Being nice to people is SO easy. It takes the same amount of time as being mean or indifferent. Smiles are free. Welcoming word choice is free. Calming tone of voice is free. So, why isn’t everyone nice to their customers? The excuse we usually hear is that they were just having an “off” day. Those “off” days are expensive!
Patients have choices. If they don’t like you or your staff or your billing company, they will move on. And, that’s the best case scenario…that they simply move on. Oftentimes, they leave their mark…on Google, Yelp, and Facebook. Bad reviews are hard to overcome. Not to mention that prospective patients look at them! According to one survey, a whopping 84% of patients consult a review website to view or post comments and ratings of healthcare staff. Don’t let your “off” day end up on the internet….and not having it is the only way to guarantee that.
For us, here’s what it boils down to: It is CHEAPER to keep your existing patients happy than spending the money to market to new patients. Do you need to market sometimes? Sure. We wouldn’t be in business if you didn’t. But, before marketing, look inward at your practice first. There is no reason to spend time and money marketing only to have patients have a bad experience. Get your practice to a place where you have spectacular customer service. Then, market!
Let’s start with the first impressions of the practice.
How does your team answer the phone? This is usually the first interaction patients have with your office. Your receptionist should be the “Director of First Impressions.” Phones should be answered by a friendly, helpful person. Don’t stick someone on phones that hates people or needs to polish their people skills. Also, avoid automated answering systems when possible. Here’s a detailed post on the topic: How Does Your Staff Answer the Phone?
When a patient, vendor, or anyone walks in the door of the practice, the person at the front window sets the tone for their experience. They need to be friendly, make eye contact, and most importantly…SMILE! It’s vital that they look at the patient/vendor, rather than at their computer screen. If they are on a call when someone walks up, make eye contact, smile, and mouth, “I’ll be right with you.” It’s not hard. Yet, about 90% of front office staff we encounter leave a lot of room for improvement.
If working the front office is challenging for staff, rotate them through it. Figure out why your staff isn’t being friendly and try to remove things you can control. Many times it starts at the top. They will treat your patients the way you allow them to and will mimic how you treat patients. So, if your staff isn’t nice to patients, consider if you may need to step up your customer service.
Keep the “window” open and please use restraint with signage at the windows, particularly ones that say “don’t tap on window.” You would be surprised how many of these signs we see. They can set the tone as well. If you are having issues with cancellations, payments or labs, address it, but don’t put it all over your walls for every patient to see. Figure out what you MUST say in writing, create discreet tasteful signage, or include it in the patient forms.
The front office needs to make all visitors feel welcome. Checking them in, collecting payments, and all of their other duties should come second to this. This isn’t exclusive to patients. They should treat everyone that walks through your doors with kindness.
First Impressions don’t end with the front office. Usually a medical assistant or nurse and maybe even a PA or NP sees the patient prior to the doctor. This is another opportunity to make a good impression. Listening, asking questions, and showing genuine interest in a patient’s concerns can make a big difference for that patient and make him or her feel like they are really matter.
It’s important that the staff look at the patient and not just at their computer. Consider setting up the computer in a position where the staffer can sit beside the patient or even show the patient what they are entering. Your clinical staff should not turn their back on the patient during their interaction.
If patients have a bad experience with staff, before ever seeing the doctor, they are already starting from a bad place. Patients should feel like VIPs after their interactions with all staff.
Oftentimes “lab” is not part of your staff. They should look and act like an extension of your practice. Anyone working in your office is part of your team and has the ability to make an impression on your patients, good or bad.
How to Avoid “Off” Days
It starts with the physician setting the tone for the practice. Lay out your expectations, live by them, and hold your team accountable to following them.
Don’t hire people that aren’t warm and fuzzy during the interview. If you have team members that aren’t people people, find a non-patient interaction spot for them to work or help them find their next job. Doctors work too hard to let one staff person ruin the patient experience.
Compliment and reward your staff. Reinforce good behavior and praise them for it. Tie a component of their compensation to patient satisfaction. Make it a reasonable goal, as you can’t make all patients happy. But, make it a stretch to get there. That’s why it’s a goal and not a given.
Read your patient reviews online. Consider those patients as unpaid consultants. Some of their reviews are not valid but some are. Look for recurring themes and FIX those things.
Listen to feedback from patients. Address issues when you can and remove sources of patient frustration. Do everything in your power to make patients comfortable in your practice. And, don’t be afraid to dismiss disruptive patients.
Have your practice secret shopped. You can hire someone like us to do it. Or, simply use your family and friends to secret shop the practice. Once you have the results, make an action plan and implement it. The action plan should include staff training, maybe scripting, maybe role-playing, and most likely changing some processes in your practice. We can help with any of these. But, it’s best if it comes from inside the practice. Let the staff brainstorm ways to fix the issues; this increases their ownership of the process.
Look at your attrition rates. Do patients “ghost” you? It’s going to happen sometimes for a normal reason – moves, insurance changes, etc. But, if it’s happening a lot, is there something more to it? Engaged patients don’t just bounce. They tell you they are moving and will need records.
We’ll leave you with this. It’s cheaper and easier to keep your existing patients happy than it is to get new patients. Having “off” days not only stinks for the patient, but it kills your bottom line. Go big or start small, but start making your practice patient-friendly TODAY.