As dental groups scale up and add more practices, it often makes sense to create a centralized call center. Hiring a group of highly-trained customer service representatives to book new appointments, confirm existing appointments, and answer patient questions can free up the staff in your dental practices. That gives the on-site team more time to spend with patients.
There are some key questions to ask before you develop a dental call center, including:
What do you want the DSO call center operators to do?
This question is trickier than many people realize. A few of the options include:
- Answer all inbound calls or just calls from new patients?
- Call back people who leave voicemails for the dental office(s)?
- Respond to online appointment requests?
- Staff the online chat feature on your office website(s)?
- Conduct appointment confirmation calls?
- Make reactivation calls to patients with treatment plans but no future appointments?
- Document the results of each conversation, including whether the call was booked?
What information will the call center operators need?
When a call comes into a specific dental practice, the receptionist usually answers by saying, “Thank you for calling (Practice Name). How may I help you?”
When a call comes into a DSO call center, the operator needs to know which dental practice the patient thinks he or she is calling. Otherwise, the operator won’t know which office name to use in the greeting.
Call center operators typically need to have several computer screens in front of them to display:
The information the patient knows
Dental practice name he / she called
The phone number the caller dialed and the associated ad/source, such as the office’s website, Google Adwords, Google map listing, newspaper ad, postcard, billboard, et cetera
Any promotional offers associated with that ad/source
Caller ID with the caller's phone number and name
The dental practice information
The dental practice’s contact information
Hours of operation
Dentists’ names and services
Time allotted for new patient exam, hygiene visit, and other services the operators will schedule, which can be customized for each provider as needed
The scheduling system
The DSO call center operators will need the same access as in-office receptionists so they can enter in the caller’s contact information and insurance information, and schedule appointments in the correct column for the appropriate amount of time for each provider.
Which SOPs do you need to create?
As you’re designing your call center SOPs, it’s helpful to think of it from the caller’s point of view. Here are some guidelines for getting started:
Establish a simple phone tree and determine where each type of call should be routed
A very basic script may include: “Thank you for calling (Practice Name). Para continuar en español, por favor, oprime nueve. If you are a current patient, please press 1. If you are a new patient, please press 2. For all other calls, please press 3.”
If your protocol is to have the call center operators only handle new patient inquiries, then callers who select two will be routed to the call center, and callers who select one or three will be routed to the dental practice.
It’s important to remember to record the information in Spanish if that’s needed, and to direct those callers to Spanish-speaking team members.
Establish protocols for calls not answered by the third ring
Some dental groups have calls that are not answered by the call center redirect to the dental practice receptionist. Others have a voicemail box established. The voicemail option works best when there is only one brand involved.
If the call center operators are returning voicemail messages, then it’s important to establish protocols to capture the information for each callback attempt and ensure the correct number of attempts are made before changing the caller status from potential patient to lost patient.
Develop SOPs for every function of the call center
There should be Standard Operating Procedures in place for every function the call center operator manages, including responding to online appointment requests, handling appointment requests via chat message, making appointment confirmations, etc. This will reduce mistakes and improve the patient experience.
Create a Stellar Hiring & Training Program
One of the keys to success is developing a “repeatable playbook” for success. Every single call center operator needs to know and follow the same protocols. Here are a few ideas as you’re getting set up:
- Hire happy people who are genuinely compassionate and enjoy helping others.
- If possible, have them shadow a dental receptionist in a dental practice for at least two days to understand how a dental practice works – and how their role as a call center operator is vital to the success of the practice.
- Have the new hire shadow a call center operator for at least three to five days.
- Ideally, have a test workstation where the new hire can listen to real calls being answered by an experienced call center operator, and the new hire can enter data into a test site. Then, the new hire and a trainer can compare the new hire’s information to the actual data that was entered by the experienced operator and address any discrepancies.
- Establish metrics for success: how many calls should be answered per hour by each operator? How many calls should be converted to new patient appointments?
- Develop an ongoing training and coaching program, so the call center operators have the tools they need to improve.