Article

Customer Service

Turn gold into platinum

Take your customer service to the next level by treating patients how they want to be treated.

The “Golden Rule” is an ancient philosophy found in many religions and cultures throughout the world. The premise is simple: “treat others as you would like to be treated.” You may have learned about the Golden Rule as a student, especially if your teacher was trying to remind you that it also means that we should not treat others in a way that we would not want to be treated. The Golden Rule is a promise of reciprocity, a commitment to give to others without expecting anything in return.

In business, many companies use the Golden Rule to help employees identify ways to make the customer service experience more meaningful to clients. Operating under a Golden Rule philosophy, employees are encouraged to see problems and solutions from the customer’s perspective and to show empathy toward customer issues.

In recent years, some businesses have moved away from the Golden Rule and are now teaching the “Platinum Rule.” Instead of treating customers how we want to be treated, this philosophy focuses on treating customers how they want to be treated. The goal of the Platinum Rule is to understand, meet, and possibly exceed customer expectations. The Platinum Rule also reminds us to focus on what the patient really wants, not what we think the patient wants.

How can we better understand what our patients want, allowing us to provide excellent service? Here are some factors to consider when applying this rule in your practice.

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Do not assume.

First, consider that we may not know what patients want. Our team may assume that patients want a chipper, friendly person to greet them at the front desk, but do all patients want that? We believe our older patient population would rather fill out new patient paperwork in the office as opposed to downloading the forms from the website, but do we know for sure?

Ask patients what they want.

The Platinum Rule revolves around the notion that all patients are different and have unique needs. The best way to learn these needs: ask. Practices can gather data from online patient satisfaction surveys, patient comment cards, reviews on rating websites, letters, or cards. Also, we can ask directly while patients are in the office. If an elderly patient is visibly uncomfortable or in pain, ask what you can do to help. If the practice offers water or coffee, ask if you can get the patient something to drink. Should you walk slower when you take the patient to an exam room? Does the patient need a blanket to keep warm?

Provide options.

The Platinum Rule requires us to find out what patients want by giving them options. The best way to determine patient preferences is to ask questions. For example, a front office employee may ask, “Which office location is more convenient for you?” or “What time is best for you to see the doctor?”

Another example is the busy professional. This patient may prefer an appointment early in the morning or late in the afternoon to minimize time missed from work. If such a patient arrives and the clinic is running behind schedule, he may have anxiety or become upset that he will miss additional work time. By using the Platinum Rule, the team can anticipate issues and offer solutions. Resolutions might include calling the patient at work to let him know the clinic is running late. By giving the patient a heads-up and the option to be seen on a different day, he may make proper plans with his boss and still make the appointment.

Adjust for each patient.

The Platinum Rule implies that we respond respectfully to patient energy levels.

For example, an energetic (possibly impatient) patient may want you to move quicker through the exam process. A patient who is in pain may need you to speak softer and be gentle. Other patients may treat a visit to the eye doctor as a social event. While you may not be able to stop and chat about their upcoming cruise, these patients want you to acknowledge them and make conversation while walking in the hallway.

Focus on solutions, not reasons.

Recently, I visited a practice and listened to a long phone conversation between a staff member and a patient. The staff member went in circles trying to help the patient realize what had happened from the practice’s perspective. I could only hear a portion of the conversation, but the staff member kept saying, “No, it was not our office that had the wrong authorization number; it was the pharmacy that had the wrong number.”

As I waited patiently for this staff member to finish the call, I got the impression that the staff member failed to see the problem from the patient’s perspective. The patient did not care whose fault it was; he just wanted to know that the staff member was going to fix the issue.

And, if you are unable to meet a patient’s needs, direct the issue to a supervisor or manager. Afterward, learn how your manager fixed the issue so you can replicate the solution with other patients in the future.

The platinum practice

In our practices, we cannot assume that we give great customer service, but we can ask our patients for feedback and guidance. After learning what is meaningful to each patient, we can discover how we can improve customer experiences. Once we understand what our patients want, we can treat them like platinum. OP