I’m at my wit’s end. I’ve held repeated staff meetings about the proper way to answer the phone. The staff does it correctly for a few days, then reverts back to the old way. I just can’t get it to stick!

Many of us could substitute almost any task for “answer the phone” and feel just as frustrated as this doctor. We’ve all been there. Here’s how to get more consistent staff results—and less frustration:

1. Acknowledge skill. Using our telephone example, first acknowledge that your staff members are capable of memorizing something to say on the phone. Though it may not be the greeting you want, recognize that your staff members are at least making an effort. So, step number one is to acknowledge that they have the skill to do the task. Unless you’re asking them to recite the Gettysburg Address when answering phone calls, memory or aptitude shouldn’t be the reason your greeting isn’t being delivered!

2. Involve staff. The next step is the most important one. Instead of simply issuing an edict to use the approved script, ask your staff, “How can we answer the phone in a way that conveys what our practice stands for?” If you get blank stares, you’ll have to take a step backwards and start with, “What does our practice stand for?” or, “What’s unique and different about us that we want patients to remember?” 

Let’s assume you get an answer such as, “We’re the friendliest doctor’s office there is—not just among local eye doctors, but every doctor on earth!” Ask your staff if answering the phone with a simple, “Doctor’s office,” supports your ultra-friendly mantra. If you don’t get a resounding “No!” you’ll need to consider retraining or rehiring!  

3. Create a script. From here, share your requested method of answering the phone, such as, “Hi, this is Tara from Friendly Vision. How can we help you today?” Ask your staff if this feels more in line with the practice’s theme. At this point, it is a great idea to have an open-minded brainstorming session to edit and tweak your proposed greeting. Having your phone staff offer opinions here is valuable. If you get good feedback, use it, or at least test it for a few weeks.

4. Practice, practice, practice. Once you’ve got a consensus on the best phone greeting, ensure your staff understands the connection between the words and the reasons behind them. From there, practice answering the phone at staff meetings. After each session, ask the receptionists how they feel. Did the greeting feel artificial, forced or natural? Regardless of the response, follow up by asking why. Let those using the script give input on how they feel about the new script and make any edits. Once you’ve done this, your team is ready to man the phones.

If one of your staff members reverts back to the old, unfriendly “Doctor’s office,” call them aside and have a one-to-one discussion out of earshot of others. Remind them of what was discussed during the staff meeting, and ask if they remember why the staff decided on the approved greeting. Hopefully, they will say yes and remember to stick with the script. 

Give It Time
As with all tasks that are repeated constantly throughout the day, expect it to take some time for staff members to learn and fully embrace a new habit. Finally, ask staff members who struggle with the new practice protocol if there is anything you can do to help them remember to answer the phones properly. If they are aligned with your mission, they will admit there’s really nothing else you need to do and that they will do a better job from now on.

While these four steps may seem like an inordinate amount of work, they are the most effective path to stickiness. Getting new behaviors to stick isn’t as easy as writing them into your office manual.