I work the front office in a busy dental practice. Let’s say there is a hygienist waiting to ask me a question about a patient, while at the same time the phone is ringing and I already have somebody on hold. How would I handle this situation? What would I do first? This and much more crazy times happen frequently, so I thank you for any advice.

ANSWER FROM LAURA HATCH, founder of Front Office Rocks:

It seems like this is what always happens at the front desks of busy dental offices. It can be super quiet and calm for a long time and then all at once, everything happens. That’s the everyday life that front office managers face, therefore, we have to become good at prioritizing and multitasking.
My suggestion is that when you are faced with multiple things coming at you at once, consider two things—what is the highest priority, and how can you handle it with the best customer service possible? In your scenario, my decision process would start with what is the most urgent, and who I can put off for a few minutes, not to make the person mad but to buy some time.

If I were in your shoes in this scenario, I would ask the hygienist to hold on one second. Then I would answer the phone call that’s ringing and let the person know that you have a couple of people standing in front of you. Tell the person his or her call is important to you, and ask if it would it be OK to get their name and number and call them back in a couple of minutes.

Then I would ask the hygienist to quickly tell you what her question is. See if it is something that needs to be handled immediately or if it can wait, and is the answer a quick one? If you can answer quickly, do so, but if you cannot or you determine it is not urgent, let the hygienist know you have a call on hold and you will get her an answer as soon as you can. Then handle the call on hold. Once you are done with that call, decide what is the most important to do next—help the hygienist with her question or return the call.

The thing about my answer is that there is no one right answer to every scenario. Just know that if you are always taking into account what the priority is and what the best customer service is, you will know that you gave it your best shot possible at handling the chaos all at once.

My final thought is that when these busy times come up, determine if there is anything to be done that will help in the future to possibly avoid these situations. For example, can the hygienist be shown how she can find her own answers so that in the future she won’t need to ask you while you’re busy. Or, can you train a backup person to answer phones so that during busy times like this someone else can jump in to help you? You can’t completely avoid crazy times, but if you can get more organized or train others to help, hopefully you can have fewer chaotic episodes throughout the day. I hope this helps!

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