What to Look for in a Good Front Office Worker

Selecting the right front office team members is considered by many as almost an afterthought because practice owners expend so much energy in building efficient and professional back office staff. But as Lynette frequently reminds her practice management clients, the public will never get to experience the clinical excellence if the front office is not competent enough to welcome existing and new patients and get them into the chair.

Front office staff members need to be selected for their social skills as much as for their office skills. The minimum standards include solid telephone skills, a happy disposition, and the ability to feel empathy for those seeking dental services. To be sure, ALL practice employees need HIPAA certification and retraining in those standards at least every two years. Privacy breeches have serious legal consequences for the practice, but at the personal level, patients who suspect the staff is careless or indiscrete with their health information can kill a practice. In the past (pre-HIPAA), gossipy office staff wounded many a practice, as waiting patients heard them make snarky commentary about a patient who just left. HIPAA training ended those days as practices became accountable for such exposure of their patients’ personal data.

As for a pleasant demeanor, it goes without saying that in front office work, positivity and empathy are important to earn the goodwill and confidence of your patients. You may be surprised at just how little attention some staff members pay to patients coming into or leaving the office. The arriving patient needs a warm welcome and someone to listen to them with calmness and empathy. Patients coming into the office may be in pain and are edgy or scared.

But sometimes the more delicate conversations occur with the patients leaving the office after the visit. Dentistry is not cheap and even though the staff may prepare them for the price, the moment of settling the bill, patients can still have sticker shock. Again, empathy, understanding and professionalism are essential in completing the process.

Nothing upsets patients more than a grumpy or indifferent front office. As you may have seen, some staff members are not very sympathetic people to begin with, so if they are not taught to be compassionate, they will never understand how damaging their indifference may be to the practice.

Your responsibility as practice owner is to do what is necessary to build and nurture a good staff. Hiring the right people with the right training is the best solution there is. Seek out people with training and a high EQ (emotional quotient). A positive attitude is basic. Negative people can hurt the morale of the entire office. Given the choice between and trained person with a negative attitude or a person with a positive attitude who needs more training, it may be wiser to take the candidate with the positive attitude and just train them, since learning processes are easier than permanently changing one’s attitude. Think about it: if someone has all the training required and it still looking for a job, there may be a reason.

Don’t leave the composition of your front office staff to chance. Look for positivity and train them to be the best they can be. It is one of the best investments you will make.


John Ross