by Cathy Sundvall

Make the most of the time your patients spend on hold

Your telephone is one of the most effective and least expensive practice-marketing tools available—if you are using “on-hold” messaging, It’s pretty safe to say that targeting your practice information to prequalified callers will produce the best results for your marketing dollar. It’s crucial to remember that every caller, whether or not they are existing patients or parents, could react to a need for your orthodontic services, either for themselves, for their child, for a friend, or for an acquaintance.

In the perfect orthodontic practice, you would never place callers on hold. No practice is perfect, however, so it pays not to overlook the importance of what callers hear when they contact your practice. Research has proven that, for prospective patients, what happens in those first 60 seconds will mean the difference between requesting your services or hanging up the phone.

The Sound of Your Practice

You may know what your practice looks like, but ask yourself, “What does my practice sound like?” When you place your callers on hold, what do they hear? Are you advertising for other practices by playing a radio station for callers on hold or frustrating them with dead silence? Keep in mind that, with on-hold messaging, you can use on-hold time productively by creating a “talking newsletter” that provides useful information about your practice, services, staff, and unique image.

Some practices use on-hold messaging because they understand that anything is better than silence. In fact, on-hold messaging (let’s call it educating and marketing to callers) is an underused tool that enables you to speak to your potential patients and patient families one on one.

When to Hold ’Em

Maybe you feel you don’t place patients on hold often enough to consider on-hold messaging. Think again. On average, 70% of your callers will be placed on hold. Your patients can and will be placed on hold for a number of possible reasons:

1) they are waiting to speak with someone when they first call in, and the receptionist is busy;

2) they are being transferred to the appropriate team member who can answer a financial question;

3) they are waiting to talk to a staff member or ortho- dontist who may be with a patient at the chair; and

4) they are waiting while a member of your staff is getting information or pulling their chart. 

Never just let patients wait. Use your on-hold time to speak to them. 

Here are 10 vital pieces of information that you can pass along via on-hold messaging:  

1) spark their interest in a new innovative treatmentmodality, such as clear aligner, lingual braces, indirect bonding, or self-ligating and aesthetic brackets;

2) reinforce your branding strategy (“We start treatment  at the right time!”);

3) tell them more about your practice mission and your vision;

4) inform them about your office hours and days in the office;

5) present your scheduling and appointment policy;

6) answer your most frequently asked questions;

7) introduce them to the physician, associate, or team member of the month;

8) inform them about upcoming marketing events, both internal and external;

9) inform them about employment opportunities; and

10) remind them about your Web site address.

Making the Message

Once you know what you want your on-hold message to say, you need to focus on how you want to say it.

1) Consider both male and female voices in your on-hold messages. Did you know that choosing either a male or a female voice could radically affect the overall message you intend to send? Male voices are typically used to sell products, while female voices are used to convey emotions. Keep that in mind when choosing both your message and voice, as many times orthodontics is an “emotional choice.”

2) Music plays an important supporting role in your on-hold message. It should reflect the general tastes of your patient families and represent your practice’s identity in a positive manner. Keep in mind that long periods of music may make your patient’s mind wander. The purpose of music in any message is to help carry the words to the listener, to help callers more easily understand and accept your message, and to convey the feeling of the type of practice with which they are dealing.

3) Use voice clips from patients, referring dentists, and team members. These satisfied patients, referring dentists, and team members are an excellent source for on-hold testimonials. Their stories and endorsements are effective and easy on-hold marketing messages that should be conveyed to your callers. People relate better to actual voices and believe the endorsements far more than if they were given a brochure to read.

4) Educate; don’t entertain! You want to educate and inform the callers about your practice, your services, and, especially, how you fill their needs. Avoid the bells and whistles; stick to the relevant information and facts, and they will hold longer.

5) Be courteous when asking the caller to hold. Use phrases such as, “Thanks for holding. We believe you deserve the best service possible,” “We know your time is valuable, and we’re doing everything we can to come back to you as soon as possible,” or “Thanks for staying on the line. We appreciate the opportunity to work with you.”

6) Some patients would prefer to leave a message rather than wait on hold, so make sure to change your voice-mail message daily. You should include the date, your current status, and a turnaround time for your return calls. This greatly reduces phone tag with patients and parents, referring physicians, and vendors, and lets them know that you are in the office and available to help them.

What You Hear is What You Get

One of the major benefits I have seen of having on-hold music and messages is how much it enhances the image of a practice. When I call a practice, I often ask to be placed on hold to learn more about them. When I hear a high-quality on-hold production with music and a great voice talent, I automatically assume that the practice is established, professional, and likely to put patients first. In the orthodontic profession, perception and image is everything.

The bottom line is that placing a caller on hold is an opportunity to start an exchange of ideas. On-hold messaging is one of the most cost-efficient and targeted methods of driving your message home to your patients and potential patients. Plus, an on-hold message program is like having a marketing department working in your office 24/7 for pennies. What a bargain! z

Cathy Sundvall has combined her practice-management and clinical expertise to consult, coach, and train staff members in the areas of clinical efficiency, new-patient processing, marketing, customer service, and team performance. She lectures nationally, has published numerous articles, and has developed training manuals. She can be reached at (863) 427-4346 or [email protected]