You may be surprised to learn what impact effective phone skills can have. In nearly every case, the way phone calls to your hearing care practice are handled can decide whether or not callers schedule appointments!

When prospects or loyal patients call your practice, how are these phone calls handled? Are all callers treated with exceptional warmth and care? The way your staff members handle these calls determines whether prospects become new patients. The tone of all phone calls can set the stage for the entire patient experience.

phone skillsBrian Taylor, AuD, senior director of clinical affairs at Turtle Beach Corp, and a clinical advisor for Fuel Medical Group, says training in phone skills helps drive success. He cites the study, “How Training Drives Front Office Success,” which showed that sales, productivity and patient satisfaction are improved when staff members handle patient calls well and also make regular outreach calls. In fact, this study found that the use of a phone training program boosted the appointments each week from 17 to 32, and improved monthly units sold from 7 to 19.

Enroll Your Staff in a “Phone Skills Improvement” Program

CareCredit Phone Skills Training ProgramA great way to get started on building patient appointment volume is to sign up your front-office staff for a phone skills training program. CareCredit, a provider of a healthcare credit card and financing options, offers phone training for FREE to practices signed up as members. CareCredit’s Telephone Skills Improvement Program is designed to give hearing care professionals the tools, techniques, and scripts they need to turn phone inquiries into appointments and hearing aid sales, and is available free to CareCredit enrolled practices. It consists of three audio CDs, each containing three educational sessions. Each session is about 10 to 15 minutes long, and can be incorporated into a team lunch-and-learn or weekly training meeting, or as part of an ongoing staff development program.

This phone training program offers the tools and techniques needed to make every phone call count!

The CareCredit Phone Skills Improvement program covers:

  • An important first step to exceptional telephone skills
  • The critical rules of telephone etiquette
  • Ways to encourage a third‐party appointment
  • How to reduce no‐shows and prevent cancellation calls
  • Effective strategies for converting calls into appointments
  • Tips for building patient loyalty and new business

What Staffers Will Learn to Improve Calls

After completing their phone skills training, your staff members will pay closer attention to WHY people are reaching out to your practice by phone and WHAT they desire. At the same time, your staffers can gather updated information, and tell prospects (and patients) about great new products or services. It’s always a good idea to ask callers how you can serve them better.

The impressions callers have about phone interactions with office staff significantly affect their overall satisfaction with healthcare provider’s offices, according to research. Press Ganey, a health industry survey firm, does an annual poll, asking patients about their satisfaction with certain aspects of their healthcare office experiences. The firm consistently reports complaints of poor service over the phone. (“Medical Practice Patient Satisfaction Pulse Report, Nov. 2010.”)

Patient Surveys Say…

The Press Ganey report showed that patients are most frustrated about: scheduling of appointments, helpfulness of staff, and the timeliness of return calls. The report also showed that the operations aspects of hearing health practices have many similarities to family physicians’ offices.

Jeffrey Denning, a practice management consultant based in La Jolla, Calif, points out that patients’ first judgments during phone contacts are based on nearly subconscious impressions. “New patients don’t know what to expect… That person who answers the phone needs to sound competent,” says Denning. “Plus, that individual should also sound relaxed, comforting and professional, no matter how busy the office is.”

When the Phone rings, are you thinking about branding your practice?

“I also challenge businesses to look at their phone with as much respect and interest as they look at their merchandise, their marketing, and their employees; it is a reflection of their ‘brand,’” states Dr. Janelle Barlow, in her book, Branded Customer Service. “Reinforcing a brand through every customer touchpoint, therefore, can provide the repetition necessary to inspire repeat purchasing decisions.” In her book, Barlow talks about being “on brand” vs. “off brand.” She points out that if your customer can never reach someone via phone, then your office’s standards for answering phone calls are “off brand.”

What Customer Service Experts Say

The number one way to improve phone interactions is to listen carefully. It seems almost ironic in a hearing health profession, but it’s absolutely true. Listen to what some top customer service professionals say:

“Stop telling customers what’s good for them — and LISTEN TO THEIR NEEDS.”
–Bettina Seidman, professional coach & consultant at SEIDBET Associates
“Getting customers to come back time and time again can be difficult, especially in a world of fierce competition and customer service stories being shared online. We live in a time where just providing a great product or service is usually not enough to keep them coming back.”
–Gabriel Bristol, President and CEO of Intelicare Direct

Other leaders in the consulting field who work with organizations to improve performance and retain customers say two keys are:

1) “improve service” and 2) “be responsive” with follow-up phone calls.

“In my business, I try to follow up with phone calls in 90 minutes or less during normal business hours and emails get a response in 24 hours. This level of responsiveness separates me from many consultants because my clients and potential clients don’t usually call me because things are going well. So by being attentive, I show that I care and that simple action makes repeats and referrals much more likely,” says Dave Wakeman, a consultant for clients such as American Express, Madison Square Garden, and Marriott.

More Reasons to Master Provider-Patient Phone Skills

Using “exceptional telephone skills” is a proven way to:

  • improve patient loyalty and satisfaction;
  • attract new patients and increase patient referrals;
  • make your practice stand out from the competition;
  • increase sales, and
  • promote your brand in the community.

The way your staff members handle telephone calls can predict how your practice is perceived by your patients and the public. To summarize some of the “basics” for improving phone interactions:

  1. Listen actively and carefully (Focus on the person who called, try not to interrupt, and act interested while paying attention to the issue at hand.)
  2. Use good manners and respect (Answer at least by the third ring with a smile in your voice, speak clearly, and ask before putting a caller “on hold.”)
  3. Maintain confidentiality (If you are accessing patient health information, you are required to comply with HIPAA provisions. Do not disclose the patient’s protected health information without their prior authorization.)
  4. Be aware of HOW you talk and WHAT you do. (Be sure to thank the caller and try to get complete information; stay polite and calm even if a prospect is rude.)

Training your staff in phone etiquette and efficiency can go a long way toward building (and then maintaining) your patients’ loyalty!

For more information about the Telephone Skills Improvement Program or other educational tools designed to help practices help more patients improve their hearing health, dispensing professionals who offer the CareCredit program can call (800) 859-9975. Professionals interested in offering CareCredit can visit the CareCredit website for more information or to enroll.

This content is provided to the 4MyHearingBiz community courtesy of CareCredit, and The Hearing Review.

Image credits: CareCredit; © Arne9001 | Dreamstime.com