If you're in business long enough, you can expect to experience a slump now and then. During the current economic downturn when consumers, seeing their financial resources diminish, are spending less, retaining current patients becomes critical for business survival. With these thoughts in mind, I have to wonder,
“How can I insure that my patients stay my patients?”
In times like these, the importance of delivering exceptional service cannot be overstated. It's imperative to focus on giving every patient an experience so positive that they will never forget it and will feel compelled to tell others.
I experienced this recently in a restaurant in Mexico. My waiter was friendly, funny, attentive, and seemed intent on making my experience an awesome one. When I was ready to leave, he asked me to complete a survey card. Being a skeptic, I thought this was his reason for being so nice. I asked if he got an additional incentive for good reviews.
“No, senora,” he replied.
“Are you trying to get a promotion or a better job here?,” I further explored.
“Oh, no. I like my job and I just want to make sure that the next time you visit, you come back to this restaurant.”
I was overwhelmed by this employee and was reminded what having a heart for service can really mean to a business.
When was the last time you “wowed” a patient? If you can't remember, it's time to step up your efforts to make every experience one that patients will remember. In case your customer service needs improving, here are some tips to ensure that it's exceptional:
Respect your patients' time
It is routine to have to wait when you visit a doctor's office. I have no idea how this became customary, but it's simply rude. A patient's time is valuable, and especially as patients become younger they will become less tolerant of excessive wait times and may choose another provider where they can get immediate service. People will usually exercise patience when they see someone busily helping another patient, but they are less understanding when they see an empty waiting room and feel ignored.
I find that patients don't mind waiting for a professional whom they like and trust, but they do mind unexpected delays. So, if you are forced to make patients wait, let them know the reason and give them an idea of the length of the wait. If the wait becomes excessive, invite patients to come back or reschedule at a time that is convenient for them, not you. If there is a scheduling error, admit you made a mistake, ask the patient when he or she would like to return, and make certain you are on time for the next appointment.
When dealing with patients over the telephone, never put them on hold. If you expect to be tied up for more than a minute, tell the person when you will call back. I'm sure we have all experienced the elderly patient who sat by the phone all day long waiting for a return call. When a patient needs information, take the message and respond as soon as possible. And have a real person answer your phone. A machine may cost less, but it isn't patient-friendly, especially for people with hearing problems.
Make patients feel welcome and wanted
If you have your receptionist greet patients, make sure to hire someone who likes people. You can train someone to do the job, but you can't make an unfriendly person friendly. Acknowledge patients within seconds of their arrival and let them know you're glad to see them. Make every attempt to recognize patients by name in and out of the office. Gather personal information about patients and refer to it at future appointments. Patients will be impressed that you made the effort to get to know them. Let patients know you appreciate them and want them to come back. When a patient refers a friend or relative, send a hand-written thank you note; if they refer a second patient, consider sending flowers. If you make patients feel like part of a family, they will never leave.
Never let a patient leave unhappy
While we try to make everyone happy, the odds are we can't please everyone. So, if you know a patient is unhappy, speak to the person. Ask what happened and make every effort to solve the problem. Most patients who are unhappy will never tell you (of course, they will tell everyone else!), so welcome the opportunity when a patient gives you the chance to “make things right.” I've found that when I ask patients what they would like me to do, what they ask for is usually much less than what I would be willing to do. Turning an unhappy patient into a happy one is the best way to create a raving fan.
Good customer service can make or break a relationship with a patient, and in good times and bad, maintaining good relationships is essential for success.