Phone calls made to your medical practice is your first chance to make an impression and to secure the caller as your patient. Ironically, phone lines are one of the biggest problem areas in a practice. Long wait times, missed calls, wrong departments — the list goes on. Inadequate phone etiquette is costly in terms of patient satisfaction, which leads to bad reviews and high customer attrition rates. Here are five ways your practice can improve the quality of your phone calls.
1. Review your phone tree options
As your practice makes changes and improves processes, or simply if it’s been a while, it may be a good idea to review your phone tree options. When there are too many options, callers may become impatient and choose the wrong department because they want to get to a live person sooner. On another note, when the options are too specific, your callers could get confused and end up in the wrong place as well.
Review your phone tree options periodically with this in mind: “How user-friendly is my phone tree?” Avoid unnecessary transfers, wasted time, and unhappy patients by keeping it simple and to the point.
2. Appointment Scheduling
Many practices have policies in place where appointments cannot be made in advance, cannot be made in person, etc. A standard response from the receptionist is usually, “Give us a call.” This type of policy not only relinquishes the chance to secure a returning patient but also results in more work to be done in the future. The inflexibility is also an inconvenience to your customer. All of these negative consequences stem from a counterproductive policy.
Instead of holding on to irrational processes such as these, adapt to what is convenient for the patient, and what is convenient for the staff. You could, for example, develop appointment templates that extend a minimum of three months, which will give your practice a better picture of what your quarter will look like instead of having to go on a monthly basis. Another way to save time for both you and your patient is to give them the option to make their appointments on your website. This will eliminate a percentage of your callers, allowing more pressing calls to be accommodated faster.
3. Speak your patient’s language
It’s easy to forget that your patients are not familiar with the medical jargon you use every day. It may be difficult for them to navigate through the phone options or understand your staff. That said, avoid the use of technical terms in your phone tree, and train your staff to give the callers context when medical jargon is unavoidable. Speaking to your patients in a language they understand promotes effective communication.
4. Extend your hours of coverage
Considering that 50% of potential patients do their research outside of work hours, you may want to look into extending your hours of coverage. Doing so allows you to capture more potential patients, especially that your competitors are closed. Additionally, you are able to accommodate more needs from your existing ones, leading to better patient satisfaction.
Your phone lines are an imperative part of your practice. It’s where you make your first impression. Make it a good one by taking the necessary steps to ensure your customers feel like they are receiving VIP (Very Important Patient) treatment.
Many business owners take measures to ensure their staff is providing stellar service.
They hold regular training sessions, performance appraisals or establish KPIs. Doing so is good practice if a business wants to maintain a level of quality in their patient satisfaction. Medical practices are not exempt from this.
One effective and objective way to evaluate the customer’s experience is through secret shoppers. This may sound controversial to some, especially after the Obama administration was criticized for employing mystery shoppers to pose as patients to find out whether doctors were turning away people in government health programs. Critics claimed that “spying on” doctors would achieve nothing but mistrust. However, if implemented correctly, secret shoppers could provide valuable and unbiased feedback that can truly improve the business’ performance.
Hiring secret shoppers should not been seen as a way to “spy” on your staff. This, indeed, builds an environment of mistrust. Instead, management should be transparent and inform the staff of this initiative. It should be communicated that this is a proactive effort for the practice to identify key points of improvement in their operations for better patient satisfaction, reviews, and overall customer experience. The point of hiring secret shoppers is not to catch someone in the act, but to have useful information that can only be given by an unbiased experience of a third-party.
For a medical practice, one aspect of the business that needs particular attention is the phone line. In the age of automation the world is in today, touch-tone phone menus has become commonplace. However, it is without question that reaching the right department, or simply, reaching an actual person, can get a little frustrating. If your clinic uses a phone tree to direct calls to the appropriate people, how long does it actually take for the caller to reach a human? And when they do, what is the quality of the conversation? Hiring a secret shopper to navigate through your phone line will give you some insight on your potential patient’s experience. Based on their advice, you might even consider alternatives to a phone tree such as a live operator or a website where your patients can access open schedules, refill requests, etc.
Apart from navigating through your phone tree, a secret shopper will also assess the conversation they have with your staff. Is your scheduler passive in simply taking appointments, or are they proactively making a move to book the client in? Are they trained to keep the lead alive when the prospect is either unreceptive or indecisive? Your secret shopper can identify how effective your scheduler is and give suggestions on how they can align their method of conversation with your business objectives.
Measures to improve patient satisfaction, reviews, and overall customer experience needs to be taken if a medical practice wants to exude a high level of quality. Though there are many different ways to do so, hiring secret shoppers will provide your business with a first-hand and objective assessment, the insight of which is difficult to achieve with any other method. Additionally, it can be used as a tool for quality assurance and ensuring that company standards are being upheld.
Differentiating your practice from your competitors is a matter of the quality of your patients’ experience. What will your patient remember about their visit to your office? What impression did the interactions give them? To get a positive answer to these questions, you will need to think about your patients’ experience, from start to finish.
There are many ways to give your patients that “Wow!” factor that will promote loyalty to your clinic. Here are three of them:
It starts with that first interaction – the appointment
The first impression comes before your patient even steps foot in your clinic. It comes from the first point of contact – making the appointment. This is the start of your relationship with your patients and it will set the tone of their experience.
Whether your appointment process is through an online portal or over the phone, it is a good idea to send them a “Welcome!” email, which will make them feel more valued. The email could include a virtual tour of your office that could make them feel right at home and a warm welcome note that would make the experience feel a little more personal. Additionally, attaching a “Welcome Package” that includes all the necessary forms they need for their appointment will allow them more time to fill them out accurately. An added bonus is that it will also reduce their waiting time when they arrive at your office. The gesture to make your patients feel more valued could mean the difference between being a one-time visitor and a lifetime customer.
Keep the positive experience going in the waiting room
When your patient is in your waiting room, they will sit, look around, and judge whether they like your clinic and whether they will trust you as their doctors. Whether your waiting room conveys luxury, friendliness, neatness, professionalism, it should reaffirm what they felt from your “Welcome!” email. It is also important to remember that some patients might be feeling anxious before their appointment. That said, providing a positive experience in the waiting room will leave a lasting impression on your patients.
A good way to create a positive experience in the waiting room is having a TV with some interactive content such as trivia, pictures from your social media feed, or highlights of your practice. This could help form a level of trust between you and your patients. More importantly, make sure that they do not wait too long. No matter how impressive your waiting room is, a long wait is most likely what they will remember.
Make your front desk accessible to your patients 24/7
Maintain that “Wow!” factor even after your patient’s appointment by creating a patient portal. A patient portal is a good way for your patients to feel that your clinic is more accessible to them. You could have an account management interface where they can access their billing records, appointment histories, insurance records, maybe even records of their lab results or refill requests. The beauty of this is that this may also reduce administrative tasks of your staff such as taking calls to give provide this information. If your patients ever needed anything, it is accessible to them in a click of a button!
The efforts you make to for your patients are what will differentiate your practice from your competitors. Keep in mind that your customers’ experience is not confined to the walls of your examination room; it includes their first point of contact to the maintenance of that doctor-patient relationship.