometimes there is a LOT going on. There are times when everybody calls all at once, multiple patients are arriving and checking out, and the recall cards need to go out today. It can be hectic, but as soon as the receptionist gets overwhelmed or frazzled, that comes across to your patients and can be an immediate killer of new business coming in.

3. And finally, you need to have someone that loves that job.

Now you could of course say that about most jobs, however I find that its most important on this position. If the person hates answering the phones or gets annoyed by “another patient” calling in when he or she is “trying to work,” that is going to come across in their communication. And there’s nothing worse for your business than an annoyed or miserable receptionist.

Find someone that loves to talk to people, has good command of their environment and those around them and loves the idea of helping you grow your business from the front line. And when you find this person, don’t immediately transfer them to the Scheduler or some other position in the office, and then keep hiring new receptionists until you find one that’s just mediocre enough to get stuck there. I’m not saying don’t promote someone that wants a promotion – I’m not trying to cut anyone’s career path here – but if someone’s good at the receptionist job, value it. I can tell you here at MGE I have had the same FANTASTIC receptionist for seven years now.

(Related: 4 Tips for Hiring Great Front Office Staff)

As I mentioned earlier, it can sometimes be the lowest-paid position in the office; I suggest changing that. Think of all the money you spend on marketing; a good receptionist will make that worth it and may save you from having to spend more to get the new patient numbers you need.

Now take a look, do you have the right person on your front desk? If you’re not sure, call in and pretend to be a patient calling in; see how you are handled. Try this at various points in the day or have a friend or spouse call in and give you their feedback. Listen to how your patients are being handled at the front, look at how the receptionist responds when the front door opens. You may solve all your new patient problems just by replacing or training the person on the front desk.

I hope this tip helps! I also highly recommend checking out our 2-day seminar, the New Patient Workshop, where we’ll give you a system for acquiring and retaining more high-quality new patients. If you aren’t able to make it to the New Patient Workshop, I suggest checking out our online training platform, DDS Success — it is a subscription-based platform that allows you to train your staff from the comfort of your own office.


2 Responses to “Hiring the Right Receptionist for Your Dental Practice”

  1. Holli Perez

    Can I use this blog post as a guest blog post on my websites? DirectDental.com is a specialized job board that allows offices to staff themselves with Permanent and Temporary employees. DirectDentalStaffing.com is our traditional dental staffing agency. If allowed to use as a post, it will be emailed out to over 1000 of our dental practice clients in the Southern California area. Please let us know if that is ok. Thank you,
    Holli Perez

    • Kelly McKinnis

      Hi Holli! Yes, that’s OK with us as long as there is credit given to the author and a link back to our site. Thanks! – Kelly, MGE Marketing Team


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