Why Your Phone Receptionist is Critical to Your Bottom Line

I just spent the last couple of hours calling practice management companies for price quotes.  I had a list of 9 companies that my assistant had located through web searched.  I started down the list and realized very quickly that professionalism really is a dying art.

So here is a simple conversation I had with one receptionist.

“I need to speak with someone regarding practice management for an ER group I represent”

“Would that be someone in our billing department,” said the clueless receptionist.

I replied, “We are happy with our billing company, we just need a management company to handle all the other stuff related to the practice”

She responded after a long drawn out pause, “Hmm, I’m not sure who that would be” (keep in mind their company title specifically stated “Practice Management” and their website detailed their skills in this area), she went on to say “let me transfer you to billing, I’m sure someone there can help.”

Then rather than transferring me to a billing manager she transferred me to their patient customer service line where they picked up and asked me for medical billing number – she didn’t even ask for my name.  So long story short after speaking with four people and being transferred all over the place I finally ended up leaving a message.  I can safely say that I won’t be using their company when they call back.

So of the 9 companies I contacted, I left 7 messages after spending large chunks of time in their phone trees.  Two of the seven did have receptionists, but the vast majority I ended up leaving voicemails in a general voicemail box.   I know it costs more to have a receptionist, but based on my phone experiences today I’ve already crossed 4 of the 9 companies off my list.

First impressions really do make or break a company.  In this digital era you can literally do business from anywhere.  This can be a double edged sword.  I made all my calls this morning in my workout gear while balancing on my medicine ball.  I definitely didn’t look professional, but I certainly sounded that way.  The key is to make sure you are always at the top of your game regardless of where you are conducting business.  Every time you answer your phone you are conveying a message.  The key is to convey the right message.

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I was able to speak with a salesman from one of the companies.  He returned my call within an hour even though he was attending the ACEP (American College of Emergency Physicians) conference at the time.  He was very professional and spent 20 minutes educating me on the services they offered.  Ironically enough at the end of the conversation when I gave my email address we realized we had actually meet a few years previously at another conference.

Obviously the salesman I spoke with was trained to handle inquiries like mine.  He was very professional and was able to answer all of my questions unlike the various receptionists I spoke with.  The problem is that the receptionist is the first line of defense for your business and if they give a poor impression then you are left scrambling to recapture the clients interest.

I know that phone trees can be tempting, but if at all possible have a live person answer and direct calls.  This person needs to know at least the basics of what each division of your company does.  They need to know who the key players in your organization are and who can handle various customer questions.

All calls should be answered within three rings and the customer should know immediately who is answering the phone and what company they have reached.  If you are on phone duty smile, I know it sounds stupid, but smile, it always carry through on the phone.  It is pretty obvious when someone is in a good mood.  If you have to transfer someone to voicemail, apologize in advance and let them know what you are doing.  I think the most important thing is to just be friendly.  Take the time to ask questions so that you can direct them to the right resource the first time.  There is nothing worse than being transferred from department to department and still not have resolution.

Professionalism really can make or break a company.  I’m in the market for a practice management that will typically earn 80,000-120,000 annually for their services.  Because of bad customer service on the front end I’ve already taken 4 companies out of the running.  I bet that their owners would be pretty upset if they knew the impact that a negative first impression made on their bottom line.

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