Top-Notch Phone Skills: You Had Me at Hello

Are your phone skills making or breaking relationships before they even start? It takes about 8 seconds to make a first impression when talking with someone face-to-face, but statistics show that it only takes 4 to 5 seconds when on the phone. Why the discrepancy? When communicating by phone, the caller only has voice to go on. Seemingly little things like tone, speed, and enunciation are noticed immediately and form that vital first impression.

When a prospective patient calls your office or health system, you have an opportunity to either forge a strong bond that will lead to downstream revenue across your health system for well into the future—or lose the opportunity altogether. Unfortunately, for some health systems, phone skills are lacking, and staff are diminishing relationships without even realizing it.

Monitoring Phone Skills

Baird Group does thousands of mystery shopping phone calls each year to hospitals and medical practices around the country to help our clients understand and improve the customer experience. Invariably, what we learn through these calls is often shocking to the healthcare administrators we work with. Issues like:

  • Mumbled, even unintelligible greetings
  • Cold transfers
  • Disinterested—sometimes even angry—tones of voice
  • Inappropriate comments
  • Putting callers on hold for an interminably long time
  • Bouncing callers around from one place to another

These are all things we hear often, and it’s understandable when callers are left feeling discouraged. 

Are these the experiences you want people to have when they contact your healthcare organization? Of course not. And yet, they are more common than you think.

Training for Phone Skills

For many health systems, the phone answering process is given far too little weight and attention. Considering  patient engagement and brand consistency, phone skills are key. We often hear things like, “We did training!” But, what we consistently find is that training, if conducted at all, is rarely linked back to quality assurance methods and rarely utilizes a competency-based, skill-building approach with ongoing coaching and quality assurance.

Leaders need three essentials to make training stick, including:

  • Set the gold standard for phone skills and ensure everyone is trained on those standards. This means ongoing training, education, and access to resources that will help to ensure the interactions your staff are having with patients, and prospective patients, are based on a solid foundation.
  • Coach for the gold standard behaviors. If you’re not out there monitoring how calls are being responded to, and how callers are treated, how do you know what’s happening? When you’re getting complaints from your doctors or prospective patients, it’s almost too late. You want to make sure you can catch any issues yourself, as soon as possible, and correct behaviors. 
  • Form coaching habits that shape success—having a good balance of constructive feedback as well as recognition. Daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly practices will keep everybody on their toes and provide an opportunity to reinforce great behavior, reinforce the standards and ensure that the training sticks.

The bottom line is that a single phone call may be the only opportunity you have to impress and engage a caller. 

Learn more about our mystery shopping program for healthcare organizations by contacting (866) 686-7672 or

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