The first step to growing your practice is attracting new patients. Your website, social media, and marketing are all geared toward the idea of getting people to call your office. To help convert this interest into new patient appointments, you have probably spent time selecting and training the team members who answer the phones during office hours. But have you considered what happens when a prospective patient calls when the practice is closed?
If a person calls your office for information about a service or comparison shopping, they may decide to call back within your business hours. Chances are, they were not ready to schedule an appointment at the time of the call, so they may accept the delay and still call back. However, a new or current patient who is experiencing a dental emergency is far more likely to hang up and try calling another dentist who has someone answering the phones and ready to help.
Many dental practices do not have any coverage for phone calls outside their hours of operation or during lunch hour. Others have an impersonal answering machine advising callers of the practice hours and perhaps offering to record a message. This can be extremely frustrating for your patients, both current and prospective.
If your patient discovers on Friday afternoon or evening that they will need to reschedule an appointment set for Monday morning, chances are that message will not be heard until it is too late to move another patient into the opening. If your phones are being answered outside working hours, this can be addressed much more promptly, leading to better scheduling and happier patients.
You may be wondering how to arrange to have 24/7 phone coverage. There are a few options available, but one of the most economical and most personal for your practice is to train some of your team members to share the responsibility. No one has better knowledge of your practice, your patients, and your schedule than your own team. You will want to decide on the best way to compensate them for the added time, such as paying them a set amount per weekend or evening day or an amount per call answered. You’ll need to consult your legal advisor to be sure you are handling this properly.
Once this is determined, arrange a rotation for the team members who will participate. Your main phone line can be forwarded to a practice-owned mobile phone during off-hours, which can be held by the team member on call. Be sure that each person has your after-hours contact information in case of an emergency, especially when you are first launching this system.
After a few months, hold a meeting with all the involved team members to review the number of after-hours calls you receive, what times are most common, and how many are converted into new appointments for your practice. This can help you value the return on investment of this new plan of action and to determine whether your office benefits from full 24/7 coverage or if a more limited extension of hours is more cost-effective.