Take these 7 steps to serve your customers well
By Janice Hughes, DC
Without much effort, you could develop a list of situations that would suggest poor customer service in a chiropractic office. Your list might include situations such as:
- A patient receives an erroneous bill for fees owing;
- A patient shows up at the wrong time for an appointment;
- A patient arrives for his appointment and his name is not in the appointment book;
- A team member complains to a patient — in a loud voice — that the patient is wrong;
- The doctor blames the staff for a mistake;
- The doctor complains that she can’t find good staff any more.
When situations like these actually happen (and they do), they do reflect poor customer service. But they indicate a deeper, more important issue — the lack of excellence standards and training within the office.
In patient care you know that symptoms are a message. If you can get to the underlying cause of the condition or problem, in addition to changing your patient’s immediate comfort, you can also change his future health.
The same holds true in your practice. An increase in the level of customer service not only means more satisfied patients, it also results in an increase in revenues for your practice.
STEPS TO EXCELLENT CUSTOMER SERVICE
Better customer service is the result of following seven steps:
1. Deal with the situation at hand. When a situation erupts, handle it immediately, with the goal of quieting emotions and keeping the customer happy. Handling problems in this manner requires using excellent communication skills.
How to do this: First, ask specific questions to discover the patient’s perception of the problem. Then, assure the patient that you will investigate, handle the situation, and get back to her. When you give that reassurance, tell the patient when you will call or the specific action steps you will take to resolve the problem.
2. Take responsibility. “I am responsible” is a mantra that should guide all team members.
How to do this: Acknowledge the situation, clearly accept responsibility, and defuse emotions. For example: “I will do a full review of your file and print out all the payments and details. Then we can review this together.”
3. Make the patient right. The patient is always right — even if she isn’t!
When you take responsibility for mistakes, miscommunications, or lack of clarity, then you are making the patient right. You respect the patient, his time, and his commitment to your care.
Often, patients are at fault for mistakes and miscommunications. Yet, when you use the right words and tone, you can turn the situation so that the patient is no longer to blame.
How to do this: In the case of missed appointments, you might state: “Jane, I notice that you have missed several of your appointments recently. This obviously is not a convenient time of day for you. Can we schedule your appointments for a time that is more convenient for you? Let’s schedule next week’s appointment before work so that as the business of the day unfolds you are totally focused.”
4. Don’t take things personally. Emotions block communication. Your goal is to focus on the facts and not turn the problem into a personal issue.
How to do this: Confront the situation, find out all the details, and personally commit to doing what it takes to solve the problem. For example: “I see that you have a balance on this statement. I need to pull your entire record. Let’s set a time prior to your next adjustment to review all of the finances and the financial policy that you had signed in the beginning of your care.”
5. Keep the end in mind. What is the mission of your office? To help and serve people? If you truly live by this mission, you and your staff work toward providing excellent customer service in all contact with your patients.
How to do this: Make it easy for patients to get their adjustments — from scheduling multiple appointments to prepaying. Show them how this is an added benefit and service to them. “Jim, I notice that we are generally adjusting you on Wednesday mornings. I’d love to make sure we have that day and time for you each week, so I’ll block out that time each week over this next month until your next re-exam. That way this time is guaranteed for you each week.”
6. Learn from each situation. “Stuff” happens every day in every office. Learn from it.
How to do this: Debrief with your staff at the end of each day. The debriefing should acknowledge everything that went well as well as challenges that occurred over that shift.
Reviewing the day in this way helps keep the entire team aware of specific problems and focuses them on taking the actions to clear up the situations.
If you see that the same problem keeps occurring, change policies, procedures — or people, if a particular team member is the cause.
Your goal is to stop the symp
toms and get to the core of the problem. If you don’t, you will experience the “leaky bucket syndrome”: Patients come in the door, but you can’t keep them in your practice. That impacts your bottom line!
7. Reward excellence. Good begets good. To achieve excellent customer service, reward excellence.
How to do this: Train your team, and then reward excellent behavior. Set a training schedule that includes a weekly review of policies and a “playbook” of the top 10 customer service situations and how to handle them.
And don’t forget to train your patients! Do this through a process of expectation management. Great leaders let patients know what is expected of them, and what they, in turn, can expect from the office. Review your policies for payments, missed appointments, and health education classes. Turn all of your new patients into terrific practice members!
Customer service is a reflection of you. Have you set strong standards and policies in the office? Do you have written policies on how to handle the situations that continue to occur in your office? When you develop your leadership, it will reflect in excellence within your office. And that translates to improved customer satisfaction, more referrals, and increased profitability.
7 steps to customer-service excellence
The seven steps to customer-service excellence are:
Janice Hughes, DC, is a member of the coaching team at The Masters Circle (www.themasterscircle.com). She has recently been named the Director of the Winners Circle, an elite group within The Masters Circle focused on increasing the standards of excellence within chiropractic practices. She can be contacted at 800-451-4514 ext. 142 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• The Nordstrom Way; The Inside Story of America’s #1 Customer Service Company, (Wiley, 2005), Robert Spector and Patrick D. McCarthy
• Be Our Guest; Perfecting the Art of Customer Service, The Disney Institute, www.disneyeditions.com