An initial phone call often is the first human interaction a potential new patient has with a practice. This important “first touch” is a crucial step in the inquiry and conversion process. It is absolutely essential that your first-touch team is able to answer the most basic and common questions that potential clients ask when they call for the first time. To ensure a relatively high first-touch conversion rate, your team must be: 1) familiar with the latest procedures or technologies utilized at your practice; 2) able to credential and promote all practice providers, services, and offerings; and 3) skilled in answering fundamental questions about pricing and value.

While first-time callers pose a variety of questions, a majority of inquiries are fairly predictable and relate to a handful of familiar topics. The manner in which these common questions are answered significantly impacts whether prospective patients schedule with your practice or with your local competitor. To obtain the best inquiry-to-consult conversion rate possible, make sure to implement consistent and ongoing trainings that result in your first-touch team answering the following questions with knowledge and confidence.

The Right Response

“Do you perform procedure X?”

Nine times out of 10, the answer is “yes.” Yes is a good answer (and a great rock band) and does answer the question; but does it entice the patient to schedule? Most times the answer “yes” is followed by silence, which means an opportunity to engage the patient has been missed right from the start. Make the most of this immediate opportunity to credential the physician(s) and practice from the start. Instead of answering “yes,” what if your team member said: “Absolutely! We do perform procedure X. In fact, Dr. Smith is one of the top physicians performing this procedure in our area!” Sounds a little different, doesn't it?

Or how about: “We do perform procedure X. Dr. Jones is actually a national trainer for this procedure and teaches other physicians how to perform the procedure!” Or: “Dr. Smith does perform procedure X; we have many satisfied patients that come in regularly for this procedure!”

Did you notice the exclamation points at the end of each sentence? These words need to be said with confidence and enthusiasm! This will come through to the caller. Team members answering the phone—as well as all other staff in the practice—need to know the physician's background, specialties, and credentials (including if he or she is a trainer for certain procedures) and be able to convey this knowledge to the patient in a confident, enthusiastic manner.

“What does the procedure entail?”

This is an opportunity to give basic information about the procedure using accurate and understandable terminology. This should be a brief description that uses wording easy for patients to comprehend. “Procedure X is a short, 20-minute laser procedure done here in the office. There is no downtime afterwards and you can return to work immediately,” or: “Procedure X is a facial-filler injection that is used to add volume. It is used mostly for the smile lines around the nose and mouth. We use numbing cream for comfort and there may be some slight swelling afterward. Plan on being here about 45 minutes for your first visit.”

Author's note:I have had an opportunity to perform telephone mystery calls for practices with whom I work. The following is part of a response I received from one of the calls I recently made. The call recipient added this at the end of the conversation regarding the procedure: “We get great results and the people who have had it love their results!” This team member gave some of the best responses I have ever heard in a mystery call. Her enthusiasm around the procedure and the physician's credentials was outstanding. I used her comments as an example of what sounds good on the phone when I presented the results. Also, I often hear team members discuss their own procedure experiences and results with callers. Such a conversation can create a valuable bond with a prospective client.

“Are there any side effects I should be worried about?”

Always give a brief answer that is easy for the patient to understand. Do not be too technical. Complicated questions should always be handled in a consultation. “Side effects are rare. Minor bruising or swelling may occur with this type of procedure. We will discuss side effects during your consultation.” You can also discuss any preventive measures that you recommend regarding side effects such as icing, numbing creams, medications, etc. Always be honest and realistic. Once again, there is an opportunity here to credential the physician's experience, expertise, and outstanding outcomes.

“How soon will I see results from the procedure?”

Give a range of days and echo what the physician would tell a patient. Set appropriate timeline expectations and be prepared to discuss what the patient should expect in the post-procedure/postoperative period. “You will start to notice results in about a week and full results within 30 days. Dr. Smith will review the postoperative care with you during your consult.” Questions like these can be effortlessly answered if you provide your team with regular trainings regarding your top procedures and any new treatments the practice offers.

“How much does it cost?”

This can be a tricky question. Many practices do not discuss fees on the phone; however, patients want their questions answered. When answering the cost question, do not be vague with the patient. Use your common pricing, but also use a range. “The cost for procedure X ranges from [low and high cost of the procedure] depending on the amount of product used and the number of treatments required. This is based on your goals and the doctor's recommendations. Dr. Smith will discuss all of this with you during your consultation.” Always let the patient know if there is an additional consult fee or if it is included in the cost of the procedure. When discussing cost, caution team members against leading with price; unfortunately, this is often the first thing we hear on the phone. Train your staff that it is not about price, but about superior service and outcomes. And of course, this is an excellent opportunity to re-credential the physician(s).

Outshine the Competition

To be successful at the inquiry-conversion game, your first-touch team members must be able to answer basic questions with knowledge, confidence, and enthusiasm. While all team members should be trained so that there is consistent messaging throughout the practice, it is best if they don't sound scripted. They should be able to get into a rhythm and answer questions with a feeling of “easy confidence.” This definitely will come through to the caller and as a result, your practice is likely to outshine the competition.

Shawn O'Neil is a management consultant with the Allergan Practice Consulting Group of Allergan, Inc., a specialty pharmaceutical company based in Irvine, CA. He consults with dermatology and plastic surgery practices in multiple areas.