9 Must-Ask Questions When Considering a Dental Answering Service

Dental answering services can be a polarizing topic. Are they needed? What kind of return on investment (ROI) do they provide?

One thing is for certain, voicemail as a solution is a dying medium, especially during open and prime scheduling hours.  Without voicemail, dental offices must make decisions – what should I do with calls when my front office staff is either busy or unavailable? In the time of COVID, these questions get even more complex not knowing exactly what dental office staffing will look like in the weeks and months to come.

An answering service becomes the most viable option, but many offices worry about how that will fit with their practice culture. When considering options, here are nine (9) must-ask questions when considering a dental answering service:

1. Does the service have direct access to my schedule, and can patients be served at the time of the call? 

Having a live voice answering is great, but really, how much value does that provide an office compared to voicemail? For dentists, having an answering service with access to your live schedule so patients can be served and appointments converted in real time creates the kind of ROI needed for an answering service to be cost-effective.

2. Does the service have dental expertise?

If the answer is no, you should consider other options. The language of dentistry can be complex, and having a non-dental specialist answering the phone is a liability. General answering services take calls for all types of industries, and crossover between these calls – handyman, muffler shop, and dental – can be quite stark. Even medical-specific services can struggle with the intricacies of a dental office, making a dental specific service a huge benefit.

3. What onboarding steps does a service have to ensure they have the required knowledge base to provide excellent service to your patients?

You can tell a lot about the quality of service that will be provided by the questions asked during onboarding. Key points to keep in mind are:

  • Does the industry-specific verbiage used show a high level of understanding of what would be needed for a dental office?
  • Are the right questions being asked about insurance or in-office savings plans?
  • Are the right questions being asked regarding different scheduling philosophies, such as provider time, block scheduling, rock/sand/water, or double booking?  

If the right questions are not being asked, you can be assured the service will not properly understand your practice and will be doomed to fail.

4. Are calls recorded? How can my office access these recordings?

When selecting a dental answering partner, trust is a huge component. As an office, you have to be able to know your calls are being handled to the standard you expect and that a company stands behind their service.  This makes it vital to know what access you will have to your calls and how you can independently verify the quality of calls.

For example, at Unique Dental Scheduling, transparency is a core value. We offer 24/7 live access to an online portal where all calls are recorded, tagged for resolution, and available to customers at any time without needing to go through our team. If a company is not providing this minimum level of access, ask yourself why and if you would be comfortable knowing your calls are being handled with no insight or ability to verify from the office level.

5. What are the agreement terms? Are you locked into a long-term commitment if it does not work as planned?

As with any agreement, you want to know what commitment is required of the office and if you have flexibility if the service does not work as expected. While commitment is not automatically a disqualifying feature, many answering services feature no long-term agreements along with clear pricing with no hidden fees. If the pricing is unclear or the agreement asks for a term of a year or more, there might be better fits available. 

6. What are the hours that calls will be answered?

Knowing when calls are available to be answered obviously can color your decision making and is a question you will want to make sure you ask of any service. Some services are 24/7, while others use strategic hours to accomplish stated goals.

For example, Unique Dental Scheduling’s hours are 7am until 10pm (ET) Monday – Friday and 8am until 8pm (ET) on Saturday. This is by design as we know that 7a – 7p during the week and 8a-5p on Saturdays are when patients are most likely to call and schedule. We therefore offer these hours across all continental US time zones, creating maximum value for offices in any location.

7. Is the service HIPAA compliant?

While it may seem basic, HIPAA compliance is a must have for any dental office seeking an answering service. Any company you are looking to partner with should include a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) as a standard part of their agreement and should be willing to share a detailed HIPAA-compliance and data security plan as requested.

In addition, you will need to know how the company plans to communicate messages back and forth with your office team. In general, e-mail and text messages are not HIPAA compliant without additional technical integration, so be wary of claims to the contrary. In general, a secure message portal is the best communication medium for any healthcare organization, including dental offices.

8. Where is the service physically located? Are remote workers utilized, and if so, how is that managed?

It is important to know where callers answering your phones are located and how they are managed. Many offices want to know if their calls are handled in the United States or if any work is being done off-shore. Also, offices need to know if remote work-from-home agents are being used and if so, how they are setup: what steps are being taken to ensure HIPAA compliance, is the agent free of distraction and in a quiet environment, free of any potential background noise that could occur with working from a remote location?

At Unique, all our operations including call agents are centrally in Jeffersonville, IN, a suburb of  Louisville, KY, USA. Some agents work remotely via HIPAA compliant infrastructure to ensure staff safety with respect to social distancing but everyone is local to the area and has access to the physical office. This allows our team maximum flexibility in management, training, and coaching, ensuring the highest level of customer service for your patients.

9. What average cost and ROI my office can expect?

With any expense, you need to make sure the ROI is justified and generates positive value for your office. This makes an answering service that can also schedule so vital so you can track your ROI down to the patient level.

With no minimum or maximum usage, Unique has packages for all offices. Normally, a single office averages between $300 to $500 per month investment, generating additional 10x ROI, making our scheduling service a revenue generator along with the value-added benefits of better serving your patients in real time.

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