Crucial patient interaction methods for keeping patients happy and returning for exceptional care
I discovered a quote that personifies the achievement of every practice. Peter Drucker stated, “Every practice is in practice for one reason — the patient.” All activities and internal functions rely on acquiring patients and patient interaction skills for and retaining patients. This imperative concept is needed to ensure that chiropractors focus on acquiring patients.
Doctors therefore need to be confident about their achievements. And, they must continually maintain confidence with staff even during volatile times. This also includes operating the practice using prudent risk. Removal from the comfort zone is always difficult for habitual practice owners.
Patient interaction: don’t be lacking
It is fairly ironic that, in many conversations, practices typically have a similar excuse for not being attentive to patient service: 1) lack of time; 2) lack of focus; and 3) a lack of knowledge. However, dismissing the issue only brings about revenue concerns.
The reason that patient service is so vital to every practice includes the following:
- Less Cost — As patient word-of-mouth spreads about your products and services, you become a marketing leader through buzz marketing. Costs decrease due to a lack of need for advertising.
- Increased Productivity — A cooperative culture leads to higher staff productivity. When people get along, they service patients better.
- Less Labor — The increased use of social media and the internet enable (satisfied) patients to quickly connect with others who might be interested in your services. Patients do the work for your practice.
What do patients seek?
Patients today are much smarter than many think. Patients today are most specifically concerned about value and trust. With many chiropractors to choose from and access to websites, it is hard to distinguish one from another. The key differentiator today is patient service.
Patients want to ensure they are treated right from the moment they are serviced. This requires that practices develop a patient culture. This includes everyone from the front desk to the treatment room. In fact, what patients really expect is that they are treated as the purpose of the practice and not an interruption of it.
With patient interaction there are four very specific things to be considered to help your practice become more patient service savvy. The first starts with people. The people you hire must be completely passionate about servicing the patient. This means smiling upon entry and even engaging the patient with great questions that illustrate a peer relationship. Getting to know them and becoming genuinely interested is very opportunistic for the patient service practice.
The second issue patients are concerned with is support. When they call to get service, patients expect a real person to answer the phone. They don’t expect to be placed on indefinite hold or in a circulating maze of voice-operated options. Patients become angered by the number of prompts they must provide in order to get the assistance needed. How many times do you call some companies and get press 1 for English, 2 for Spanish, then press 1 for sales, 2 for service, now enter in your account number, then hit 3 if you know your child’s first name, etc.
The third issue is the patient wants to know how you can help them as a trusted advisor. Patients are seeking solutions to problems and there is expectancy based on your experience that you could offer help.
When you make your patients a part of the practice and create partnerships, there is a better relationship and more trust. As the trust builds, they tell others of your honesty, which helps create more business for you and less attrition in the patient ranks. Patients want to stay with you; you just need to show them a bit more love! Discover what patient service excellence really means — to you and your patients.
When was the last time you were ‘wowed’?
When we talk about the patient service experience, we really mean a consistent and relentless pursuit of ongoing patient service. Consumers know they can count on certain restaurants, hotels or department stores to have staff who are always welcoming, friendly and cannot wait to help.
Every single patient interaction contact your practice has with its patients either cultivates or corrodes your relationship. That includes every letter you send, every ad you run and every phone call you make. This includes contact from the first person to the senior officer.
If you think about it, your practice is only as good as your worst staff member. When you think of how you treat your staff, this actually becomes a domino effect to your overall asset — your patients. This is sobering, simply because patient service is as much an internal function as it is externally. Imagine entering a store and hearing the screaming or sarcasm amongst two or more employees, or you hear staff speak poorly about a former patient. Would you return?
Do you treat your patients similar to the way the Ritz-Carlton does its guests? At the Ritz, you can count on ladies and gentlemen to service ladies and gentlemen.
The idea here is that patient service excellence is really about servicing individuals as ladies and gentlemen. This means looking at situations through the eyes of your patient. Have you really walked through your own patient service strategy? What does it look like at the other end? Can you see yourself as your own patient?
One of the best methods for doing this is to develop a mystery-shopping program. If you are not familiar with this, all one needs is to arrange for a “stranger” to shop your establishment the way a patient would. Have them call in or visit and take notes on all they experience.
Another aspect of patient service excellence is to allow staff to feel empowered in their positions. Simply put, one of the goals of patient interaction and service training must allow staff to feel as much a part of the practice as you.
Encourage your staff to see situations from an owner’s point of view. This might require servicing practices not only better but doing so with keenness that looks at return on investment for the practice. When staff can make certain good quick decisions to make patients happy without your involvement and without going through layers, there is less aggravation for the patient.
There is not enough money in advertising and promotion to supplement these stories. Research proves it is 81% more effective to keep a happy, satisfied patient then acquire a new one. Do all you can to see the practice from your patients’ eyes so you can lessen barriers that lead to patient aggravation.
An example of excellence
The Marriott hotel company revolutionized the way staff, from desk clerks to chief financial officers, are evaluated based on guest satisfaction scores. The result is a culture where uncommon acts of concern — such as a bellhop lending his shoes to a guest —become not so uncommon.
The founders of the companies that make up Marriott’s 19 brands really believed that if you take great care of your employees, they’d take great care of your customers.
Keys to getting closer to patients
Doing business on a first-name basis — The sweetest sound anyone will ever hear is their first name. Anytime you visit with Dr. Paul, you are being greeted by his first name. Becoming more intimate on a first-name basis allows for more power and trustworthiness.
Connectivity — There is a need to constantly connect to patients. Phone calls, gratuity cards and other devices are helpful in remaining in constant contact. You might use newsletters, conduct blogs, send out handwritten notes or use services for such. No matter what you use, just remaining top of mind makes good sense.
Delight — Remember when you were a kid and you ate Cracker Jacks? The prize surprised us all, but today, patients desire more sizzle. We all know the surprise is coming, but now we want more. So today we must provide more zing for all patients. Patients today want to be “blown away.” I was visiting Starbuck’s recently and I frequently visit one particular shop. As I approached the counter, there was a Venti coffee at the register. My barista saw me coming from the parking lot and as I entered we exchanged hellos. He told me my coffee was waiting. And there was no charge. Now, that is blown-away service. My own chiropractor’s staff takes me to lunch and from time to time calls to just ask how I am doing. This too is blown-away service.
Discovering other ways to delight and help
Patient service and the patient experience are not always about transactions. Sometimes it is about becoming a valued advisor. Practices desire a trusting relationship and want to return to socially-conscious people. Visit Nordstrom’s and ask for a specific tie, shoes or cufflinks. If unavailable, the sales representative will indicate not only the closest store but also a competitor. Sometimes service means just being a helpful advisor.
For example, you might refer the patient to another medical practitioner, offer wellness assistance or simply be there just to listen. Other initiatives include:
Addressing issues immediately — We cannot always be right. We like to be, but no one person or company is perfect. The entire mission of patient service is servicing patients. When things go wrong, address them quickly and do not be so quick to place any blame. Merely move on and do all you can to keep the patient and the relationship whole.
Return messages quickly — Patients do not want to wait. They want answers as quickly as possible. Even Radio Shack uses the mantra, “You have questions? We have answers.” Return all calls or emails within 24 hours. I myself have a policy of 90 minutes. One day, the author and entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki was sent an email by a potential patient at 10 p.m. and he returned it 10 minutes later. I know doctors who give out their personal home numbers. Do all that is necessary to be responsive.
Keep it pleasant — Perry Wright, a former broadcaster, is known as the On Hold Guy. During hold times, he records one-liners, entertaining stories and facts that simply keep individuals returning. This is important, since 70% of most patient service issues require wait times that include a telephone hold. Believe it or not, 60% hang up.
It costs 8-10 times more to gain a new patient than to keep one. Providing exceptional patient interaction and service is what practices want and what they come to expect. Because of the close and personal contact available, those practices that remain close do much better than those that don’t. Being patient-savvy and patient exceptional is simply just good practice.
The patient is the reason
The patient is the reason for the practice. Patients are not an interruption; they are its purpose. Nothing happens unless a patient is satisfied. Customer service is as good as your best and worst employee.
Remember to always win friends and influence patients.
DREW STEVENS, PHD, is the author of Practice Acceleration and over 700 articles on chiropractic practice strategy. For additional information visit his website at drew-stevens.com. © 2021. Drew J. Stevens, all rights reserved.