I frequently have to call dental offices in order to speak with dentists about specific care of mutual patients. So I have clocked a lot of time talking with receptionists as well as listening to recorded messages while on hold.  Out of all of this I have formed a few pretty strong opinions.

But I’m not the only one. You, on occasion I am sure, still have to use the phone these days even though email and texting are all the rage. There is something about the human voice and the amount of information we can send and receive that will continue to make Alexander Graham Bell’s invention absolutely vital to our practices for the foreseeable future.

For this reason let’s have a conversation about the use of the phone in the dental practice, and I will start. Here are a few suggestions.

Slow down.

People somehow equate talking with typing. The faster a person speaks, the more efficient they are being. But does talking faster (and listening faster) really result in more work being done? More importantly, could the amount of work be less because people are deciding not to come into the office because it’s too much of a hassle trying to understand what people in your office are saying?

Think of all the potential problems someone might have listening to a stranger’s voice on the phone. They may not be native born speakers. Accents and dialects may be a problem. They may be hard of hearing. They may not be able to process information as quickly as someone in the office can mindlessly rattle off standard phrases for the millionth time. How many times have you heard someone answer the phone and even give their name, yet when they stop talking you still really have no idea what they said? You assume it was a greeting of some sort because they eventually pause expecting a response from you. Because I didn’t get their name or the name of the office I have just called my automatic first reaction is to wonder if I have dialed a wrong number. I usually come back with, “Who am I speaking to?” which then causes them to repeat their lines again. No time savings here.


When you smile before speaking it actually changes the sound of your voice. It is also an intentional action that sets a different tone for the rest of the conversation. Why smile? Because this is a moment in the day to have a pleasant conversation with someone who may become a good friend in just a little while. By smiling we are saying even to ourselves that this conversation is important and we will give our undivided attention to serving the one who just called. (Really, if you have someone who actually wonders this, you might have the wrong person answering the phone — and everyone in the office must be able to do this simple yet vital task).

State the name of the business and your name.

“Hello. [Short pause]

“This is Dr. Benjamin Young’s office.”

[Short pause]

“[Your first name] speaking.”

[Short pause]

“How may I help you?”

Names are important and as quickly as possible we want to have the name of the one who is calling – so we should give them our name first. It’s polite to do so. Why should I, the caller, give you my name, when you don’t think it is important to give me yours?

If you can’t talk, don’t answer.

Why answer the phone with “Can I put you on hold?”

If you had to put me on hold, why didn’t you just let me leave a message? Do you think putting me on hold results in me feeling better about you and your office than if the call had simply gone to voicemail?

Also, if I am standing in front of you checking out, paying a bill, making an appointment, or talking about a concern I have about dentistry, how do you think I feel if you answer the phone just because it rings and then get into a lengthy conversation with a stranger?

If the phone rings and it would disrupt a conversation with another patient to answer it, then let someone else answer or let it go to voicemail.

On the other hand, if you are having a routine conversation with a co-worker and the phone rings, your first priority at this point is to answer the phone. I’m all for multitasking, but let’s be clear on priorities. How we interact with patients is at the top of the list in my book.

Call back quickly.

Of course when you have voice messages, it is critical to call back within minutes. This is another way your office can say to patients that they are important to you. Neglect calling back and the unintentional message sent out is a rude one.

Self promotional messages for people on hold often miss the mark.

This is not to say the office should not have messages for patients on hold. Consider producing public service messages instead of self-promotional messages. They are more effective and appreciated, frankly. Furthermore, there is nothing wrong with some quiet music just to let people know they haven’t been cut off.

Okay. That’s enough from me. What about you? Any recommendations for the rest of us on this topic of phone etiquette?