Guide to maximizing patient satisfaction

August 18, 2014

Cultivating happy patients before, during, and after a visit to your clinic or practice is key to maintaining a profitable and credible practice.

Cultivating happy patients before, during, and after a visit to your clinic or practice is key to maintaining a profitable and credible practice.

“The most powerful thing today is what other people say about your practice,” said Mark N. King, practice administrator in Cape Coral, FL. “If a patient is really, really happy, she is going to go out and tell one or two people (about her experience). If she is unhappy, she is going to go out and tell eight or 10 people.

Unhappy patients turn potential patients away, which is bad for your practice’s perception and bottom line. “As soon as they’re out your door, they’re going to be on Google or on their cell phones,” King said.

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To make sure your patients have the best experience possible with your practice, King said there are several essential steps to follow that will ensure memorable customer service:

• Hire the right people

• Train your employees with what you want them to accomplish

• Inspect what you expect

• Reward positive behavior and counsel underperformers

• Give unhappy patients a forum to express their displeasure

• If concerns come up, deal with them head on; do not hide from them

Getting started

In order to get started with a customer service plan, you need to find out what your patients already expect from your practice.

A good question to ask yourself: What are our patients’ basic expectations? For example, most patients expect good outcomes from their clinic visits, courtesy from staff members during all stages of their appointments, and timely service.

The key to exceeding those expectations, according to King, is hiring a knowledgeable and friendly staff for your practice. “They’re what makes things tick,” he said.

An important but overlooked step in the interview process, King explained, is involving the clinic manager because she will be working closely with the new hires and will need to get along. Other suggestions include instituting a multi-step interview process, perform interviews face-to-face, and bring the potential employee to the practice so he can get a real sense of the environment and you can see if he actually fits.

Asking the right questions is also highly important, King said, as well as being prepared and using behavior and competency-based questions.

Train to expectations

Clinic staff can excel with a customer service plan only if they know what you expect. Staff need to be trained with specifics and shown how to interact with patients. If this step is missed, then the practice will not operate to its fullest potential or meet expectations. Both possibilities run the risk of creating a bad customer service atmosphere for patients.

 

 

Inspect what you expect

Inspecting how your clinic is run, and most importantly, how you expect it to be run, is key to maintaining good customer service for your patients, King said.

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There are various methods-such as utilizing an outside company, various programs, hiring someone to come into your clinic, or inspecting yourself-that all clinics can and should take advantage of to keep tabs on the practice’s functionality and how staff members are performing, he said.

“It’s amazing what you can find out,” said King.

Conducting a survey to find out how long staffers take to answer phones or how long patients are put on hold, for example, is an easy way to generate data on the practice to analyze and find problem areas on which to focus attention.

“You can use these to enhance training, as well,” King said.

Reward and counsel

Using performance reviews to pinpoint the clinic’s overachievers, as well as the underperformers, can help the practice’s customer service in several key areas, King explained.

“Underperformers affect other employees, the practice, and themselves,” he said.

Once underperformers have been identified, King said one action any practice should not make-but almost always does-s to load that staff member’s duties onto an overachiever because the perception is she can handle it.

“Is it really fair for the high performers to have to do all the work?” King asked. Doing so, he said, can cause those overachievers to burn out quickly due to an increased workload-as well as low office morale-and eventually leave the practice.

Instead, he suggested, approach the underperformers in a more positive way.

King said three important non-financial motivators may outscore offering monetary inspirations:

• Praise

• Attention from leadership

• Opportunity to lead products or tasks

“These methods engage them and turn their motivation around,” he said.

When staff members do excel, King suggested implementing a monthly customer service reward voted on by staff.

“It’s easy to look for the bad things, but can you actually document something every day that was positive? That’s a little more difficult to do,” King said. Such a move is vital to ensuring staff is giving the best customer service they can to patients.

 

 

Giving the unhappy a voice

Dealing with unhappy patients is unavoidable, but the most important action the clinic’s staff can take is to tackle it head-on.

Said King: “Ask patients about their complaints, not just in a survey, but in person, such as during the check-out process. Ask them details, which helps to  get them talking.”

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Logging the patient’s complaints-instead of saying, “Thanks for the comment,” and moving on-is an important tool that all staff members should use to show patients their complaints matter to the practice, King said.

Staff should know how to handle these situations due to proper customer service training. Part of addressing a complaint is the ability to apologize to patients for their bad experiences, sympathize with them so the patients know they are being heard, accept responsibility for the negative experiences, and be prepared to help the patient solve the problem.

In most situations, unhappy patients simply want to know the clinic is actually listening to them.

“People just want to know that they’ve been heard,” King said.

While staff will most likely hear the same collection of complaints on a regular basis, and thus can be taught exactly what do say or do during those times, he said it is vital to train the staff to know how to handle the “crazy situations.”

“Those are a little tougher, but you’ve got to be prepared for the unexpected,” he said.

Surveys, whether paper or digital, are another way to add a touchpoint in order to find how patients felt their experiences went while visiting your practice.

Paper surveys are helpful tools, King said, because they are easily mailed or given out by the front desk staff members at the end of the patient’s appointment.

However, digital surveys tend to have better luck in receiving, more patients’ comments, he said. Paper surveys also tend to be more costly.

If choosing paper surveys, King suggested sending the survey to the patient directly after she leaves your clinic because you want her to remember her experience so she can provide the most detailed comments.

“You’re most invested in the survey at the time directly after the appointment,” he said.

However, while digital may receive more responses than paper surveys due to convenience, King said patients tend to give better, more honest feedback with the paper surveys.

“They’re more likely to send the survey back without their name on it and give you their true comments, while with digital they may not because you’ve got their e-mail addresses,” he said.

Keeping an eye on what people are posting online, such as on user review sites such as Yelp or Facebook, is another helpful outlet to understand how patients feel about your practice. Reading these reviews may offer insight on areas that need attention.

“You’re looking for trends, so then you can figure out why bad service is happening and then how to fix it,” King said.

Overall points

Nevertheless, King said it is ideal to remember that the importance of maintaining excellent customer service is not just about maintaining profits and growing the practice.

“It’s not all about the money,” King said. “Take care of your customers and employees first, and growth and profits will follow.”