The troubling similarity between this week’s weather and your front desk

As luck would have it, I’ll be spending a lot of time this week working my way down the east coast from Edinburgh (tonight and tomorrow) through County Durham and down to Nottingham before an overseas trip at the end of the week (of which, more later).

So this morning’s news of icy winds from Russia blowing in major snow showers makes me relieved that I’ll be using the rail network and anxious as to whether our public transport system will stand up to the strain.

We’re not very good here in Britain at dealing with adverse climatic changes are we?

Anything there is too much of; snow, rain or sunshine, we do seem to grind to a halt rather rapidly as if the prevailing conditions are a complete shock and surprise.

It can sometimes be the same in dealing with patients and there seems no better example of that than the front desk.

During the recent Practice Plan Workshop Tour, my esteemed co-presenter Sheila Scott reminded our audiences of the 242 mystery shopping calls that were made as part of a training exercise that she facilitated.

To say the results were disappointing would be an understatement. In response to a new patient enquiry:

  • 11% failed to give the name of the practice
  • 41% failed to give the name of the person answering the call
  • 62% failed to offer to send any information
  • 76% failed to give basic information to the patient
  • 78% failed to offer an appointment
  • 80% failed to ask any questions of the patient
  • 82% failed to provide quality information

These, let’s remember, are Practice Plan practices who, in my imagination, are a cut above the rest.

I hasten to add that Sheila doesn’t “blame telephonists” for these atrocious results, preferring in true Paddi Lund style to blame the system and not the person.

A further question asked for a show of hands from any practice who had conducted formal telephone skills training as a refresher in the last 6 months – 12 months – 2 years?

Few, if any hands were raised over our 15 tour dates and, yet, it was pointed out that anybody working in a commercial environment with a call centre, from retail to software support, would attend a refresher course weekly.

My point being that what prospects and patients ask you over the phone is, like the weather, largely predictable and it should be a very rare occasion when a caller (or a patient on the premises) asks or says something that catches you unawares.

Dentistry (and life) is mainly a series of frequently asked questions (FAQs) and we should be able to collect, collate and discuss them to agree our brand-standard protocols and answers.

To discover that 10% of practices are getting this right indicates the need for repetitive and regular training on a subject which, frankly, isn’t rocket science.

When was your last telephony training session?

It remains to be seen whether my trains reach their destinations on time this week or whether the network closes down in the face of too much snow.

Hopefully, even if I find myself freezing on a platform somewhere, your team will be fielding those phone calls effortlessly.


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Chris Barrow

Chris Barrow has been active as a consultant, trainer and coach to the UK dental profession for over 20 years. As a writer, his blog enjoys a strong following and he is a regular contributor to the dental press. Naturally direct, assertive and determined, he has the ability to reach conclusions quickly, as well as the sharp reflexes and lightness of touch to innovate, change tack and push boundaries. In 2014 he appeared as a “castaway” in the first season of the popular reality TV show “The Island with Bear Grylls”. His main professional focus is as Coach Barrow, providing coaching and mentorship to independent dentistry.