Make a Fine Front-Line Impression How do you maintain a functional and friendly front desk at your business? A private-practice expert shared tips in a recent ASHA online conference chat. The Leader listened in. Overheard
Overheard  |   May 01, 2017
Make a Fine Front-Line Impression
Author Notes
  • Kevin D. St. Clergy, MS, is a well-known speaker in the speech-language/audiology profession and hearing aid industry. He has a master’s degree in audiology and 20 years of practice-development experience.
    Kevin D. St. Clergy, MS, is a well-known speaker in the speech-language/audiology profession and hearing aid industry. He has a master’s degree in audiology and 20 years of practice-development experience.×
Article Information
Practice Management / Professional Issues & Training / ASHA News & Member Stories / Overheard
Overheard   |   May 01, 2017
Make a Fine Front-Line Impression
The ASHA Leader, May 2017, Vol. 22, online only. doi:10.1044/
The ASHA Leader, May 2017, Vol. 22, online only. doi:10.1044/
Participant: What are your best tips for front-desk staff to handle unhappy parents? Doesn’t happen often but can be intimidating when it does. Any ideas for ways to defuse parent intimidating behavior would be helpful.
Kevin St. Clergy: One of my favorite books to help go deeper into the subject is “A Complaint Is a Gift” [by Janelle Barlow and Claus Moller]. In that book, the authors outline a process for dealing with unhappy customers/patients. The first step is to acknowledge that they are upset: “Sorry to hear that, Mr. Jones. I can certainly understand why you’d be frustrated. Let me see what we can do.” If they are standing, your front-desk employee should stand up, too. Most people understand that things happen and people make mistakes, so they are usually willing to give someone a chance to make it right. After you’ve offered to find a person to help, get the [unhappy client’s or parent’s] contact info so you can have that staff member handle the situation. Or if the [staff member] is in the office, put them somewhere quiet in a room where they can have a conversation with them so that it’s not out in public. Then thank them for bringing it to your attention.
Participant: When are training sessions scheduled? Before work, after work, during lunch? Is training a requirement of your contract or offer letter of employment, or do you provide a bonus or other incentives for attendance?
St. Clergy: I’ve seen trainings scheduled at all times during the day. I usually recommend during the normal workday—most employees value their personal time, so try not to take that away from them. Training should be a requirement of the job. Don’t offer incentives for things that should be part of their job. Otherwise they’ll ask for it every time you do something different. Do give them time away from their normal job to complete the training.
Participant: Can you elaborate on ways to overcome a caller’s objections to scheduling an appointment with the speech-language pathologist?
St. Clergy: Objections are simply temporary reasons for not buying—or, in this case, not scheduling. I would simply make a list of reasons that patients have given before, and make sure the front-desk employees are comfortable with each answer they should be giving (you’ll need to role-play with them). But in my experience, it’s usually something like, “That’s a great question, Mrs. Jones. I would recommend scheduling an appointment with [the SLP] to get all your questions answered. Our patients comment all the time about how thorough she is and how great a job she does at explaining how everything works. In fact, she’s got an opening as early as Wednesday—what’s better for you, 10 a.m. or 3 p.m.?”
Participant: What if the objection is, “I have to ask my husband”?
St. Clergy: That’s a tough one, as usually couples do like to talk. I would say something like, “Great—no problem. How much time do you need and when shall I follow up with you?”
Participant: As someone who does not have a front-desk person (I am a sole practitioner), my initial phone consultation with a prospective client is my “front-desk impression,” so to speak. Do you have any specific recommendations for this form of first-impression making? I am an accent coach, working with adult professionals in the business world.
St. Clergy: It’s the same whether you’re the owner or a front-desk employee. The key is to smile while you are talking with someone, making sure you answer their questions and encourage a first visit to meet you.
Participant: As a sole practitioner with no front-desk person, I’m afraid many calls will end up going to voice mail. Is there a magic formula for what to include in an outgoing voice-mail message that will encourage people to leave a message?
St. Clergy: I think the question you need to be asking is, do you think it’s better to have an answering machine answer the phone or a human being? Which do you prefer? Most would say human being. I also encourage you to think about positioning yourself as an expert. How many doctors do you go to that answer their own phone? If it’s a budgeting thing and it can’t be helped, just make sure you have caller ID so you can call back those who don’t leave a message. The machine message needs to state expectations and say, “Please leave a message and we will get back to you within 24 hours.” Or something similar.
Participant: We wanted to model best-practice management in our university clinic, but we also wanted to include students in the process, which means students are sometimes covering the front desk, which can lead to a lot of variability. Any suggestions for balancing including students versus delivering a fully professional-level experience for our patients?
St. Clergy: That is a great opportunity for the students, and I highly recommend it. If there is a lot of variability, that isn’t the students’ fault—it’s the clinic manager’s. Working the front desk needs to be outlined in detail—what they should do, how they should use a greeting and everything else. When it’s written down, you train each person correctly. You just need to plug students into the system first; then, once they have shown they can do the things outlined, they can then work in that position.
Participant: Do you have any recommendations on how we can monitor quality customer service? If people do not complain, it is difficult to know if there were complaints.
St. Clergy: You can use online reviews as a gauge or simply use Survey Monkey for short surveys. Those are really the two ways online.
Participant: I would appreciate your ideas regarding last-minute cancellations and if you have a policy for no-show appointments. I expect some cancellations with pediatrics, as children can get off the school bus and tell Mom they aren’t feeling well—but I have people who cancel if a cloud comes up.
St. Clergy: I have a doctor who charges if the patient has two last-minute cancellations in a row. Another who just charges if I don’t reschedule within 24 hours. So it is up to you. They happen. I would start a waiting list for those who want to come in earlier; then when you do have a cancellation, you can start filling up the schedule with the ones who wanted an earlier appointment. Try charging and see what happens.
Participant: Our staff is spread out over several locations. Would you recommend having weekly meetings via phone or web, since actually getting together face to face will be difficult?
St. Clergy: Yes, I’d suggest weekly phone meetings using Google Docs/sheets so that everyone can be on the same document (agenda). You can also use Office 365 with Word Online to do the same thing.
Participant: At my front desk we seem to spend a lot of time explaining to people how their own insurance works, usually when they come for the appointment. Is there a way to streamline this information and get it across without so much time spent?
St. Clergy: You can consider emailing that information to the patient before they come in to save some time. Or have a document that outlines the benefits and is easy to understand, too (if possible).
Participant: I’m an SLP with a small pediatric practice. I failed to hire the correct person to run the front desk and to keep her for a long time. Any suggestion for finding and keeping a front-desk person?
St. Clergy: I would hire slow and fire fast. The best thing you can do is to run an ad that has two things at the end. One is this statement: “Please send your resume and cover letter in PDF form only.” You’ll be surprised at how many people will send it in Microsoft Word. If they do, don’t even consider them for the job. The other is to put “top performers only need apply.” This will help you get good people responding to the ad. You can do this or not, but I usually like to say after they’ve starting talking about themselves, “Look, I’m not hearing top performer.” You’re looking for someone who can deal with conflict. You want the person who says, “Oh, really? Well, you should call my old boss and ask him how I completely took his business from x to x.” Those are two powerful ways to get great people in that position.
Participant: I am the front-desk person (owner). My employees (SLPs) talk with parents often. How can I encourage them to set goals? Would setting a goal for rescheduling be an example? Do you have any other suggestions?
St. Clergy: You have to get them in the habit of setting goals for themselves. Try open-ended questions first: What are your goals for work, for seeing patients, for revenue production for the practice? Try to steer them toward the goals you have for the practice. If that doesn’t work, you’ll have to help them set goals that you want to see with suggestions. A reschedule rate can definitely be a goal. Other goals can be centered on new patients seen, referrals generated, reviews collected online, revenue production, etc.
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May 2017
Volume 22, Issue 5