Spring is a great time to think about a little spring cleaning to refresh your office and perhaps the processes in your office as well.
Customer service matters to your patients and referral sources. In fact, customer service may be the reason a medical provider STOPS referring to you or the reason a patient decides to find another provider. Regardless of your specialty, it all boils down to customer service. Your customers are your patients and your referral sources. And they have choices.
Have you checked in on how your front desk handles phone calls and patient check-ins? Does your staff understand the importance of how they treat your customers – from start to finish? Do you recognize your staff for being caring and empathetic? From the phone receptionist to the front desk staff to the medical assistant to the nurse – they are all a representation of you and your practice. Excellence in customer service will help your retention and referral rates. If patients and referring providers feel they are taken care of, they will sing your praises and refer patients. Here are 6 ways your medical practice can improve customer service.
1. EVALUATE YOUR FRONT DESK STAFF
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. They are also the first people that nurses or physicians from referring medical practices speak to. Unfortunately, they’re also often the reason patients leave your practice or referral sources choose another specialist. 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 96 percent of complaints are a result of customer service, and only 4 percent are due to patient care. So make sure you’re providing proper customer service training to your staff. Even better – hire people with a history of helping people.
2. MAKE WAITING TOLERABLE AND VALUE TIMELINESS
Optimize the wait experience. Waiting rooms are notorious patient experience killers. Your patients are your guests. Make your waiting room clean and comfortable. Have coffee or tea available and offer bottled water to your patients. Make sure staff is smiling and warm.
Be on time – or at least be honest about wait times and apologize if necessary. If you as an office or practitioner are habitually late, adapt scheduling to make up for it. Don’t leave nurses from referring providers’ office hanging on hold. Everyone is busy and waiting is sometimes inevitable, but the more that customers are kept informed and updated about their wait, the more likely they will be to stay calm.
Keep your promises. If you tell a patient or another medical provider “I will get back with you today”, do it. Even if you don’t have the answer, a quick ring to let them know you are still working on it is always best. Keep your commitments, no matter how small, and do it in a timely manner.
3. SAY THANK YOU
Show appreciation and gratitude to your patients and those sending you patients. Each patient and referring provider should feel that you are thankful they chose your practice. Thank customers in a meaningful and thoughtful manner on every interaction. Say “thank you” and smile. Write personalized notes to referrers thanking them for their trust in you. In this day of digital everything, handwritten notes can be extremely meaningful and effective.
4. PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH
Treat your employees like customers. Lead by example. If you treat your employees with great service, they will be more equipped to model that for your patients. If you’re going to tell your employees to be kind, empathetic and sincere, then you had better practice what you preach. For a practice to succeed, it needs everybody to be working together to achieve the aims of the organization.
They won’t believe what you say. They will believe what you do.
5. ASK FOR FEEDBACK
This seems simple, but you’d be surprised how FEW medical practices ask referring practices and patients how they can improve their service. Utilizing a Physician Liaison or representative from your office to visit the offices of referring medical providers to ask for feedback from nurses or office staff is VERY meaningful and is almost always received with gratitude and appreciation. The same goes for sincerely asking patients if there is anything you could have done to make their experience better. If they have wonderful things to say about you and your practice, ask them if they wouldn’t mind submitting a testimonial on one of the top physician review sites. If a patient or referrer complains – listen. Deal with every complaint, as complaints can be opportunities to build a lifetime of loyalty from customers. Admit mistakes, and apologize sincerely. Offer options to repair the issue. Show empathy. Be sincere. Being empathetic increases retention rates and can also instantly diffuse an irritated patient or referrer.
6. FOLLOW UP
Follow up is essential. You have to finish strong. Make sure you, as a physician, are following up to referring providers PROMPTLY. Making the calls yourself is ideal. I have a specialist client that calls the referring physicians IMMEDIATELY after stepping out of the OR – just to let him or her know how their patient is doing. Referring providers AND their staff know this about this particular physician specialist and appreciate it immensely. The result – that specialist’s referral network is very robust.
As for patients, make follow up calls for visits promptly, as it will reduce anxiety for patients awaiting test results and improve compliance. A prompt and friendly phone call goes a long way and will result in a lifelong patient for you and one that will refer you to their friends and family and give you a good review with their referring medical provider.
The bottom line – go above and beyond what your patients and referral sources expect. Make them feel like they have made the right choice in choosing you. Set yourself apart from your competition by being friendly, efficient and grateful. In the end, it means a stellar reputation for you and your practice and patient pipeline that will insure practice growth and revenue for many years to come.