When it comes to first impressions, whether you want to admit you do it or not, quick judgments are made in that vital seven second window. This is no different when it comes to the front desk of your practice. How phones are answered and patients are welcomed into your office is the first impression they get of you before even meeting you. How your front desk is managed can make or break your practice.

Before a patient enters your office, a phone call is most likely made. Whether it be for an insurance question, office hours, directions, or an appointment, how that phone conversation is handled will steer that patient either away or toward your waiting room. Ask yourself the question: Who do you have sitting at your front desk?

Michele Krohn, the Founder and President of Full Circle PR (FCPR), a national medical practice marketing and public relations agency based in Tampa, Florida, says, “Physicians need to be more involved and aware of who is managing their front desk and how they are conducting their practice. Who the patient sees and hears is their first impression. They are an extension of you, the physician.”

How your front office staff conducts themselves has a direct correlation to your ability to keep patients returning to your practice; and returning patients most often bring referrals. For a position that is so critical to your success, it is often overlooked and undertrained. But when it comes to the bottom line, it is worth the investment to properly train your front desk staff. In addition, proper training also builds confidence for your employees.

Undertrained front desk staff can spiral into an unmotivated staff. The morale of your office goes down which then trickles down to how your patients are being treated. An unhappy patient eliminates loyalty to your practice. Before you know it, your practice is then struggling to get people in the waiting room.

“The average front desk employee’s wage is just $13 per hour. Investing in employees also means investing in staff training. Too often, someone is put at the front to answer phones and greet patients, but they are given little to no training on how to conduct themselves and what to say,” Krohn says.

It all comes back to the first line of communication: the phone. What happens in that first conversation on the phone can be a death sentence.

“In the 10 years FCPR has helped market and advertise for physicians, it still surprises me to find out how many practices are simply not answering the phones at the front desk. People want to hear a voice on the other end. In the technological age that we are in, when it comes to personal healthcare, people want to hear a live voice when they call. They want to know that they matter,” Krohn recounts.

What are some of the requirements to keep your front desk making your practice and not breaking your practice?
The first requirement to keep your practice running: answering your phones. That is Front Office 101. When the phone call is taken, then you can focus on the details of whether or not your staff are answering with a smile, are warm and engaging, and how long the patient is being put on hold.

Smiling is one of the easiest and most attainable requirements of your front desk staff. Research has shown that people can actually pick-up on the tone of your voice and whether or not you are smiling. The tone of voice conveys 84% of the conversation to the other party. Smiling immediately puts people at ease and make them feel like they are important.

The next item to troubleshoot is hold time. The staff at your front desk are multi-tasking an endless list of demands. From answering simple questions, scheduling and rescheduling appointments, to redirecting phone calls to the medical staff, being put on hold is almost unavoidable. To help keep calls flowing smoothly, having a phone answering system in place can help; however, the bottom line is to make sure that the person on the other end of the line is being helped.

Tying all of this together is simple when front desk training is made to be a priority. The training of your front desk staff will bring a significant return on your investment. It is so important to the success of your practice that FCPR offers this service in addition to marketing, advertising, and branding for your practice. Follow-up is also done with secret shoppers that bring office staff insight.

“We come in and identify the key problems and get your practice on the right track. From how to answer phones to what kind of leading questions you can ask to get the patient in your waiting room,” Krohn explains.

These four essential principles are a start to keeping your practice going in the right direction:

The Right Employees

As stated earlier, the person answering your phones is often the lowest paid position at the practice. For the first line of public relations for your office, you want to consider the old adage, “you get what you pay for.” Focus on hiring someone who is friendly, has great communication skills and is a patient listener. And when you find this person, pay them well. It’s worth it.

Build a Team

Realistically look at how busy your practice is. An understaffed front desk will become overwhelming and ultimately bring the morale down for everyone. You may be thinking that you are saving money by having fewer employees, but the reality is that you are probably losing even more revenue with patients leaving your practice due to poor customer service.

Train, Train, Train

Once you’ve found your good employees and have built your team, train them. Train them well. Bringing in a service, like FCPR, that focuses on front desk training is worth it. Your staff will get the one-on-one guidance that they need to make your office successful. Scripting and roll playing is also a tool that can help. Training your front desk employees to simply ask leading questions will have an incredible impact on patient numbers.

Answering the Phone

As simple as it sounds, it needs to be stated again. Picking up the phone and answering with a warm and friendly voice will make the patient feel welcomed and wanted. Healthcare is as personal as you can get, and a patient wants to feel respected and cared for when they call. That phone call will bring them in or keep them out.

Remember, your front desk staff is the first impression that people have of you and your practice. Take the time and revisit and evaluate how you can improve on how your front office is conducted. Focusing there will benefit your staff, your practice, your patients and you.

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