The art of actively listening can go a long way toward improving your customer service skills.
My husband recently came home from a work meeting. He was working on a project with three other colleagues, and everyone seemed to have an idea about how the team should move forward. As my husband relayed the story, he said, “I thought we would never get done. At one point, all three of my co-workers were talking at the same time. It was clear that they were not listening to each other!” My husband stopped the meeting and asked if they could each share their ideas in an orderly fashion, one at a time.
After hearing his story, I reflected on the vital role that active listening plays in our practices. Active listening allows us to better engage with our physicians, managers, co-workers, and patients. Becoming a better listener is an integral part of providing outstanding customer service.
The L.A.E.R. technique
We work in busy ophthalmology offices and often feel like we do not have enough hours in the day to complete our work. We feel so busy that when resolving patient issues or questions we are often tempted to interrupt them. Instead of hearing what others are saying, we often formulate our responses while they are still speaking.
To become better listeners, we can achieve improved customer service by following the L.A.E.R. technique:
- Listen. Give your patient (or co-worker or doctor) your undivided attention. Take a moment to hear their words and absorb their meaning.
- Acknowledge. Let the patient know that you heard the issue back by repeating and summarizing the problem.
- Explore. To help the patient, you may need to ask some clarifying questions. Take a moment to gather the information you need to formulate a response. It is important to remain non-judgmental and refrain from asking questions in a condescending tone. After you ask for clarifying information, you may need to actively listen once again.
- Respond. After hearing the patient’s need, try to offer the patient several options and help resolve the problem.
Mrs. Jones received a bill from her insurance company indicating that she owed $1,000 balance for her recent cataract surgery. She paid for her procedure before her surgery, so she was confused why she received another bill. Upset, Mrs. Jones drove to her eye doctor’s office to speak with Susan, the biller. As soon as Susan saw Mrs. Jones’ statement, she knew the issue. However, Susan realized that Mrs. Jones was so upset that she needed to be heard. Susan applied the L.A.E.R. technique:
- Listen. Susan listened as Mrs. Jones voiced her frustrations at receiving the invoice. She allowed Mrs. Jones to vent and made sure she maintained eye contact and open body language.
- Acknowledge. Susan said, “Mrs. Jones, I completely understand why you are frustrated. Let’s look at the issue together and see if we can resolve this for you.”
- Explore: “Mrs. Jones, do you mind if I ask you a few questions about your insurance account? Do you mind if I take a moment to look up your benefits?”
- Respond: “Mrs. Jones, the good news is that you do not owe any more money for your cataract surgery! This statement from your insurance company is simply explaining your services and that they did not cover all your fees. We collected your monies before surgery, so we are all set. They were just making sure you were aware of your financial responsibilities, but our office took care of this for you.”
When Mrs. Jones left the practice, Susan had her laughing and talking about how great she could see after her surgery. By effectively practicing the L.A.E.R. technique, Susan resolved Mrs. Jones’ issue in a quick, compassionate manner.
Whether working in a group like my husband or working with an upset patient like Susan, the L.A.E.R. technique can ensure that everyone is heard. As Bryant H. McGill said, “One of the sincerest forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” Effective customer service starts with actively listening to those around us. OP