All-Star Dental Academy Team Identifies and Fixes Problems from Case Acceptance to Phone Skills

Eric Vickery on best practices for building relationships with current and potential patients.

DSOPro: Tell us about your background and your company.

I graduated with a degree in business and began in banking. After working through the ranks, my wife and I decided to move back to her home state of Maine where I would work for her father managing his dental practice.

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When I switched to dentistry, I thought I had made a big mistake. I was frustrated with the lack of systems and customer service compared to banking. But I had come aboard to correct that. There was a vision for the practice that wasn’t being met. To help, I attended training called Dental Boot Kamp led by Walter Hailey, who would become a future mentor.

Over time I met coach Suzanne Black, and under guidance, we doubled the practice. After that success, I thought, “Wow! I love what those coaches do. I want to do that.” So, I went to work for Walter and Suzanne.

In 2015, I met Alex and Heather Nottingham of All-Star Dental Academy, and it’s been great. We’ve grown leaps and bounds in coaching and events. All-Star’s online program focuses on phone skills, scheduling, customer service, and a dental MBA. The coaching team focuses on practice management, case acceptance, leadership, and insurance freedom. We coach individual practices, group practices, and DSOs to integrate expert-level skills into their culture.

We also hold in-person training events in those same subject areas for solo doctor practices and multi-doctor/multi-location practices.

DSOPro: What happens when a group contracts with All-Star?

We have a comprehensive online training program that begins with phone skills (e.g., converting new patient phone calls and handling cancellations), scheduling, customer service, and other practice management issues.

We also offer custom coaching engagements to address specific and unique challenges. We utilize a key performance indicator (KPI) tracker for each client that logs a lot of practice management data – things like case acceptance rates, production, and open time. Using that information, we work to fix what is broken, improve patient communication skills, and develop systems to improve efficiency and effectiveness. Every client is different – one may just need to work on ideal day scheduling if they’re experiencing lots of cancellations, or the next practice may be suffering from poor case acceptance, or phone skills regarding new patient conversions, resulting in low new patient numbers.

Many offices benefit from bringing their team to one of our events. We take pride in offering inspirational and empowering events to help attendees transform both personally and professionally. Our events are also designed as a continuum. Level One is educational, with “aha” moments and materials that complement coaching. Level Two involves more focused training with attendees skill practicing with a coach/facilitator within their area of focus.

Level Three is dedicated to subject matter mastery, for individuals who really want to do a deep dive into making skills second nature. Attendees seek to internalize skills to a level of “unconscious competency.”

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DSOPro: Can you give us some examples of what is learned in the All-Star program?

All-Star works on the assumption that patient success starts with the phones. Here are two call examples provided by clients:

One was a 45-second new patient phone call to a practice focused on implant-supported dentures. Those are large cases, probably $40,000 to $50,000. A potential new patient says, “Hi, I was looking at your website, and I would like dentures that stick, because I have 20-year-old dentures that flop all around, and I can’t stand them. I have Blue Cross Blue Shield. Where do I go from here?”

And the brand new, untrained team member said, “Oh, I’m sorry, we don’t work with Blue Cross Blue Shield.” And the patient said, “Okay, thanks, goodbye.”

The untrained reaction is: What does a $1,500 annual maximum have to do with a $50,000 case? The trained thought is: How do you remove the friction in your conversation and use verbal skills to engage this patient in a friendly way? You don’t have to bait and switch. You can build rapport with them with a conversation that makes them feel, “Hey, this is the right place for me. They’re going to take care of me, whether I’m in or out of network.”

We teach how to transition from transaction to conversation. You say, “I’d be happy to help you with that. Let me get some more information from you, so we can see how best to take care of you.” And then, you just engage in conversation. By understanding communication concepts, you can navigate the call, avoid roadblocks, and achieve a positive outcome. And, even if that patient chooses another office, if they feel like your office worked to help them, perhaps they will refer.

In the second call, 1 minute and 15 seconds, a team member answered a new patient call. The patient said, “I haven’t been to a dentist in 4 years, and I’ve got a loose tooth. I really want to replace it as soon as possible. I happen to have tomorrow available, and I’m wondering if I could come in?” The staff member said, “Oh, I’m so sorry. We don’t have anything tomorrow,” and the patient says, “Okay, thanks. Goodbye.”

Even if they can’t see the patient tomorrow, the team can engage the caller in some way. The team failed to recognize the opportunity to develop rapport and begin a relationship with this person. It can be as simple as, “I’d be happy to help you with that. Who do I have the pleasure of speaking with?” A transition statement to engage in conversation allows you some time to get to know this person, for them to get to know you, and then work to a possible solution instead of it just saying no. Again, that office may not have had an appointment available that day, but the caller will remember a great experience when they call next time.

I think people would be shocked at how low their new patient phone call conversion rate is. Data shows dental offices have very low rates, around 22%. A corporate advisor may say, “Well, just be in network with everything then you don’t have to fight that conversation.” But you can be out of network and still remove the barrier because most dental insurance plans pay you either way—95% of them have out-of-network benefits.

Engage in conversation so the patient wants to come in and recognizes that you want to work with them – their insurance will be billed, the insurance is going to pay you, and they will have a copay. Learning how to navigate that conversation is actually easy. You just need some training to understand there are opportunities there.

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DSOPro: Can you give us an example about case acceptance?

I use this analogy with most doctors when it comes to case acceptance. I say, “You’re interviewing for a treatment coordinator, a hygienist, or an administrator. And what you’re looking for is somebody who has great case acceptance. You have one with 80% case acceptance, and one with 60% case acceptance. Which one are you going to hire?” And of course, they say, “Well, there must be a trick, but I’ll say 80%.”

They’re right, more data is needed. When we do case acceptance tracking, we’re not only tracking the number of cases you present, but we’re also tracking the average case size, the dollar amount they schedule, and how many people are scheduling. Those are our metrics. It’s not about the money, but that is our measuring tool.

Back to that analogy, “In this scenario, the 80-percenter’s presenting $10,000 a month and getting $8,000 accepted, and the 60-percenter’s presenting $100,000 a month and getting $60,000 scheduled. Now, who would you hire?” The point is you need that additional information.

We use KPIs to analyze things such as, if you’re seeing 10 new patients, but you only presented to 5, why? Is there approval addiction? Is there fear of rejection? Is it that you’re seeing a lot of healthy patients? Maybe there’s more clinical training to go through. Maybe it is a lack of verbal skills.

We teach focusing on “condition and consequences” instead of just the treatment plan. A lot of practitioners just want to talk about crowns, implants, and quad scalings, but that’s not what patients need to hear. If you teach teams how to avoid that, it starts to become more comfortable to “sell.”

We also look at cancellations. When we help teams with case acceptance, cancellations diminish. We don’t do that through policy, we do that through relationships, encouraging the patient to understand and respect your schedule, with a sense of urgency for why they’re coming back. When the right information is given the right way to the patient, you see case acceptance rates rise and cancellations fall.

DSOPro: Do you find that people require retraining or sometimes just don’t get it?

Occasionally. That’s where training events help - where you invest in your team and future success. And I like to tell people on my social media, “Your business will never grow if the individuals are not growing, because it’s the sum of its parts. The individual grows, the team grows, and the business grows.”

Another wing of All-Star is our Hiring Service that focuses on admin and team hiring. Turnover affects the teams’ training, and some doctors make the mistake of thinking, “When I get the right team, we’ll attend All-Star.” The problem is, your bus is already moving, but likely in the wrong direction. Even if only 50% of your team is right, train them because a strong team member may want to leave if they’re not getting growth opportunities. You always train to the highest level of team member, and those who need to catch up do, or they get off the bus and you replace them. You have to run your business that way and it requires continuous training.

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DSOPro: Are there significant differences between group practice and DSO issues?

The bigger the ship, the harder it is to steer. You need more well-trained people to help navigate and point things out because you can’t see everything up at the helm. I think, too, the bigger the DSO—and this is going to sound bad—the “cheaper” they get. It still takes manpower and time to implement improvement. So, for the cost of an employee, does it make sense to have a coach in your corner to help implement and change things?

A group practice with three to five locations usually has leadership that recognizes it is worth the investment to achieve growth. Success doesn’t just happen on its own.

DSOPro: Any trends you’re seeing?

Because I’ve been coaching for over 20 years, some of my clients are ready to sell, but there is a legacy factor that gets lost in translation. Meaning they’re not sure they want to sell to a DSO. They love the price they’re going to get but they don’t want to sell out everything they’ve worked on. How does the DSO world share with them that a piece of their legacy will continue on, and not be erased? DSOs and group practices could convey, “We want what you built to continue to shine here – to honor your legacy." 

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About Eric Vickery


Eric Vickery holds a degree in business administration and brings a strong business and systems approach to his coaching. His initiation into the field of dentistry was in the area of office management. He managed dental practices for over 10 years and has coached hundreds of offices since 2001.

Eric is an expert on case acceptance, verbal skills, and the DISC personality profile. He has a passion for stopping cancellations, handling patient objections, and asking patients for referrals/reviews. Further, he has vast expertise in financial arrangements, third party financing, and eliminating dependence on insurance.

Beyond monthly coaching, he is also able to deliver on-site or virtual seminars. His seminars focus on case acceptance, team building, verbal skills training and systems implementation. He delivers on all of the aforementioned components with an engaging and humorous delivery.

Eric and his wife, Abby, are college sweethearts and the proud parents of four children. They live in northern California.

All-Star Dental Academy

All-Star is committed to helping client practices grow through service, not sales. We encourage a patient/practice relationship business model and work with the entire team via an online training program, custom coaching, training events, and offer a hiring service to help you find your next all-star team member. Please visit us at 

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