Training for your dental practice front line

Training for your dental practice front line

In her third article for Dental Partner, Jacqui Goss says formal and informal staff training is an investment in your reception staff front line that yields huge returns for dental practices.

In my previous article, I gave examples of how well-trained reception staff can encourage business growth for your dental practice. Here, I’m going to discuss the value of team training in broader terms. I’m talking about non-clinical topics that make for excellent patient journeys.

The members of your dental practice team who are, quite literally, in the front line are your front of house (FoH) staff. They mostly take the phone calls and see to patients as they enter and depart your practice. If their role is vital in a general practice (which I believe it is), I’d argue it’s even more critical when patients are considering or undertaking cosmetic treatment.

Selling cosmetic dentistry with a smile

While visiting a dentist regularly is important for maintaining good oral health, for many patients cosmetic dentistry is nice, but not essential. It’s like a special holiday, an elegant night out or a new car even. Consider the last time you made such a purchase. I’ll bet the service you received was a good part of the reason you went ahead. And this is why the attitude and expertise of your FoH staff can be so important.

Obviously, you will have recruited people with an aptitude, or an expected aptitude, for dealing with members of the public. They fit within your required profile to suit you and your team. They may be from a reception background or have retail sales experience. They could be someone with no employment track record, but with a warm, outgoing personality. The chances are they’ll do well in your FoH team.

However, even the best of them are unlikely to be as good as they could be. This requires ongoing coaching and mentoring. It needn’t be formal. FoH staff should be involved in your team meetings. They need to know about new developments in your practice so they can introduce them as features when talking with prospective and existing patients.

For example: “Hello Mrs Goss, you’re a little early for your appointment. Would you’d like to wait in the Patient Lounge – we’ve redecorated it recently and put in comfier chairs. Let me know what you think.”

Or, when talking on the phone to a potential new patient: “… and our specialist dentist, Dr Specialist, has recently returned from America having trained in a new cosmetic dentistry technique.”

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Front line surveys

Remembering that CQC Outcome 1 (Respecting and Involving people who use services…) implies a requirement to survey patients to get their feedback, FoH staff can usefully do this in an informal way.

At your team meetings, agree a particular aspect of the practice about which you’d like to know patients’ views. It could be something you’ve done or something you’re thinking of doing.

For an agreed period (say, one week) all FoH staff enquire of patients eg: “We’re thinking of putting a TV in the waiting room. Would you be in favour of this or not?”

For more general feedback, FoH staff can ask open questions, such as: “How could we have made your visit even more pleasant?”

Not only can this interaction with patients provide valuable feedback, but it also helps personalise the relationship they have with your staff. We’ve all heard (the urban myth?) that call centre staff abroad are given British news so they can talk about the weather or football results or a Royal Wedding with callers from the UK.

For your FoH staff, I suggest you encourage them to chat together and with other team members to learn about local events. They can then talk to patients about such things as the local carnival, a new shopping centre or the expected visit by the Princess Royal. Next time you see a team member reading a local newspaper or looking at a website, don’t rush to assume they are skiving!

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Mystery calls training sandwich

The above has been about informal training. More formal training for FoH staff will usually involves a discussion of the key aspects of the ‘patient journey’ and an exploration of their roles in it. This will naturally vary from practice to practice which is why I favour in-house, bespoke training. It is also good for reception staff to take part in role plays.

Rarely do they get the opportunity to rehearse responses to, for example, potential new patients, patients that are unhappy with the service they’ve received or patients asking lots of detailed questions.

The training is best preceded by mystery calls to the practice to identify weaknesses that need to be addressed. They might include such simple things as speaking the greeting too quickly or not clearly enough – easily done when you say: “Good morning, Goss Dental Practice, Jacqui speaking, how may I help you?” many times a day.

However, the caller needs to be able to clearly identify that they have rung the correct number, so the delivery needs to be at a slower speed than normal speech.

Some weeks after the training, more mystery calls can be commissioned to ensure that the learning points discussed and agreed are still being put into practice.

I also recommend that staff other than the FoH team get involved in the training. If dental staff sit in for at least part of the day and become involved in the discussions, this helps FOH team members to feel integrated into the running (and consequent success) of the dental practice.

There are two further reasons why wider participation is good. First, each and every team member, clinical and non-clinical, should be able to answer the telephone to the agreed standard. Even if they cannot deal with the caller’s enquiry.

Second, in the training sessions I’ve run, clinical team members will quite often comment that they didn’t know patients and prospective patients asked a particular question or are interested to know about a certain procedure.

That’s as much as I can cover in the space available here. I hope I’ve convinced you that on-going training, mentoring, coaching and assessment is as vital for your FoH staff as CPD is to the ‘wet fingered’ members of the team. You can find out more about this training by contacting Dental Partner through our contact form or by phone on 01234 888 779.

About the author

A proven manager of change and driver of dramatic business growth, Jacqui Goss is the managing partner of Yes!RESULTS. By using Yes!RESULTS for staff training on Front of House, Treatment Coordination, Chairside Conversation and whole team training, dental practices see a return on their investment as an increase in treatment plan take-up, improved patient satisfaction and more appointments resulting from general enquiries. Yes!RESULTS turns good practices into great practices.

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