Practice Manager at Eccleshill Dental, Emma Denton, explains how Practice Plan Consultant, Richard Collard, helped get the most out of their marketing by tapping into their phone system.
We asked for help with both our marketing and our phone system. Over the last eight years or so we had changed our systems on average every two years. This was because they never seemed to suit our needs. Either the call routing wasn’t right for us, or the management information wasn’t giving us what we needed, or sometimes it was both. We were in a similar situation with the system we had last year, and as the contract was coming to an end, we felt we could do with some advice.
We also wanted some help with our marketing as we had noticed that our phones were really busy with calls from patients, but we were unable to tell where they had come from. I knew something was wrong but couldn’t put my finger on it.
We were getting new patients coming through the door who then didn’t commit to treatment, which was puzzling. We assumed they had seen our values on our website, but they still didn’t take up a treatment plan. We were also getting large volumes of calls, asking if we were taking on NHS patients who we were unlikely to convert to new private or plan patients. This was something we couldn’t understand as we believed our external marketing, such as on Facebook and our website, was very strong and that the image it portrayed was of a higher end private practice.
When we started working with Richard his attitude was refreshing from day one. As soon as he knew I had got some insight into our challenges, he was straight on the phone with some suggestions as to what he could do. He put us in touch with Merlin Communications and we got another number added to our phone system.
For me, it was consoling to have someone else confirm that what we were seeing and feeling was right and that we needed to work out how to manage that and put new systems into place. There was a lot of pressure on reception. Patients were just ringing and cancelling appointments and we were allowing that to happen. There wasn’t enough structure in place.
He gave us lots of management information. When he presented this, what it showed was a bit of a surprise to me. We all think we’re doing a good job and the data indicated that in some areas we weren’t doing as well as we thought.
As a manager you think everyone’s doing well and all the team members are trying their best. And in some areas, they were trying too hard. They were putting too much emphasis and pressure onto the phone calls that they were taking, which is something else we found out. So once Richard had analysed things, we sat down with him and went through all the avenues, gained full insight, and then developed a plan of change alongside him.
This involved looking into things like Dengro [automated marketing system], the phone system and so on. We’ve also done a lot of training with the team, especially on reducing the number of patients just cancelling their appointments. So, hopefully in time we should get to a point where we don’t have as many people ringing to cancel or rearrange appointments.
Acting as a critical friend
With Richard’s help, we also changed the recorded messages on the phone system. So, now when patient’s call the options are much clearer, as it was quite convoluted before. As professionals and with an eye to the requirements of the CQC, we wanted to be transparent, open and honest. But we were putting too much information into our message, so the patient was ringing and just getting confused. But we had never asked an outside person to ring in and say, ‘what do you think of this?’ Which probably in hindsight is a really simple way of checking things. So, Richard gave us quite a lot of that type of feedback.
The good thing was, we always knew what was happening. We knew where we wanted to get to. But then it wasn’t a case of ‘right, off you go’, there was still plenty of contact and support. So, we never felt we were on our own in making the changes.
Small changes rather than a big bang
We chose to make small changes to create a bigger change rather than one change all at once for the team. The reception team were working really hard, but they were probably putting in too much effort. They were getting tied up in conversations and losing themselves in dental jargon, rather than normal language. So, small tweaks there have really made a difference. We’ve also added some things to the website to make things clear about NHS patients. We are reinforcing that we offer private dentistry, elite dentistry, and we come with a particular price tag, let’s say, because people weren’t seeing that.
The next areas of focus will be call volume times. So, when do most people call us. Is it between 9 and 10, 10 and 11? So we can make sure that we have enough staff manning the phones. I then want to divide the calls up by champions. So, the apprentice that’s just started with us, she may be the one who answers option three on our system, to change appointments, because that suits her skillset now. But someone who’s been here two years or more and knows all about treatments and patients, may be the one who answers all the new patient calls. So, eventually we could have two sets of diverted calls. That’s where I want to head soon.
In six months’ or a year’s time, we’ll probably ask Richard to do another review and see what improvements have been made and what other areas we need to consider.