woman on phone

10 Lessons We Learned from Listening to 5,000 Patient Calls

Randi Grant

By Randi Grant

Marketing Manager

Published July 14, 2020
Updated November 9, 2023

9 min read

Changes You Can Make Today To Double Dental
Phone Conversions

You’re used to us talking about website conversion because, well, that’s what we do. We turn website visitors into new patient leads who pick up the phone and call your practice.

But what happens when they call? It’s up to you and your office staff to convert that new patient lead into a new patient with a booked appointment.

As part of our Google Ads service, we use call tracking and recording. This allows us and the client to see exactly how many new patient leads the ads are getting, as well as exactly what the leads are calling about, how the calls are handled, and how many are booked. This data informs future ads and training opportunities for the practice.

So what have we learned after listening to over 5,000 patient calls? That there are 10 important, yet simple, things you can implement or fix today to turn more new patient leads into new patient appointments.


#1. Make “converting new patients” part of the job description

Does your front desk team know that it is part of their job to convert new callers into patients or do they think their job is to answer the phone and schedule appointments? There is a difference and until that shift is made, the rest of these tips will be hard to implement.

LESSON: Talk to your staff about converting new dental patients and the role that plays in the success of the practice. Explain their role in it and how you plan to support them (training, resources, etc.). This will empower them to feel like a stakeholder in the success of the practice.

#2. Rephrase your responses

A lot of callers are simply checking around for pricing. At one particular practice, we noticed, by listening to two different front office team members answer the phone, what a big difference the subtle rephrasing of your answers can make.

Team member #1 was asked for pricing and said, “Our price for a new patient is $99 and includes x-rays, dental exam, and cleaning.” Every time she answered, they said, “Thank you” and hung up.

When team member #2 answered the phone, she said, “We actually have a new patient special right now. It’s $99 and includes x-rays, a dental exam, and cleaning.” They stopped calling around. They found a deal and booked the appointment.

Along the same lines, when people call in asking about private health insurance, a simple, “No, we don’t take your insurance” is surely going to end the call. But there’s an example of how one all-cash practice phrases it that has been very successful:

“Although we’re not a preferred provider with that particular health fund, we accept all major health funds and can process your rebate immediately with our HICAPS machine on-site. We also have special pricing for non-health fund members if that suits you better. When did you want to come in for a free consultation?"

LESSON: It’s all in how you present things. A simple rephrasing of your standard responses could be all it takes to pique interest. A “new patient special” sounds far more enticing than simply stating the price. Letting a lead know that even if they don’t have health insurance, you offer special pricing for non-health fund members and sharing an alternative option to insurance keeps the conversation going and shows you are willing to help them.

#3. Ask for the caller’s name

One particular team member we listened to stands out as a rockstar on the phone. She always asks, “Who am I speaking with?” and “Is there a number to reach you if we get disconnected” right away. The caller isn’t necessarily expecting this, but gives her the information. Now, the practice has the name and number of the caller, they’ve shown they want to help even if they get disconnected, they’re invested. This seems to make it much easier to drive the conversation and book the patient in.

Another trait of those who successfully book a lot of new patients is calling the caller by name. Once you’ve asked for their name, it shows you’re paying attention when you use their name later on in the conversation.

LESSON: The personal connection made when asking a caller for their name can make a big difference in your ability to book them an appointment. Try asking the caller for their name and number on your next few calls and see if it makes an impact.

#4. Be transparent about insurance

A super busy practice was missing about 25% of all calls to voicemail or voicemail hangups. While listening to the calls, we noticed that 25% of the calls that they did answer were asking if they accepted private health insurance, which they do not. This was time and resources wasted answering a question that could have easily been communicated in their marketing and advertising. By putting insurance info in the ad and on their website, this practice was able to answer more calls that were the right fit for their practice.

LESSON: Communicate in your marketing whether or not you accept insurance and which types. Every single call is costing you money – staff time at the very least and ad spend + staff time if you’re running ads. Make sure every call counts.

#5. Communicate, communicate, communicate

One doctor had a Google Ads campaign running for TMJ, but when a potential new patient called, the front desk was not aware of the offer. In fact, they seemed like it was odd he’d be calling about such a thing. The patient seemed confused and the new patient was lost.

LESSON: Communicate all promotions and marketing initiatives with the front desk. Answer any questions they have and make sure everyone is clear on the cost and other important details before they answer the phone.

#6. A little empathy goes a long way

The people that are the most successful on the phone have one thing in common – empathy for the caller. A standout example of this occurred during the COVID-19 shutdown. One dental practice was completely booked out given the limited schedule and reduced capacity requirements. But the team member didn’t let that stop her from helping every caller. She rearranged appointments when she could, asked the dentist if he could stay a little later, or, if they really couldn’t make it work, suggested another local practice that might be able to fit them in in the timeframe they needed. In her tone, in her words, in her efforts, the callers knew she truly cared.

LESSON: Focus on the caller and their needs and then see if what you offer can meet those needs. Engage with callers in a warm, empathetic way. Any other approach will send a message that you don’t care.

#7. Multitasking may cost you

Someone called in and asked for a new patient visit. He did not say it was urgent, but the front desk staff member who answered the phone assumed he wanted to be seen that week. Rather than ask if she could schedule it for another week, she said they had no appointments and gave him the number of someone else. She seemed rushed and distracted.

LESSON: Don’t try to multi-task when potential new patients call in. Dentists must communicate the importance of new patient calls to the front desk and have a plan in place for busy times. The front desk needs strategies to deal with multiple patient interactions at once. For instance, the caller in the example above probably would have been fine being placed on a brief hold or called back when the staff member had more time to speak with them.

#8. Lead the conversation

One practice has two team members who typically answer the phone. Team member #1 always answers the phone with “Old Town Dental, this is Anne.” There is an awkward pause as the caller waits for Anne to say something else.

Team member #2 answers the phone with, “Old Town Dental, this is Susan, how can I help you?” While the difference is small, the callers seem much more natural and comfortable on the calls with Susan because she asked how she can help. She opened the door for the caller to speak.

It’s similar to the calls-to-action on your website (“Click here,” “View our services,” etc.). They guide people toward a certain action. You don’t want to make the customer have to think too hard about the next step. And on the phone, it’s even more apparent if you don’t gently guide the conversation because you end up with awkward silence. A simple “How can I help you?” is usually all it takes to get the conversation flowing.

LESSON: Lead the conversation and guide your caller through the new patient process. Don’t make it awkward for the patient to get what they need.

#9. Clarity is important

It’s not uncommon for us to hear staff answer the phone, “Doctor’s office. How can I help you?” Without stating the name of the practice, the caller is taken aback for a moment, unsure if they’ve called the right place. This leads them to ask for clarification, “Is this Old Town Dental?” While it may not be a dealbreaker, it’s not a great way to start a conversation with a new patient lead.

LESSON: Make it easy on the caller and avoid confusion by stating the practice name when answering the phone.

#10. Celebrate success

At times, working at the front desk can feel like a tedious and thankless job. We’ve found that the practices that acknowledge the number of new patients a team member books continue to see great results (and have a happier front desk staff).

You can take it a step further and incentivise your staff to get them excited about booking new patients. Whether it’s an incentive for every new patient or just higher ticket services booked, you may find it motivates your staff to take new patient calls more seriously.

LESSON: People love to be rewarded for their efforts. Test out a $10 bonus for every new patient booked. You might be surprised what a difference it makes.


Consider Call Tracking to Improve Phone Conversion Rates

Call tracking is the best way to monitor front desk phone conversations. With this technology, you’re not only able to monitor the content of the call, you can see the rate at which a prospective patient turns into a new patient.

Call tracking also allows you to measure the performance of all your marketing campaigns. By assigning a special number to your business phone line, you can see the caller’s information, the duration of the call, and the source of the call (SEO, digital advertising, traditional ads, etc.). So not only do you get valuable training information from listening to the calls, you are able to see the return on your dental marketing investments.

ACTION ITEM: Contact your website and/or marketing provider to see if they offer a call tracking service.

Get More New Patient Calls

If you’re reading this thinking, “These tips are great, but I need more new patient leads to even call in the first place,” then it’s time to rethink your marketing strategy. Book a consultation with one of our Digital Marketing Consultants today to discuss how the Smile Marketing website and digital marketing service could help you reach your new patient goals.