How To Deal With Difficult Dental Patient Problems

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young woman at computer to depict dental woman dealing with difficult patient calls

editor’s note: From overly price-conscious to busy to indecisive, Sarah Suddreth tells us how to deal with difficult dental patient problems.

The price conscious patient, the busy patient, the indecisive patient. Yes, you’ve met each difficult dental patient. Yes, you’ve tried to book them.

“Ma’am, I understand you’re very busy — I’m trying to fit you in here,” Linda, 123 Dental’s receptionist said. “We have several openings: Monday at 10 a.m., Tuesday at 3 p.m., all morning on Wednesday and all afternoon on Thursday. We’re actually closed Fridays.”

Dentist appointment date on a calendar with a green push pin to remind you and important appointment.

“None of those work for me! I’m traveling then am in charge of carpool duty for my kids’ summer camp and on top of that, work part-time!” the patient responded angrily.

“Okay, well that’s when we have available this week. Would sometime next week work for you instead?”

The patient said she had no idea what next week would look like for her, leaving her unable to commit.

“No worries, I’m not sure what else to tell you ma’am; maybe you can try calling back when your schedule winds down or call a different practice, but you’ll find we have offer a pretty flexible schedule to fit our patients’ needs,” Linda responded.

The call—quite evidently—did not run smoothly. The patient hung up in frustration and Linda—wondering how such a routing call she handles daily could go as unplanned—immediately turned to her office manager, Amanda. (Then to make matters worse, the patient left a scathing Yelp review on the practice’s website, citing the staff as unfriendly and unhelpful.)

*Sigh* “Amanda, that was miserable. I’m patient inept. Am I a failure at my job? How much business will we lose because of that? Oh, er….hmp,” Linda miserably pondered out loud.

You would have thought Linda just committed a grave crime with the guilt she quickly felt from not knowing how to handle a particularly gruff patient call.

Luckily, office manager Amanda had experienced these tough patient calls before.

She comforted Linda with some advice not only for how she could have turned the recent call around, but how to handle virtually any type of difficult patient on a phone call.

Story over.

Just kidding! (Jeez, how cruel to leave you hanging.) You deserve to know Amanda’s tips and tricks too.

For the busy, jam-packed, no time to book an appointment patient, like whom Linda spoke with.

Office-manager of stomatology clinic takes calls at the receptionThe difficult, and busy, dental patient has a packed day and so do you. These patients are likely calling you to check off one of twenty things on their never-ending to-do list. Your goal is to make the booking experience as effortless as possible. You may struggle to find an open space on both your calendars at the same time, but the goal is to make the patient feel like a priority. There are a few—actually several– things you can do in this situation.

  • Keep it simple. Don’t overwhelm busy patients by giving too much information. When they ask what times your office is open, simply ask, “What time were you looking to come in?”
  • Learn the patient’s availability, then offer yours. Determine when works best for the client by narrowing down to specifics. “What days of the week are usually best for you? Are mornings or afternoons better? Mornings, great, I have 8 and 11:30 available. Which would you prefer?”
  • Be familiar with your office’s scheduling perks. Does your office stay open later into the evening, or maybe even have Saturday appointments? Those are things that you should brag about. No shame, no gain.
  • Book multiple appointments with one phone call. While you have them on the phone, see if there are any additional family members who may need appointments. Go out of your way to let the busy patient know that you’re hoping to make his or her life easier. “I know that you’re really busy. While you are on the phone, are there any other family members who need an appointment booked?”

For the price conscious patient

“So, how much is a teeth cleaning?” Sound familiar? You’re dealing with a price-conscious patient. The price-conscious patient will be calling your office—and possibly others—to determine if the price is within his or her budget, or if your services are worth the price. He or she will ask specific questions and request specific price quotes. Good news: you can still book that appointment!

What to do: Focus on the patient’s needs and concerns to avoid getting sucked into pricing discussions. Empathize and impart urgency.

  • What to say: “I’m so sorry to hear you’re in pain. Unfortunately, we cannot provide pricing information until the doctor assesses your situation and a treatment plan is developed. Let’s get that assessment scheduled right away.”
  • Be knowledgeable about promotions, discounts and even basic exam prices. If you aren’t 100% certain, ask a coworker for a list of all discounts and promotions your office provides. Keep that list on hand at all times to help persuade patients.
  • What not to do: price quote on specific procedures. Most procedures require an initial assessment by the dentist and a subsequent treatment plan to determine an accurate price. Focus on the great value of your initial exam prices and schedule that appointment.

(Bonus: Repeat patients’ concerns back to them. Psychological studies have discovered that repeating what others have said back to them will help you connect. Mind. Blown.)

If you must, absolutely, no doubt about it, definitely quote a price, DON’T use a price range. Instead, quote the low end of the pricing spectrum and say it could be more or less. You’ll thank me later for this.

Saying this should do the trick: “Typically, our extractions run at about X dollars. Some are a bit more, some are a bit less — depending on the tooth and the complexity of the situation. We really need to get you scheduled for an assessment to give you the best answer. I have openings at 10:00 a.m & 2:00 p.m. tomorrow”

For the researching patient

This difficult dental patient has likely been looking up dentists online and has narrowed down his or her list as much as possible before ever placing a call. They ask short, yes or no questions just to get some more information, but appear to have no interest in having a conversation. They want to make a decision on their own. Some tricks to keep in your bag for this scenario are:

  • Make a personal connection quickly with the difficult patient. You know the old saying how first impressions go a long way? That person wasn’t kidding. Ensure this caller gets a good vibe from you and your team right away.
  • Practice your greeting enough that it sounds natural and your personality shines through. It only takes two weeks to form a habit. Make this one yours!
  • It sounds creepy, but place a mirror at your desk and smile into it when talking to every patient on the phone. Bare the awkwardness knowing that it’s doing the patient a favor by showing you care and are interested in him or her.
  • Use the patient’s name throughout the conversation. (Don’t go overboard and annoy him or her though.) To get more comfortable with using people’s names in conversation, try doing it with your office team.
  • Make it your priority for the day to figure out why patients like these are calling in. They’re not just calling you for fun; figure out why they need to see the dentist.
  • Know what makes your office special and be ready to tell the caller why he or she should come to your office over any others. If patients get their six-month cleaning, will they get a prize? Has the dentist done more than 500 extractions? Show off that information!

For the indecisive patient

This difficult dental patient is interested in your practice and is asking questions, but not 100% decided on booking yet. These patients may make excuses for why they are not prepared to decide, but really all they need is a little more convincing.

Polite ways to convince:

  • Always answer the phone with the purpose of booking an appointment.
  • You may not be a salesperson, but love your office, right?! (Er, I hope.) Talk about the reputation of the dentist, ease their concerns, smile while you speak and use an upbeat, friendly voice. By being confident in your office, you will transfer that confidence to the patient.
  • Be persistent. Work on trying to politely steer this difficult patient into a decision, while remembering to use a smile and welcoming attitude.

You’re not perfect, and you may not get it right every time, but you will be more equipped with what to say on the not-so-cookie-cutter calls.

Interested in other practice-building blog posts? Check out these!

Creating a Comfortable Environment in a Pediatric Orthodontist’s Clinic

How to Create a Comfortable Environment in a Pediatric Orthodontists Clinic

How To Stay Excited for 40 Years and More in the Dental Profession

How to Stay Excited for 40 Years and More in the Dental Profession

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