The new year is upon us and with that, it’s time to think about doing things differently to create more success. And one thing is clear – if you want to thrive in the business of pediatrics, it’s time to start thinking of your patients as customers. Not only will this improve their overall experience, it will also build their long term loyalty to your practice.
What does it mean to think of a patient as a customer? It's about setting the tone of your interaction with them. Think of a great experience you’ve had at a hotel, restaurant, or retail setting – anywhere you were considered to be a customer. That interaction probably included being greeted warmly, engaging in some conversation, being listened to about your wants and needs, and being guided through the process. Now think about the number of times you’ve had a less than pleasurable experience at a doctor’s office. Many times, the care was excellent but the small things were subpar.
Things like they way they were greeted, the atmosphere of the waiting room, or unclear explanations by staff are all things that stick in patients' minds after their appointments are over. Of course, a medical appointment is certainly a more serious setting than a shopping experience, but the principles of great customer service are transferable and should be applied whatever the situation.
According to an article from Physician's Practice, the number 1 reason that patients leave a clinic to receive care somewhere else is,
A lack of customer service, though they may call it “poor bedside manner” or a “cranky receptionist.” Still, regardless of the specialty it all boils down to customer service. You may think of them only as patients, but they are also customers. And they have choices.
In an age where finding a new provider is as quick and easy as doing a Google search, and where Urgent Care centers are popping up all over, you need to make sure your practice stands out in every way possible. You want your patients to look forward to visiting, and not just feel like they have to tolerate a visit. One way to be memorable is to provide the kind of customer service most patients are not used to seeing in medical settings.
According to Practice Builders,
Your front desk staff pulls a lot of weight when it comes to your medical practice’s customer satisfaction. They’re the first people your patients speak to when they call and the first faces your patients see when they walk through your doors. Unfortunately they’re also often the reason patients leave your practice. In fact, a recent study published in a 2016 issue of the Journal of Medical Practice Management revealed, after reviewing approximately 35,000 doctors nationwide, that a whopping 96 percent of patient complaints are a result of customer service, and only 4 percent are due to patient care.
What is it that patients are looking for? What makes them stay or leave a practice? A study in Forbes about what makes people recommend their doctor or practice said,
The top three drivers were interesting: confidence in their provider; teamwork from the clinicians; and whether providers and staff showed concern for their worries. The customer experience is fundamentally about doing the right thing and caring about the things that all of us in medicine should care about – competency, teamwork, and compassion.
So how can staff strive to create an experience that keeps patients coming back instead of running out the door never to return? According to Health Care Success,
that memorable patient experience most often depends not only on what is said to a patient but how it is said.
Some of their tips include:
Speak slowly when answering the phone. This creates the impression that you are not too rushed or busy to give your attention to the patient on the line.
Acknowledge the patient at check in. Have you ever walked up to the front desk only to stand there awkwardly while the receptionist barely looks up? Taking a moment to make eye contact and welcome the patient by name is something to prioritize.
Respect the patient’s time. Don’t just leave patients in the waiting room as the clock ticks further and further past their scheduled time. Acknowledge that you’re behind schedule, apologize, and give them them an estimate for how much longer it will be. Take it a step further and call patients before they arrive to inform them of the delay and give them the chance to take their time arriving.
Let patients know what to expect. When they arrive, especially the first time, let patients know the order of events. Explain what will happen and who will be interacting with them. At checkout, explain the next steps. For example, let them if the doctor will be calling to follow up, or when they should come back in.
When patients receive great customer service they are often surprised, as sadly, it is not the norm. A physician writing on Kevin MD shared some of the things patients have complemented his practice on. They include,
- being listened to
- feeling comfortable in the office
- not having to fill out excessive paperwork
- interacting with friendly and knowledgeable staff
- receiving clear explanations
- having their calls returned
None of these things are hard to do, it’s a matter of making the conscious choice and putting in the effort to do them.
Something else to remember is that when staff don’t feel supported or valued they will tend to have low morale, and that can easily impact how they interact with patients. If you want happy patients, you need happy staff. Some of the ways you can support staff to provide stellar customer service according to MGMA and Practice Builders are:
- encourage good communication and teamwork among staff
- give your staff regular breaks and encourage them to have de-stress time
- provide de-escalation training to help staff be prepared to calmly deal with patients who are upset
Additionally, it's important to document your expectations and keep them consistent for all staff. Put them in writing in your employee manual. That way, staff will know what is expected in each situation. You can even consider adding scripts for what to say in various situations so staff are clear about how you want them to speak to patients.
In the end, it’s the small behaviors that make the biggest impact. Taking a few extra moments to really listen to a patient, remembering to greet them by name and make eye contact, or following up and asking about something they told you last time are all ways to create a positive experience – one that is personal and memorable. As stated in Physician’s Practice, the best customer service is customer service from the H.E.A.R.T, where you show each patient Hospitality, Empathy and Enthusiasm, Attitude [a good one!], Respect and Timeliness.