According to Zendesk, more than 50% of customers across all age groups typically use the phone to reach out to a service team, making it the most-used channel for customer service.

The phone is still a crucial part of any business, and especially for healthcare professionals. After a long and uncertain year and a half of living with COVID, patients are more hesitant than ever about visiting a healthcare facility. They want assurance it is safe for them to come in for treatment. An effective way to do this is with a welcoming, friendly voice on the phone to greet them. 

Your receptionist has always been essential, and they are even more essential right now because they are the first connection between you and your patients. 

While we’ve begun to come out on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic, hiring front desk staff has never been more difficult. At Smiledog, the general sentiment from our clients right now is that the hiring pool seems to be quiet — quieter than it has ever been.

The investment and time commitment needed to get a new team member up to speed comes at a high cost and is especially challenging when practice owners are fully focused on getting their clinics back up to full capacity. There isn’t time to spend 3-6 months onboarding a new receptionist when they could jump ship at any moment. 

This is where virtual appointment setting could be a great option. However, before you decide if this is the solution for you, ask yourself: Is my practice optimized for a virtual appointment setting service?

Let’s dive into the 4 tips for setting yourself up for success with a virtual receptionist and having them book your appointments.

1. Know your phone system

The most important factor to consider here is that you want to have full control over your call forwarding.

The process should be quick and easy. You will either manually enter the call forwarding codes on your physical phone in the clinic or program them via your online account with your phone carrier. 

Getting all the details of your call forwarding options is actually the first step in getting you closer to using a virtual receptionist.

What is call forwarding and how can you use it?

Call forwarding is simply redirecting your main clinic number to a different external number to be answered. 

  • Full Call Forwarding: This forwarding feature redirects all incoming calls to another number.
  • No Answer Transfer: This forwarding feature redirects incoming calls after a set number of rings on your side first. We recommend a maximum of 2-3 rings on your side before transferring over to a virtual receptionist. Keep in mind that 3 rings on your end and 3 rings on our end is actually 6 rings for the patient. So you need to determine what is best for your practice.
  • Busy Call Forwarding: This forwarding feature ensures calls do not get sent to voicemail. If your clinic line is already busy and another call comes in, then it will transfer that call to the virtual receptionist instead of pushing it to your voicemail.

The call forwarding you should use is really dependent on your needs. One option isn’t better than the other and in most cases, it is actually the combination of all types that work best. For example, full call forwarding is best when you know you can’t take any calls. No answer transfer is best when your in-house staff can get to most calls, but they need the reassurance that another person will help if a distraction comes up. And busy call forwarding is ideal because it can help you increase your call capacity without having calls go to voicemail.

2. Simplify your booking procedures

It is obviously not the receptionist’s job to know each practitioner’s specialty at the same level as the practitioner. The receptionist’s job is to connect the patient with the practitioner as quickly as possible by either booking in or taking a message.

A patient in pain wants to get booked in as quickly and as seamlessly as possible. So for your patients’ sake, you want to make the booking process fast and easy. 

We have learned over our 15 years of helping practices improve their phone service that the organization of your information is crucial. It needs to be organized and processed in a way that both the receptionist and patient can understand. This will make the booking process much easier to navigate for your virtual team and your patients when they call in. It allows your receptionist to develop more confidence, which will ultimately lead to more bookings. 

Here’s the most important information to keep handy for your receptionist:

  • General Practice info. You’ll want to organize the following:
    • Address
    • Main phone numbers
    • Main contact email
    • Scheduling software login
    • Payment methods
    • All relevant general practice information
  • Practitioner Profiles. Each practitioner should have a set of instructions for how they want their individual calls handled. (Example: Try to book patients first or take a message if it is a non-booking call.)
    • Provide the practitioner’s contact info
    • Provide the practitioner’s modality and/or position at the clinic
  • How-To’s. These are the most important instructions where clarity is crucial. The main thing to consider here is simplicity. If you are mapping your booking rules and notice that the instructions for a particular style of booking have too many if then/only when caveats, then it is best to separate those out and create more than one how-to. Examples include:
    • How to book a new patient
    • How to book an existing patient
    • How to book a free consult
    • How to book a same-day appointment request
    • How to handle inappropriate/banned patients
    • How to handle a waitlist appointment
    • How to handle mobile treatment requests
  • Info instructions. This information is a way to categorize unique information within your practice. You will want to divide this info into a simple format to ensure it is quickly accessible.
    • INFO: Cancellation Policy
    • INFO: Insurance details
    • INFO: Location & Directions
    • INFO: Services & Pricing
    • INFO: Service types by practitioner (who does what)
  • COVID screening rules. You will need to have a specific set of screening rules/questions to ensure the patient qualifies for an appointment.

3. Implement web-based booking software

It is crucial for your practice to have a web-based booking system that allows you to create an administrative profile for your virtual receptionist

You ensure security with this system by protecting your login, and you can track the number of appointments booked by your administrative profile. This will help you measure the success of your virtual team. 

JaneApp in particular has a wonderful option for this that is free within your account. Other platforms like Cliniko, Acuity, and Mindbody are also great options that a virtual receptionist can use and integrate easily.

Web-based booking software also allows you to create online booking options via your website, and it’s a great tool to increase your bookings without any additional cost.

4. Keep your virtual team up-to-date through collaboration

The main goal of a virtual receptionist is to help balance the workload. They will help you deliver customer service over the phone and help book appointments while you’re in appointments. 

Worrying about each and every word of every phone call will ultimately result in an unsuccessful relationship. This is why Smiledog does absolutely no call scripting. Instead, our focus is on simplifying your appointment booking process. This allows your virtual team to deliver better customer service because they can more easily engage in organic conversations with your patients instead of sounding like call center employees.

Updates and changes are expected, and we understand that they are part of a growing clinic. So communicative collaboration is essential to ensuring your virtual team is always up-to-date. The best way to ensure collaboration is by consistently letting your team know what is going on. For small, minor updates, email is usually the preferred method of communication; for larger protocol changes, we recommend scheduling a meeting with an account lead to ensure those changes are understood and properly implemented. 

What constitutes a minor vs. major update?

Minor updates are: 

  • Vacation notices
  • Email or phone number changes for a practitioner
  • New or adjusted clinic hours

Major updates are:

  • New service offering(s) being implemented
  • New practitioner coming to the team
  • New location added

During the virtual receptionist onboarding process, a crucial factor is strategizing your account structure. It will serve as the foundation on which your virtual receptionist will handle your calls, and it will prevent the need for micromanagement.

Ensuring there are simple and structured booking rules in place upfront is key to having a successful virtual receptionist. Once the concept of how to book your appointments is understood, making smaller or larger changes as your clinic evolves will have much less of an impact on your virtual team’s service delivery.

Wrapping up

Specific actions like simplifying your booking rules, implementing web-based booking software, collaborating with your virtual receptionist, and studying your phone system setup are great ways to ensure a smooth handoff to your virtual team. 

Implementing a virtual receptionist for your practice is actually very easy to do if the upfront preparation is handled properly. With our 15 years of experience, we are confident that the tips listed above are a great start to get your practice ready for virtual appointment setting. 

Still wondering if virtual reception is right for your practice? Here are 3 benefits to consider when thinking about virtual reception: 

  1. More consistent customer service.
  2. More appointment booking opportunities.
  3. More time back in your day to focus on growing your clinic.

Creating a seamless and simple transition from patient call to appointment booked will result in much stronger customer satisfaction and a more successful relationship with your virtual team. The more simplified your processes are, the easier it will be to scale your practice.

If you’d like to find out more about virtual appointment setting, schedule a consultation with us here.