When I am called into an office to help with the collections process, the Dentist will often say something like, ”Debra, I’ve told her a dozen times to call people every day until she gets in touch with them. But she just won’t do it. She’s not assertive enough to pick up the phone. She just keeps sending letters. Will you please go over with her the importance of reaching these people by phone?”
I agree that the phone is the best way to get people to realize that you are serious about collecting money. I’ve never had money come in from a difficult collection just by sending a letter or statement. The statements only work for the people who routinely pay their bills. Collection letters work for the next level of patient – the ones who only pay if they think they must to avoid legal action. But nothing works as good as a phone call.
So I meet with the financial coordinator and here is most often what I hear in regards to, “Why do you avoid calling patients about their overdue account?”
“What am I supposed to say?”
Somehow, this person managed to get assigned the duty of collecting accounts receivable without ever receiving adequate training. I’ve attended several accounts receivable training courses that I was really excited about only to come home disappointed and having learned nothing. Often, a consultant will get so wrapped up in the process of sending out letters and collecting while in the office, that he/she forgets about the call we sometimes have to make. This is a critical part of the process, so I am going to give you some sample scripts now. Hopefully, I have covered every possible scenario with what the patient on the other end is going to say.
First, let’s talk about the pre-conceived notions that many team members have about what is going to happen on the phone call and dispel some myths. What is the fear involved with making a collection call anyway? No one can shoot you over the phone, right?
The first fear the team member often has is, “What if this person is not satisfied with the work Dr. Smith performed?” That’s the one I hear most often. Okay, if this person is truly dissatisfied, isn’t it better to know it and be able to fix it rather than have that patient blabbing all over town about Dr. Smith’s inferior work? In fact, I started to see these collection calls as a customer service opportunity after a while. There were occasions (few and far between, thankfully) when the person on the other end was truly dissatisfied with something. It does happen. Sometimes it was the doctor or his work, sometimes it was the team or our work, how we collected or did not collect from insurance as promised, etc. Handle it correctly, and you’ll have a happy, paying, and loyal patient for life. We assume that if someone has a problem, they will call us. But they don’t. They wait, put it off, just like us putting off calling them about their bill. And every time they receive a statement they “plan” to call and discuss it with us, but they hate confrontation as much as we do and assume, as we do, that we will become upset. Can you see the vicious cycle we create here?
So just call, and ask, “Mrs. Jones, I’ve noticed that your account is 60 days past due. Was everything okay with your partial/denture/crown/inlay/last visit?” (Say whatever is appropriate here obviously.)
Mrs. Jones: ‘Oh, yes, dear. Everything is wonderful. Dr. Smith is a terrific dentist isn’t he?”
“Yes, he is. Is there some other reason you have not paid your bill?”
“Well, actually, I’ve been meaning to call you. Is there any way I could make payments on that? I can hardly come up with $300 all at once you know.”
“Okay, Mrs. Jones. Could you pay $100 per month over the next 3 months?”
“Yes, I believe I could do that and that would help me a lot. I really appreciate it.”
“Okay. Can you send the first payment today?”
“I sure can.”
“Do you have our address or one of the payment envelopes we’ve sent with your statements?”
“I sure do and I will get it in the mail today. Thanks so much.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Smith.”
Now, how painful was that? For either party? I can’t count the number of times it goes like this. Then we are left feeling like, “Why didn’t she just call and tell us that?” Or “Why didn’t she just send in $100 two months ago.” The answer? Because you didn’t call her two months ago. You see, they wait until they have an agreement with you. Of course, getting signed financial agreement up front will help avoid these types of calls. I’ve talked about that before and I feel quite certain I’ll be writing about it again!
Let’s look at one now where the patient does have a problem with the doctor’s work. How would you handle that one?
“Mrs. Jones, I’ve noticed that your account is 60 days past due. Was everything okay with your partial/denture/crown/inlay?”
“Well, I’ve been meaning to call you. Actually, no, everything is not okay.”
(Long pause – you are going to have to pull it out of her.)
“Oh, my. I’m sorry to hear that Mrs. Jones. Would you like to tell me what is wrong, or would you prefer that I have Dr. Smith give you a call at his next break?”
Usually, they start describing the problem to you. After all, they are either intimidated by the doctor, or they don’t want to make her angry with them. This is a good thing, though, because it means they intend to return to the practice, so we haven’t messed up too badly. In the rare occasions where they have wanted to speak with the Dentist, it’s still usually a win-win opportunity because Dentists usually rise to the occasion and make the patient very happy.
“I just can’t wear this lower denture. It simply doesn’t fit and I can’t see paying for something that I am getting no use out of.”
“Mrs. Jones, I understand how you feel. Sometimes lower dentures can be tricky to get them to fit properly. I am certain Dr. Smith would be happy to adjust it again for you. When can you come in?” (Notice I did not bring up the payment again.)
“Well, I don’t want to be out any more money.”
“Oh we are not going to charge you, Mrs. Jones. I just want you to get a lower denture that you are satisfied with. Could you come in this afternoon?”
“Well, yes, I guess I could.”
“Would 2:00 work with your schedule?”
“Yes, I’ll be there at 2:00.”
“Great, Mrs. Jones, We are looking forward to seeing you at 2.”
When Mrs. Jones comes in, Dr. Smith is going to adjust her lower denture – again. Ask her if she is now satisfied and could take care of her bill. If not, set a task in Outlook to call her again in a couple of days. The few times that I have had this happen to me. I usually got a check in the mail for the balance before I had to make the call. When I did have to make the call, the gentleman put the balance on his credit card and was happy. (He, again, was just waiting for me to call.)
I’d love to hear from you. What scripts have you successfully used? What excuses do you hear? What are you afraid the patient on the other end is going to say?
If you don’t want to post a reply, e-mail me directly for a personal, and private, response.
This post was written by Debra Moorhead, Motivational Speaker, Author, and Coach on August 25, 2006