10 Ways to Fail Miserably on the Phone and What to Do Instead

If you picture the marketing and advertising process as a circle, success is when you close the loop. Getting the phone to ring is a good start and an important part of the loop. But an inquiry call—to a hospital, service line office or provider—doesn’t complete the loop. The ringing that you hear signals an important opportunity.

What happens next—properly answering the phone and closing the loop—is where the payoff should begin.

But here’s the kicker: The office often fails miserably when the phone rings.

You would be alarmed at how often (and how easily) offices fail at this critical point in the loop. We know this because many clients ask us to monitor and critique their inbound calls. (You know: “This call is being recorded for quality and training purposes.”) By the way, take the time to test and monitor calls into your office. We can help you with that if you’d like.

It’s downright painful when a prospective new patient is calling, but the opportunity is blown away by a truly bad experience on the phone. It’s a door-slammer, according to an Invoca Analytics report. Let’s count some of the ways:

  1. Advertising costs (invested to inspire response) are sunk with no return
  2. Your office lost the new business opportunity (competitor wins)
  3. Nearly 75 percent of callers dial the competitor after a negative phone experience
  4. Some 70 percent of callers will share their complaint with friends and family
  5. About 30 percent are likely or very likely to leave a bad review
  6. Roughly one in four of callers will also complain via social media

The slippery slope and ways to fail on the phone…

It’s easy. Anyone can answer the phone…right? There’s nothing to it—quick, somebody grab that phone. It’s a “slippery slope” to assume that anyone can answer the phone and convert the caller from inquiry to appointment. The fact is it takes training, practice and good sense.

How your phones are answered makes a big difference—to gain a new patient or to drive a patient away. Straight from real-world monitoring, are some of the classic phone-fails we hear regularly…and what to do instead:

Sounding rushed. When the person answering the phone sounds like they’re in a hurry to get off the call, the caller feels unwelcome. No matter how busy things are in the office, patients—especially prospective new patients—should not feel like they are an interruption. It sounds so fundamental, but always greet callers with a friendly and welcome tone.

One-word answers. Short and snippety answers—even unintentional—is an extension of sounding rushed, annoyed or impatient with the caller. The caller is being treated as if they are unimportant and unwanted. And without a warm, conversational greeting, it’s an open invitation to call the competition.

Being uninformed or unprepared. Believe it or not we hear conversations where prospective patients inquire about cost and the office person doesn’t know or doesn’t have the information. Often, the only question that the caller knows to ask is about the cost—and virtually everyone wants to know. What’s more, everyone who answers the phone needs to be fully prepared, including rehearsing and practicing.

The proper answer is an excellent opportunity to present benefits and value to the caller, and to set an appointment in the office to discuss options. Converting the inquiry call to a firm in-office appointment is the objective.

“Wait. I have to call you back.” There’s never a second chance to make a first impression. When the person answering the phone doesn’t have all the information, or they are busy or distracted—promising a return phone call is an immediate negative experience. At this stage callers—prospective customers—are not committed buyers, or even convinced that they should make an appointment.

Anyone/everyone answering the phone needs to be seizing the immediate opportunity to help the caller, provide information, capture caller information, and arrange for an early appointment. It’s about 100 percent certain that the delay of “calling back” means a speed-dial to the competition.

First, listen for understanding. Many inquiry calls may turn out to be similar, but it’s vital to understand the needs, questions and concerns of the caller. First understand the caller’s perspective and form answers that address these wants or desires.

Some additional “death by phone” and red flag tactics…

  • Don’t answer the phone quickly and politely
  • Put the caller “on hold” for a long time or for any reason
  • Don’t take calls during a long lunch period
  • Who cares about tracking or how caller was inspired to call
  • Use technical terms or office jargon
  • Never thank the caller

And, the biggest mistake of all: Never ask for the appointment. Exactly 100 percent of callers will not arrive spontaneously at your office. You must invite them, make an appointment, and have them feel welcome and wanted.

Answering the office phone is not a simple, throwaway task that everyone can do “instinctively” or properly. What’s required is staff training, practice and experience. And that can deliver a major boost in new business instead of lost opportunity.

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