Do you know what is said to potential patients when they call into your orthodontic practice for the first time?

Do you know if the staff member taking the call is promoting you and the practice?

Do you know whether or not potential patients are turned off your practice during that call?

Most orthodontists, like you, spend the bulk of their day in the clinic, out of earshot of the front desk. This means they are often out of touch with how staff are handling calls with potential patients and what is said during those calls.

Practice management consultants are increasingly looking at what’s called the front desk conversion rate as part of overall conversion rates. Specifically, this is how many new patients who call in actually come into the office. That rate sits at about 70%; but obviously there is room for improvement.

So how does a practice not only improve this metric but also improve the quality and effectiveness of these patient interactions? Secret shopper calls.

For orthodontic practice management consultant Charlene White, founder of the consulting firm Progressive Concepts Inc, secret shopper calls offer practices a treasure trove of information about how they are performing during what is often the first patient interaction. Moreover, the insight gained from these calls can provide staff with actionable guidance to help improve the practice’s case acceptance process and that conversion rate.

To get started, clients submit a planning package that provides White and her staff with the needed information to make a believable patient call. That info includes zip codes and a referring dentist’s name. From there, the secret shopper call is placed.

As to whether it’s best for staff to know that a secret shopper will be calling in at some point, White, who has been providing secret shopper call services for over 35 years, says yes. “I have found it’s best if the doctor tells staff, ‘We really want to take our new patient calls to the top level and the best way to really do it is to do a secret shopper call. It will be taped, analyzed, and we will go from there.’ The purpose is not to point fingers or anything but to improve.”

When analyzing the call, White and her staff go through what the staff member did well and the areas that need more focus. She then provides the practice with a checklist of these points.

So, what’s one detail White looks for when analyzing calls: Did the staff member get the name of the person who was calling. “We did eight [secret shopper calls] last week and pretty much no one learned the caller’s name,” says White, who recommends staff not only get the caller’s name but also use the caller’s name throughout the conversation. “It does not need to be every sentence, but periodically throughout the call. It’s nice to hear your name,” she adds.

Another detail White notices in a lot of calls: Wasted time. As staff enter information into the computer, information that new patients are going to be asked to fill out themselves when they complete the intake forms in office, silence fills the line. “Moms are busy and they don’t want to do all that. They don’t want to repeat everything you ask them over the phone [again in the office]. So, it’s really better to keep the call shorter,” says White.

The key information staff should gather is the patient’s name, date of birth, and a cell phone number for texting appointment confirmations. As for patient address: It’s not necessary. “Most often, [practices] aren’t mailing [patients] anything in advance, but they go and get the whole address. Well, that takes a lot of time and you don’t need it,” says White. Instead, the call should focus on booking the appointment, and this should come at the beginning, not the end of the call. “Mom’s calling in, or the patient is calling in, because they want to make an appointment. That’s primary on their mind,” she points out.

And dotting all the I’s and crossing all the T’s doesn’t always mean a successful call, according to White. She gives the example of one practice that had two people answer the phone. One was focused on convincing the caller not to go to one of the practice’s locations because the orthodontist was only there a few days a month. The other staff member focused on getting all the new patient’s information entered into the computer during the call. The better call, according to White’s analysis: the former. The key was how the staff member handled the call: She was friendly and warm, garnering her the higher rating over the staff member who got all the information entered into the computer. As White points out, people make decisions based on how they feel.

In addition to the list of what was done right and what could be done better, White’s report includes statistics on how many calls are coming into the practice, how many patients come in as a result of those calls, and how many are no shows. These key performance indicators provide the practice with benchmarks as they move forward. To help the practice improve, White includes a script for what she considers an excellent call. Her hope is that the orthodontist and staff use the script, as well as the checklist of the highs and lows of the monitored calls, to practice taking their calls to the next level.

White believes secret shopper calls should be an ongoing exercise for offices who really want to ensure their calls are on target. “You have to have all the working parts fine-tuned,” she says, and new patient calls are a way to set your practice apart. “When they hang up the phone, you want [potential patients] to say, ‘That was great.’” OP