Customer Call

By John K. McGill, CPA, MBA, JD

Recent World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations have made patients more fearful about visiting your office. So, it’s more important than ever to ensure your front desk staffers handle patients who do call in a friendly, understanding, and knowledgeable manner. Otherwise, common phone blunders will drive them away.

Explain and Inform

Most patients want to comply with your new office protocols to keep them safe, but only if they are communicated in a manner so they don’t offend.

“Of course it’s safe to come to our office!” While this is true, it comes off as defensive. Moreover, a patient concerned about safety wants to know how you are protecting them. Instead, respond: “We’ve always followed stringent infection-control protocols and have added many more to ensure CDC compliance. Our goal is to keep you and our team safe. Here are just a few things we’re doing…”

“It’s our policy.”

Patients may hear your new COVID-19 protocols as “Because I said so.” That’s neither informative nor satisfying. If a patient asks why your office requires masks or why they can’t bring their child or other family member to their appointment, explain the rationale and how it impacts them.

“Wait in your car until we call you.”

Remember, while you need to make sure your patients know the policies—it’s more important to explain why they are needed.

Try this: “We want to keep everyone safe, so we are maintaining social distancing by not using our reception area. Call us at [number] to let us know when you arrive. When it’s time for your appointment, we’ll call and meet you at the door, take your temperature, and ask you a few screening questions.”

Conveying Competence

Patients call your office because they need your professional services. Don’t let the wrong response to a question undermine their confidence. Your staff should never say:

“I don’t know.”

If an employee can’t answer the question, the proper response is: “I don’t have that information, but I will connect you to the right person who does.”

“I’m sorry, I’m new here.”

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This, by itself, may be worse than “I don’t know,” because it signals both incompetence and avoidance of responsibility. Instead, respond: “Ms. Smith, I’m new here and just learning the ropes, but I know exactly who can help you. Let me transfer you to Sandra.”

Making “On Hold” Less Obnoxious

Ideally you’d never put patients on hold, but sometimes it can’t be helped. When it happens, don’t say: “Hold, please.” Never answer a call this way. It’s not only rude, but also makes the patient feel dismissed. A better response: “Do you mind if I put you on hold, or would you prefer that I call you right back?” This both gives patients a choice and lets them know they’re important to you.

The same applies to “Hang on a second.” A better response: “It may take me a minute or two to get that information. May I put you on hold while I check, or should I call you back with the answer?”

Don’t Create Dead Ends

“No.” This isn’t the way to win patients, so instead, frame it positively. Rather than saying, “No, Dr. Walker can’t see you until Thursday,” respond, “I’m sorry, Dr. Walker’s schedule is filled, but Dr. Baker can see you at 2 p.m. today. Will that work for you?”

Worse than “no” is “We can’t do that.” This will likely aggravate your patients. Instead, say: “Let me see what I can do and call you back.” Even if the request ends up being impossible, at least they know you tried.


John K. McGill, CPA, MBA, JD

John K. McGill, CPA, MBA, JD
John is a nationally prominent tax attorney and CPA who has specialized in dealing exclusively with the dental profession for more than 30 years. He is President of John K. McGill & Company, Inc., Editor of The McGill Advisory newsletter and shareholder in the law firm of McGill and Hassan, P.A. He graduated with honors from Erskine College and holds both a Master of Business Administration and law degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He formerly worked with the Office of Chief Counsel, the legal branch of the Internal Revenue Service, in Washington, DC. He is a member of the American Bar Association and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.


This article was reprinted with permission from The McGill Advisory, a monthly newsletter with online resources devoted to tax, financial planning, investments, and practice management matters exclusively for dentists and specialists, published by John K. McGill & Company, Inc. (a member of The McGill & Hill Group LLC). Visit or call 888.249.7537 for further information.

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