How to hire the perfect front desk person

True or false? Your Front Desk Person can ‘make or break’ your practice.  

Most likely, visions of the good, the bad and the downright awful flashed through your head in the moment before you answered, “True, of course.”

A good Front Desk Person is vital to the success of your practice for a multitude of reasons, but none more important than the fact that this is the first face your patients see when they walk in the door, and often the last to wave goodbye. This is the voice on the other end of the phone when someone calls to make a new patient appointment, or calls when they’re in pain or discomfort and seeking help.

In these situations, the person on the phone or at the front desk is not thinking about the doctor, they are looking to your Front Desk Person to reassure them that your entire teams cares about them and wants to help.

Done well, these are the moments that will determine whether patients stay with your practice forever, or leave because they feel under-appreciated, or even worse, ignored.

Sadly, many dentists look at the Front Desk chair as merely a necessary expense driving up their overhead, and therefore seek to get the cheapest possible employee for the job.  More often than not, these are the same dentists who wonder why their practice isn’t growing.  

Why on earth would you trust this job to anyone less than ‘perfect’?

“Well, that’s easy for you to say, 
but how do I find this person?!”

It’s not easy, but it can be done. Start by making a list of what you’re looking for, and what qualities and attributes will best ‘fit’ with your practice philosophy and values. If the person you end up hiring has all the skills you need, but can’t get along with the rest of the team, including the doctor, you’ve wasted a lot of time and money in a losing proposition.

Perfect employee checklist write on transparent wipe board by hand holding a marker

Karen Johnson, Dental Warranty’s Practice Support Manager, and someone who has worked in dentistry and front offices for more than 25 years, believes, “the perfect Front Desk Person does not necessarily need to come in knowing dentistry. You can teach someone how to answer the phone, what words to use and not use,” she says, “and you can teach them how to file ADA procedure codes. But you can’t teach honesty, integrity, attitude, compassion or emotional maturity – those things have to come from them.”

In most offices, Johnson knows, the Front Desk Person plays a multitude of roles, and at any one moment is probably answering the phone, while making an appointment, while grabbing a chart, while taking a payment, while signing for a delivery, while… well, the list goes on and on.

For that reason, she suggests running an ad that includes the terms: effective multi-tasker, emotional maturity, flexibility, customer-service oriented, effective communicator, professional appearance, compassionate, ability to work well under stress, basic financial skills, and, an important but often over-looked asset, sales skills. Johnson explains why:

Financial Plan word on notebook page

“In many offices, including those that provide Dental Warranty services to their patients, the Front Desk Person is often the Financial Coordinator as well,” she says. ”They are the one who says, “Mr. Jones, it looks like you need a crown on #12, and Dr. Smith would like to get this done as soon as possible to protect the integrity of the tooth. The cost of the crown, including Dental Warranty’s 5-year protection plan, is $X.”  Therefore, the ability to ‘sell’ needed treatment, with confidence, is key, as is the ability to effectively communicate the benefits of other options that are available to help alleviate financial and related concerns, like patient financing or peace-of-mind coverage offered by Dental Warranty.

And finally, Johnson, who is also a Certified Fraud Examiner, recommends running criminal background checks on all applicants, regardless of job title, as well as following up on references. “Fraud and embezzlement are, unfortunately, rampant in dentistry,” she says. “The cost of background and references checks is miniscule in proportion to what is potentially at stake if you fail to do so.”   

"Okay, we found our Front Desk Person,
yeah! Now what?"

In a word -- support.

Male dentist, his assistant and female patient in dental practice

No matter how promising your new Front Desk Person is, he or she still needs the support and encouragement of the entire team to prosper in their new position. Ideally there is an Office Manager or Practice Administrator on the team who can provide direction, vision, training, as well as correction or adjustment if needed. (Remember, if this person is as good as you believe, they will expect to be treated well, or they’ll most likely walk out the door. Good people don’t have a hard time finding good jobs.)

Systems are also key. Successful practices have systems in place that they follow, for:

  • Office flow – who goes where, and when?
  • Scheduling – bigger procedures first? Last?
  • Treatment planning – what happens between ‘here’s what you need’ and ‘here’s how we’ll help you get it done’.
  • Credit and payment arrangements - pay on the way in, or on the way out?

Every practice is different, of course, but regardless of the ‘how’, the ‘who’ is vital to your success, and the Front Desk Person is a huge part of that ‘who.’

“Successful practices are patient-centered,” Johnson says, “and your Front Desk Person is vital in making sure patients know how important they are, and how much their oral health matters to you and your entire team. My advice - choose wisely.”



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