6-step guide to maximizing patient satisfaction

August 21, 2014

Patient satisfaction is key to maintaining a profitable, credible clinic and giving great customer service to your patients is the best way to make sure they leave your office happy.

 

Cape Coral, FL-Cultivating happy patients before, during, and after a visit to your clinic is key to maintaining a profitable and credible practice, according to Mark N. King.

“The most powerful thing today is what other people say about (your) practice,” said King, an administrator for Cape Coral Eye Center, Cape Coral, FL. “If (a patient) is really, really happy, they’re going to go out and tell 1 or 2 people (about their experience), . . . if they’re unhappy, they’re going to go out and tell eight or 10 people.

Further reading: Addressing issues in the clinic to improve office morale

“As soon as they’re out your door, they’re going to be on Google or on their cell phone,” he continued. “Those unhappy patients turn potential patients away, which is loss money for you.”

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:

·      Hiring the right people.

·      Train your employees with what you want them to accomplish.

·      Inspect what you expect.

·      Reward positive behavior and counsel under performers.

·      Give unhappy patients a forum to express their displeasure.

·      If issues come up, deal with them head-on, do not hide from them.

 

NEXT: How to get started + Video

 

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,” King said.

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A good question to ask yourself, he explained, is ‘what are our patients’ basic expectations?’ For example, King said, 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, he said, is hiring a knowledgeable and friendly staff for your practice.

“They’re what makes things (in the practice) tick,” King said.

An important but over-looked step in the interview process, King explained, is to get your clinic manager involved because they will be working closely with the new hires and will need to get along. Other suggestions, he said, include having a multi-step interview process, do them face-to-face, and bring the potential employee to the practice so they can get a real sense of the environment and if they actually fit.

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

You cannot expect your clinic staff to excel with your customer service plan if you do not lay out and train them with what exactly you want them to do and how to act to patients, King said.

“You’ve got to clearly define what your expectations are” to staff members, he said. If not, then the clinic will not operate to its fullest potential or how you expect it to run, which run the risk of creating a bad customer service atmosphere for patients.

 

NEXT: Inspect what you expect

 

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.

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 find out,” King commented.

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

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

Reward and counsel

Utilizing performance reviews to pin point the clinic’s over-achievers, as well as the under-performers, can help the practice’s customer service in several key areas, King explained.

“Under-performers affect other employees, the practice, and themselves,” he said.

Once the under-performers have been identified, King said one action any clinic should not make, but almost always does, is to load that staff member’s duties onto an over-achiever because you think they 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 over-achievers to burn out quickly due to an increased workload-as well as low office morale-and eventually leave your practice.

Instead, he suggested, approach the under-performers in a more positive way.

 

NEXT: Giving the unhappy a voice

 

King said there are three important non-financial motivators that he has found to outscore offering monetary inspirations:

1.     Praise

2.     Attention from leadership

3.     Opportunity to lead products or tasks

“(These methods) engages them and turns their motivation around,” King said.

When staff members do excel, King suggested implementing a customer service reward designation in which a different employee is given each month and is voted on by their peers.

“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, but is vital to ensuring your 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, King said.

“Ask them (about their complaints), not just in a survey, but in person too, like in check-out,” he said. “Ask them details . . . let’s get them talking.”

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 by properly being trained to be able to apologize to patients for their bad experience, sympathize with them so the patient knows they are being heard, accept responsibility for the negative experience, and be prepared to help the patient solve the issue.

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

 

NEXT: Unhappy voice continued

 

“People just want to know that they’ve been heard,” he 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, King 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 reach out to find how patients felt their experience went while visiting your clinic.

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 reaching, and receiving, more patients’ comments, King pointed out. Paper surveys also tend to be more costly.

If choosing this route, King suggested sending the survey to the patient directly after they leave your clinic because you want them to remember their experience so they can provide the most detailed comments.

“You’re most invested in the survey at that 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.

 

NEXT: Overall points

 

“They’re more likely to send it back without their name on it and give you their true comments, (while) digital they may not because you’ve got their email addresses,” King explained.

Keeping an eye on what people are posting online, such as Yelp.com, is another helpful outlet to understand how patients feel about your practice, and could offer insight on areas that need attention.

“You’re looking for trends, so then you can figure out why it’s 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. “We all can do good. It’s our jobs to . . . treat your customers, the folks that really do have problems.

“One to live by is, take care of your customers and employees first, and growth and profits will follow,” he added.