Front office staff are the face of a practice. Patients form perceptions about the quality of a doctor’s work based on interactions with staff at the front desk. As such, the people you hire as front office staff might just be the most important staff members in the practice.
How do you retain good, reliable front office staff? It starts with hiring the right people. But that process, according to Dianne Watterson, R.D.H., B.S., M.B.A., a Lexington, North Carolina-based dental management consultant, is one that many doctors dread.
And it’s particularly true in small offices.
“I think a lot of doctors would rather walk across hot coals barefooted than interview and hire a new staff member,” Watterson says.
Interviewing is a skill everyone can work at and improve. But Watterson says even before getting to that stage of the process, finding the right front office staff starts with having a good ad.
KNOWING YOUR PLACE
Placement of your job ad is critical. Watterson says ads must be placed where they are going to generate the best response.
For example, in some parts of the country Craig’s List will generate some good candidates. But she believes doctors are more likely to find high quality candidates from Indeed.com or GlassDoor.com.
The job ad also needs to be well written, and contain verbiage that helps attract the kind of candidates you seek. For example, a well-written front office job ad might read as follows:
“Our exceptional practice is looking for a person who has excellent communication skills in person and over the telephone. If you are enthusiastic, caring, dependable and have computer experience with scheduling, insurance and collections, please send a resume and a cover letter.”
Then, Watterson recommends conducting a phone interview with candidates before bringing them into the office. After all, she says, doctors should not waste their time with people who are totally unqualified. And for front desk staff, phone skills, including good command of grammar and a pleasant, professional phone voice, are a must.
What should you ask candidates? Watterson recommends avoiding yes/no and true/false type questions. Instead, get the candidate talking by asking questions like, “Tell me what you liked most about your last position,” or, “What kind of hobbies do you have?” The reason for this approach, she says, is that people have become adept at developing paper personas.
“They can make themselves look really good on paper,” she explains. “They can even have good references. But they’re just not a good fit for the job.”
ATTRACTING AND RETAINING
The number one fringe benefit for employees today is medical benefits. That can sometimes be problematic for small practices, but some offices will offer a set amount of dollars per month to help employees defray the cost of medical insurance.
Competitive pay is also critical.
“If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys,” Watterson says. “If you expect to hire a high quality individual, it’s doubtful you will get somebody like that with bargain basement pay. A doctor has to be competitive.”
Paid time off is also an important fringe benefit to attract good staff. But Watterson says that the best front office staff will diligently manage a doctor’s schedule to keep it full, thereby positively affecting productivity. As such, she believes that rather than just once-a-year pay raises, the best incentive is a random act of kindness bonus.
For example, if the doctor has a month where they knock production and collection out of the park, take a set amount of cash, say $1,000, and divide it among staff members, possibly prorating it for part-time staff.
“Just give them cash,” Watterson says. “Put it in an envelope with a thank you note. They’re not expecting it. That is one of the most powerful bonuses you can give a staff member.”
Watterson recalls one doctor who told his staff, in advance, not to plan anything for Friday starting at noon when the office closed. At noon, he had a limo parked in front of the practice and gave each of his five staff members $200. He put them in the limo and told them, “You have three hours to go out and spent this. And you can’t spend it on somebody else. You must spend it on yourself.”
“That doctor is building loyalty like crazy,” she says. “But it doesn’t have to cost a lot. It can be a good word at the end of the day. ‘I could not have done this without you today. Thank you so much for your hard work.’ Those kinds of things really build loyalty, and they are the things that make people want to stay.”