Articles & News

Marketing in a Recession – by Carl Burroughs (Part Five and Six)

Part five and six in a six part series

I am combining parts five and six of this series into one article. The reason for this is that this edition of the magazine is the last for 2009 and I do not think it is necessary or healthy to go into 2010 focusing on the recession. In business, as in every aspect of our lives, it is important to stay positive and forward-looking to attain growth. Dentistry has weathered the turbulence of the past year or so very well and next years articles will focus on the opportunities society is now creating for the modern dental practice and less on the defensive marketing measures than this year’s advice.

The marketing basics however remain the essential building blocks for every practice and whilst more sophisticated marketing methods are appearing all the time, the reality is there is little point embracing new techniques if proven and pragmatic methods are not already a standard protocol within the practice.

The standard in which the telephone is answered and used within dentistry varies wildly between practices. Some practices having dedicated and well trained staff specifically allocated for this function, but most don’t. Leading telecommunications consultant Mr Joe Byrnes of Byrnes Consulting Group, recently conducted a study into dental telephony and reported that eight of ten calls he and his team made to a wide range of practices where answered in a substandard manner or even worst not answered at all.

Unless you are 100% confident that your team are handling your phones in a patient centric way, you may wish to review the processes within your practice with the following points in mind:-

Is the phone been answered?

This may seem like a stupid question, but the standard in which your team handles phone calls is irrelevant unless the phone actually get answered. Mr Byrnes’ study showed that an alarming number of phone calls to practices during office hours actually rang out. Some had answer phones attached and some simply rang out until they were disconnected. In either scenario, this is not acceptable and if this ever happens in your practice I guarantee it is costing you money.

If there are times where there is only one auxiliary staff member in the practice, then my first suggestion would be to review this as it is not only the phone that is not being handled properly, but if they are in surgery, then patients walking into the practice are also not been greeted properly. If the nurse excuses herself to greet the person walking into the practice or to try and answer the phone, it is then the patient in the chair’s experience that has been compromised. In this scenario there is no other way of solving the problem other than more staff.

Is your phone seen as a problem?

If your team currently see incoming phone calls as an interruption and an inconvenience, then once again, your phone is losing you money, not making you money. If the person who answers the phone is hurried or resents the interruption, then this is going to come across in their manner. Have you ever phoned a practice and been greeted with “Surgery – hold the line”? This is a popular approach and if this happens in your practice, it really does not matter how professional your marketing is as at this point it has all been wasted.

It’s Tone not Script

There is often a lot of debate about what should be said when answering the phone. Let me tell you it hardly matters. “Welcome to ABC Dental, Rose speaking” is absolutely fine. “Welcome” avoids juggling “good morning or good afternoon” (how many times you rang somewhere at 10am to be greeted with Good Afternoon?). Naming the practice means the caller knows they have called the right place and giving your name is courteous and friendly. That’s it, no more debate; now concentrate your training on something that does matter, the tone of the call.

Whatever style practice you run, the number one thing your patients and potential patients want to know is that you CARE. If your team answer the phone in a gentle, genuine and caring fashion you are doing more for the image of your practice than the big ad in the local paper. According to Mr Byrnes’ studies, you are doing something 80% of practices can’t seem to do. Not bad to consider; that you can improve the image of your practice substantially with a simple change in attitude of those in the front line of the practice.

Check your equipment.

If you don’t have a phone system, i.e. you just have individual lines coming into the practice, then get one. Phone systems have dropped in price significantly and these days $2000 will get you a good system. Having a system means you can put people on hold professionally, they can listen to an on hold message about your practice, you can transfer them around the practice and it is easy to forward calls after hours to a mobile or message e-mail service.

If you are looking at a system, then now is the time to consider VOIP (Voice over internet protocol) – this uses the internet as your telephone line. If you have every used Skype then you have already experienced VOIP. The standard of calls over the internet is now high and implementing it may apply to your business, which drops your costs substantially. If you have ever received a call from your bank on an evening from someone obviously overseas, then this is VOIP.


Carl Burroughs IDCIf you are not happy with the way your team answers the phone, the only way to combat this is training. Roll playing at staff meetings is a great start; notes behind the desk reminding your team to smile when they answer the phone are a good idea. There are hundreds of books on the subject and considering what it is worth to your practice, then even bringing in an expert to do training is worthwhile.

So what is the most valuable piece of equipment in your practice?

I recently did a talk to 9 doctors in Queensland. When asked what the average value of a patient was per year they all agreed that $1000 was conservative. When asked how many people the average patient would refer a year, they all agreed one per year was conservative and when asked how long a patient would stay with the practice they all agreed that five years was on the low side. So over a five year period, conservatively one patient is worth $25,000 and it nearly always starts with a phone call. So the most valuable piece of equipment in your practice….that bit of plastic called the phone.

May I wish you all a very happy festive season. Thank you to all my clients for their support this year and thank you to all the readers who give me positive feedback on my articles. May 2010 be your most successful and happiest year to date.