As a baseline, we all need to remember that generally no one wants our services, so customer service is vital. No one wants to be sick, have to take off work to go to the doctor, or be in a situation where they must figure out what an insurance policy covers and whether they can afford to pay their portion. We don’t sell vacations or cute t-shirts or puppies. Even if you are in an aesthetic or cosmetic practice (where many people do want those services), they are likely still scared about the physical pain, financial outlay, and the results. So, let’s continually bring ourselves back to looking through the lens of our customers. They are sick or nervous or scared…and maybe all three.
Evaluate Where You Are
Where is customer service at right now in your clinic? What do your patients say? What do your reviews say? Is your team warm and fuzzy? It’s likely that you already know where your opportunities for improvement exist.
If not, gather insights. Evaluate online reviews. Ask your customers and be prepared to listen with zero defensiveness. And, secret shop your own clinic! You’d be amazed what you can learn in 50 phone calls.
It Starts at the Top…and with You
Customer service is part of culture and values. And, it is intentional. It is also both internal and external. When a leadership team builds service excellence into its processes and models great service both with customers and with the team, it is natural that the team will treat the customers well.
If you are the leader of your clinic, pause and read this article by Wendy Keneipp: https://insights.q4intel.com/great-service-doesnt-happen-by-chance/ to see how customer service should be part of your foundation. And, then commit to bite-sized improvements to make it happen.
If you aren’t the leader of your practice, you are still the leader of you. Customer service is contagious. It’s hard to sit next to someone that is kittycats and rainbows to patients and then act like a jerk. Also, it’s really hard to get mad at someone that is super kind. Take ownership of your interactions and commit to leaving everyone you speak to better than you found them.
What can you do TODAY to make sure that you exude amazing service? Pick one or two things and start practicing now.
Language is the low-hanging fruit of patient experience. The words we use both verbally and written can make or break an interaction. Here’s the deal: It takes the same amount of effort to use kind language as it does to be gruff. Let’s do kind!
Utilize positive verbiage
Be gentle in the language you use and keep it positive. Use ma’am and sir (if you are confident on how someone likes to be addressed). Say please and thank you. Swap out indifferent phrases for enthusiastic ones:
|No problem||Absolutely or my pleasure|
|I can do that||I’m happy to do that for you|
|That’s not my job||Let me find someone that can help you with that|
|Unfortunately||I understand your frustration, followed by an alternative option|
|Don’t, can’t, won’t||As much as I’d like to help, followed by an explanation of the barrier and ways to overcome it|
|You misheard me||I didn’t clearly explain that|
Here are some great tips from HubSpot on words to let go of and ones to utilize for better customer experience.
Use their name
Using a person’s name makes them feel good. So, when they tell you their name, write it down and use it. For example, “I’m going to look into that for you, Mrs. Patel.” And, err on the side of using their last name unless they tell you otherwise.
Talk like a human, not a robot
Be sure to speak in the present tense. “What is your last name?”, not “What was the last name?” It feels more human. When gathering birthday information, ask for his, her or your birthday, not “the patient’s DOB”. Again, much more human. Never ask if an address is an apartment. Rather, ask if there is a suite or unit number. Use discretion when asking for a social security number.
Be empathetic. Here are some terms that may help you show empathy:
- That must be frustrating. Let’s see what I can do to fix that for you today.
- I’m so sorry you are having to deal with that. I’ll do everything I can to help.
- That must be scary. Well, let me see if I can help get you on our schedule as quickly as possible.
- Oh no. I hate that you are going through that. Here’s what we can do to help.
- Yikes. I’ve been there. Let’s see if I can do x,y,z to make it a little less daunting.
Keep it professional, but relate to people if you feel comfortable. Without sharing specifics, if you’ve dealt with something similar personally or with another patient, it can be useful to share that you’ve been there. People want to know that you care. People want to know that you will help them fix their problem. It seems like when people know you have been through it, these two items are easy for them to believe.
Apologize when your team makes an error
Apologize if your team made an error – and mean it. We are all human and make mistakes. Numbers get transposed. Lab work doesn’t always arrive on time. Providers get behind. We forget to do stuff that we’ve promised. Dodging responsibility only fuels the anger for the patient. If you make a mistake, own it, apologize for it, let them know what you’ve done to correct it, and move on.
Are there scenarios that your clinic regularly encounters? Consider scripting out how the conversations could and should go. This is an especially good tool for new team members. It may feel awkward at first, but it can really help you perfect your language.
It can also be a tool for learning. If you or a team member had a poor interaction with a patient, brainstorm how you would change the language that you used if you had it to do over again.
Even more awkward, but effective is practicing with the script. Pretend you are a customer and let your team practice delivering great service.
And once you’ve made a script or even taken it further and created a templated email or text response, continually review them when the words don’t elicit the results you were expecting
Have an exit plan
The customer is always right. Get to yes. Exceed expectations. Yep, that’s all very true. We wouldn’t have jobs if it weren’t for our patients. That said, have boundaries and an exit plan. What won’t you tolerate and how will you handle it? This is likely a discussion for your whole clinic, and everyone should weigh in on it.
For example, if yelling is your barrier, here is an exit: “Mrs. Lackofjoy, I’ll do everything I can to help you. However, you will not yell at me. Let me recap to be sure I understand your issue and can help you.” If Mrs. Lackofjoy continues to yell, it’s appropriate to say, “Mrs. Lackofjoy, I’m hanging up now and will be glad to help you when we can discuss this without yelling.” Clearly, never yell back. Be the bigger person. And, if you happen to have everything you need to address her issue, go for it and let her know via email (so you don’t have to talk to her) how it’s been addressed.
Many times, a phone call is a potential patient’s first impression of our office. Let’s make it a good one.
First, answer from a place where you sound professional. If you are at the arcade with your kids or on the beach, don’t take a call. Customers want to believe that we are working and thinking about them 24/7. They don’t need to know that we aren’t! They don’t need to know that you work remotely. Work from anywhere is amazing, but taking a call when you can’t properly service it is unprofessional. Let them leave a voicemail and find a quiet place to call them back.
How you answer is important. Clearly answer the phone with a greeting, the clinic name, your name and an offer to help. Example “Hello! This is Amazing Healthcare. My name is Taylor. How may I help you today?”
Genuinely listen. Give the person time to explain why they are calling. Start every phone conversation with a pen and paper (or have your system ready to type notes in the minute you pick up the line). People will tell you half of what you may need to know before you even start the conversation (name, reason for the call). Write it down as they talk so that you don’t have to ask for it again. This will make them feel like you value their time and care. And, it will irritate them if they have to repeat it. If you don’t catch the name, rather than ask for it, ask how to spell it or for them to remind you of their name (acknowledging that you know they said it already).
Improve the flow
Limit hold time. The longer a patient is on hold, the more likely they are to hang up and never call again. Always be sure to have the caller’s phone number before transferring a call. If a call is dropped during transfer, call them back immediately and apologize for the error. When transferring a call, be sure the caller knows who they will be talking to next. Make “warm” transfers whenever possible. Place the caller on hold, locate the person that can best help them AND make sure that person is available to take a call right then. Pick up the call, letting the caller know you’ve located the person who can help, provide the name, and then make the transfer.
Look at yourself…literally
It is going to sound goofy and it feels so strange, but try putting a mirror in front of yourself when on the phone. Smile into that mirror. It’s a great way to see whether you are being friendly. The face tells it all.
Email and Text
Communicating via email and text can be great for documentation and ease. But, it is much easier to misinterpret tone. Be sure to use the warm and fuzzies, especially if you aren’t naturally that way. And, don’t hesitate to use a smiley emoji. It can take the tone from cold to warm.
Consider what format is best and let your patient lead you. If they like calls, call them. If they like email, email them securely. For a sensitive subject, consider picking up the phone. Some issues are just better handled over the phone. Then, consider an email recap if it makes sense.
When emailing with patients, use a greeting, body, and closing just like a letter. It is warmer. The language can be more casual than Dear and Sincerely, but use the niceties. You can skip these on text…although it can be nice to include them…but may seem antiquated. What do you think?
Particularly for long requests, before you hit send, go back to their original email. Did you address what they asked? Sometimes we get lost in the weeds and fail to answer the main question.
Last, be thoughtful about what and how you communicate because it is permanently recorded in history. Electronic communications can and may be used against you in a court of law and the court of public opinion.
Does your clinic have a process for handling electronic communications? Do your customers know what it is?
If your intake paperwork is more than 5 minutes, it is too long. Keep it concise and simple. Don’t make patients write their name at the top of every page. If you change EMRs, import all of the information in. Don’t make them fill out new paperwork because you don’t want to take the time to input it. And, don’t make them redo all their paperwork every year. An update is sufficient!
And, if you really want to upgrade the patient experience, don’t make them do paperwork at all. At a spine practice, I was shocked to learn they did all the intake via an interview with the nurse. I didn’t believe it until I saw it. It was more thorough because the nurse could ask both prompting and clarifying questions and only took about ten minutes.
When addressing something for a client that can’t be completely solved during the interaction, set expectations and follow through. Let them know what you’ll do and by when. Let them know if there is anything you need from them (and recap that in an email if it was a phone call). And, then do it. If you gave yourself a deadline for three days from now and at the second day it’s clear that it will take a week, let them know proactively.
Along with this, when you receive an email or message that you can’t address right away, message the client back and let them know you are working on it. Knowing you are addressing an issue is way better than wondering. And, have a system in place to ensure you or someone on your team gets back to them.
Is follow-through a concern for you? If so, what can you do today to make small steps towards improving it? Calendar reminders? Delegating? Asking for help? To-do list? Tasks in your EMR or other system?
So, what is top priority for you or your clinic? What should you implement right now? What are your stretch goals?
Perhaps it is circling back to the beginning with ideas for building service into your culture. Maybe it is secret shopping? And, maybe it is just picking five items and implementing them.