The 2 Mistakes Your Front Desk Staff Cannot Make in the First 6 Seconds of a Phone Call with a Patient

Bad Customer Service iStock_74914755_XLARGE.jpg

I took my son to the pediatrician yesterday afternoon for his annual checkup. The nurse did a quick vision test and then recommended I get my son to an optometrist. I was hoping my son would be the one person in our family who did not need corrective lenses.

In the car on the way home I called the eye doctor we’d used for my daughter a few months ago. Here’s how the call went.



Employee:      “XYZ & Associates.”

Me:                  “I’d like to schedule my son for an eye exam.”


Employee:      “Has anyone in your household been here before?”

Me:                  “Yes.”

Awkward pause….


Employee:      “Who?”

Me:                  “Excuse me?”


Employee:      “Who in your house has been here?”

Me:                  “ daughter, but today I want to schedule my son.”


Employee:      “What’s your daughter’s name?”

Me:                  Thinking, what the… “Lauren.”


Employee:      “Last name.”

Me:                  “Golden”


Employee:      “Who is the person you want to schedule today?”

Me:                  Thinking, wow. You could have started by asking me the name of the child I wanted to schedule today. Everything else is wasting my time.



Employee:      “When do you want to bring your son or daughter in?”

Me:                  “Son. Can you give me an idea of your availability and we can go from there?”


Employee:      “Just depends on when you want to come in.”

Me:                  “Do you have a date, day of the week or time block that you are available?”


Employee:      “Whenever you want to come in.”

Me:                  “You know what? I don’t want to schedule an appointment after all.”

Employee:      “Okay. Call us back when you’re ready.” Click




This is a classic case of a front desk employee who does not know how to talk to patients. I called the optometrist ready to schedule an appointment, but the attitude and lack of soft skills of the lady on the phone led me to hang up, google another office and schedule an appointment.


Psychologists tell us we only get 4-6 seconds to make a first impression

Doctors say we only get 4-6 seconds to make a first impression. This means the first 6 seconds of phone calls are the most critical.

The employee I spoke with made the two biggest mistakes customer service employees can make at the beginning of a call with a patient – or “would-be” patient.

Making these mistakes destroys any chance for rapport, sets the customer up to expect to have a bad experience and increases the chance that the client would give you a bad review or survey report.


1. The employee did not speak in complete sentences.

She said to me:

“Last name?”


“Just depends on when you want to come in.”

This is not professional – or friendly. How about, “What is your daughter’s last name?” or “We have very flexible scheduling. Is there a day and time that is ideal for your family?”

Here’s a short video I recorded on speaking in complete sentences. You can use this train your staff on speaking in complete sentences. 🙂


2. She did not use a “lead-in.”

In my customer service training workshops, when we focus on telephone soft skills, I tell my clients to always use a lead-in. A lead-in is like welcoming a guest into your home.

When you welcome a guest into your home, you don’t open the front door, rudely turn your back and walk away. Not usually, anyway. We typically smile and verbally greet our guest. Maybe we hug our guest. We are warm and friendly. We make a little small talk. Then, we lead our guest in….whether that is to the kitchen, living room, dining room or to the game room to watch the big game. The point is we lead our guest in.

The lead-in on the phone call works similarly. Rather than rudely cutting a customer off or bluntly jumping into questions, we lead in.

As an example, if a customer calls saying, “I was trying to schedule my mammogram on your website, but my iPad locked up and I don’t know if the appointment was made.”

You could respond in one of two ways.


A. Without a lead-in

“What’s the name?”


B. With a lead-in

“Technology can be so frustrating at times, can’t it? I’m happy to look to see if your appointment finalized. My name is Myra. Can I please have the email address you used when trying to make the appointment?”


See the difference? The lead-in is warm and personable. Without a lead-in, this call is just as cold as the call to my former optometrist.

The lead-in is so simple to do. In my training I tell people all you have to do for the lead-in is:


  1. Use a personal pronoun
  2. Make an offer to assist
  3. Don’t ask probing questions before the lead-in


  • The personal pronoun, – I, we, you, us – help make the interaction warmer and more personal.
  • An offer to assist is something like, “I’m happy to assist you with this.”
  • Holding off on probing questions ensures you don’t just bluntly go into questioning without making a personal connection with your customer.

Here’s a short training on how to use a “Lead-in” to make your calls friendlier.

Your videos and training materials have helped me tremendously.  My team members find the material easy to follow and are engaged in every step of the way.

 I want to thank you for continually providing me with the tools to accomplish my goal to create an Amazing Customer Service Experience.

Dr. Mayling Molina, Doral Center for Orthodontics

Imagine sitting in a local coffee shop that’s nestled in a bookstore, and talking over a latte with Myra about ways to help your employees deliver the best possible customer experience and ways to help reduce stress on your employees as they deal with difficult customers. 

Every week, often literally from a coffee shop, Myra gives you ideas that in one way or another are actionable towards improving your customer experience.

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