Customer Service

Back to basics

Staff and patients receive tremendous benefit from a solid customer service foundation.

Let’s face it. We are all incredibly busy, and we can occasionally lose focus on why we come to work every day — the patient. However, the way we treat our patients is imperative to maintaining a healthy, profitable practice.

To ensure our patients are treated with respect, we often focus on soft skills and customer service. Leon Goeman, executive for L.L. Bean, describes customer service this way: “A lot of people have fancy things to say about customer service, including me. But, it’s just a day-in, day-out, ongoing, never-ending, unremitting, persevering, compassionate type of activity.” To further demonstrate the importance of customer service, a recent poll conducted by iHealth America showed that 68% of patients who decided to change doctors did so because of discourteous staff.

As we think about customer service within our practices, we may have to address the elephant in the room: We may not be great at customer service. To run a successful practice, our teams must first master the basics of people skills.

If you feel your practice might be falling short, here are some suggestions to improve.

Respect the patient.

Patients simply want another person to show regard for their feelings, wishes, or rights. Staff can show patients respect by treating them with kindness, using good manners, practicing tolerance, and remaining calm — even if the patient gets upset.

Listen to the patient’s concerns and problems.

Patients will often become upset when they do not feel heard. Like showing respect, the art of truly listening (and not talking over) is paramount to understanding a patient’s concerns and problems.

Identify the patient’s need.

By actively listening, we can better understand what the patient truly needs. For example, the patient may want to see one provider in the practice, but another provider specializes in the patient’s problem. Helping the patient know which doctor or specialist in your practice is the best option can save the patient time and money.

Design options.

Help design appropriate solutions to resolve the patient’s concerns. Once we truly know the patient’s issue, we can help think of options for them.

For example, if the patient has a concern over the co-pay for surgery, take the time to talk through the insurance benefits. The patient may also be eligible for financing options, which can alleviate the financial burden and allow them to move forward with surgery.

Answer the phone in a timely manner.

Patients today are routinely frustrated by the endless phone trees and automated menus they must navigate at their doctors’ offices. Ophthalmology practices can set themselves apart and have a person answer the phone. If this concept is not practical for your practice, at least ensure that patients who wish to speak with a staff member can reach one easily. If patients leave a message on a voicemail service, ensure that a staff member is designated to call them back. Patients often assume rudeness when they do not receive a timely returned call.

Be enthusiastic.

This energy transfers to patients. They appreciate dealing with a person who is upbeat and friendly. While we, as staff members, do not always feel happy, it is important to “play the part” for our patients. If you are having a bad day, the simple act of smiling can help improve your mood while also making the patients feel welcome.

Greet patients.

Smile and greet each patient entering the office. I recently visited a practice where every patient was greeted with a smile and a warm “hello” when they walked in the door. The same staff member called out, “Have a great day!” when a patient was leaving. This practice certainly had mastered this customer service basic, and its team and patients truly benefited from their actions.

Acknowledge all patients, even if you are unable to address issues right away. When patients arrive at the practice, the team may be busy with other patients. However, a quick, “I will be right with you,” can help patients know they have been seen and will be taken care of shortly. In the back office, a technician might acknowledge a patient who has been waiting for a while. “Mrs. White, thank you for your patience. We are going to get you back into testing in a few moments. You are next in line.”

Stay positive.

The ability to address challenges throughout the day in a positive manner is one of the most powerful customer service tools we have. Patients, even our grumpy ones, will most often respond to someone’s positive energy.

Focusing on a few customer service basics can improve patient interactions and can also make us feel better in our jobs. If your practice needs to go back and review some basic communication skills, take some time this summer to address the issues. Staff and patients will receive tremendous benefit by implementing these customer service pearls. OP