THINKING BUSINESS
a blog by Chris Barrow

“Unfortunately, we only offer private dentistry.”

It was a brave member of the reception team who offered the “confession” at yesterday’s practice visit that she answers the question “are you accepting any new NHS patients?” that way.Brave because her admission was in front of the whole practice team, including the principal – and me!

Her authenticity can only be attributed to the fact that she trusts her principal and feels safe around me – that because I have been working with the team for three years.

So you might ask what the hell I have been doing as a business coach to let that happen?

The answer is working with the owners on a million-pound conversion of their other practice from NHS to private – so that we could start the whole process again here, at practice number two, on 1st January 2008. What we will be another massive re-branding, refurbishment and re-niching.

My receptionist was one of 4 or 5 people who answer the phone regularly and they tell me that the current marketing funnel looks like:

10 “walk-in” enquiries per month (the practice is hidden off a city-centre main street and up a narrow flight of stairs in a less than salubrious area).

40 telephone enquiries per month asking for membership or treatment from people who are either looking for private treatment or don’t mind paying.

60 telephone enquiries per month asking for NHS treatment.

This is currently translating into:

40 new patient consultations booked and attended per month.

Leading to 30 new patient registrations per month.

Which wouldn’t be too bad, except for the fact that the three (equivalent) full-time dentists in the practice require at least 20 new patient consults per month to reach what Breathe Business believe are acceptable production figures.

So they require a 50% increase in new patient consults.

We are in the process of creating a new marketing funnel – probably upwards of £20,000 of investment into a new brand image, literature, web site et al – PLUS a physical refurbishment that could require a capital investment of over £150,000.

That will take 18 months.

But, in the meantime, could we do anything to improve new patient numbers?

Well – we might start with what’s being said on the phone.

Which brings me to a point.

The team in this practice are all enthusiasts. I would employ any of them myself – and they have diligently attended our workshops and my personal visits and soaked up the material like sponges.

There is no lack of willingness to perform.

But what they are doing is (a favourite quote of mine) “THEIR BEST IN THE ABSENCE OF A SYSTEM”.

There has simply never been any in-practice training, consultancy or coaching on how to answer the phone and and, more especially, how to respond to questions like:

“Are you currently accepting new NHS patients?”

“How much do you charge for a crown?”

“Why are you more expensive then the practice down the road?”

“Why should I join your membership scheme when I can just pay per visit?”

“If I sign up for a new patient consultation at £80, what will I get for my money?”

And so on.

So we invested a couple of hours yesterday in creating answers to these questions that increased the probability of converting the enquiry into a consult – and the telephony team will be practicing them over the weeks ahead.

If necessary, I have offered to jump onto a conference call with them in a few weeks time and check progress.

We have decided to ban the following terms from telephony:

1. Unfortunately 2. Sorry but…. 3. But 4. Sadly 5. We only…. 6. No!

Here is my challenge to any business owner reading this.

To take some time out and listen (perhaps unseen) to your telephony team – and find out for yourself how often these phrases are being used.

Or if you feel that is too intrusive – just call a team session and ask them outright.

Oh – a final point – why are the team in this practice using language like “unfortunately” when they are so enthusiastic?

1. They cannot afford private dentistry themselves – so they assume nobody else can 2. They have never experienced concierge class customer service themselves – so cannot comprehend what it is like 3. They have no script

One decision we have made with this client is that, in future, once a month, the principal is going to take all the team for lunch or after-work coffee to a list of local retail outlets in the city where we know that they have it nailed.

Restaurants, hotels, coffee bars, clothes shops – even a local BMW dealership.

We are going to arrange an hours meeting with the customer service manager in each of these outlets, so that they can hear “how they do it” in each place.

Good idea.

1. Listen to your team 2. Get your language right 3. Show examples 4. Increase opportunity

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