How to raise the expectations bar for a memorable patient experience.
By Steve Smith, Healthcare Success Senior Consultant
What does a typical visit to your medical practice have to say about your practice reputation? Here are five ways to exceed expectations and create a memorable service experience – a cornerstone of superior healthcare branding.
One of the great myths of customer service is that providing great – or even good – service requires a “program” or a “policy.” The program or policy can be so grand that in larger enterprises there may even be a person whose sole function is the maintenance of a customer service program.
That’s the myth. The reality is that creating a memorable patient experience requires only a few basic principles explained in a meaningful way to your staff.
That memorable patient experience most often depends not only on what is said to a patient but how it is said. Delivering that to your patients takes less than ten seconds per visit.
To understand how easy it is to provide great service, you must understand the typical medical office visit experience from the patient’s point of view. Here is a summary of their current expectations:
“I expect to arrive on time for my appointment, only to be greeted by an anonymous multi-tasker sitting behind a desk. This person is answering the phone, entering data, shuffling patient files and answering questions from peers and supervisors so, naturally, she does not have time to welcome me. Instead, I am asked my name, asked if my insurance is still the same, then told, “Have a seat in the waiting room and we’ll call you.”
“So, I wait in the waiting room, and wait, leafing through old magazines and sitting in an uncomfortable chair with a room full of people who would all rather be somewhere else.
“When my name is called, I get more indifference. No one tells me who they are, what they do or are going to do with me, or how long it will take. Instead, I am dumped at the next station, waiting for someone else to treat me the way the last person treated me.
“When I do finally see the doctor, I feel as though I’m on a timer. Just once, I’d like someone to say something nice to me. Ask me about my plans for the weekend or if I have seen any good movies lately – anything to show me that I am a human being and not just file number 46233.”
That reality means that the bar—your patient’s expectations—is set so low. But it is easy to raise that bar. Using the preceding patient experience as a guide, here are the basic steps toward creating a memorable patient experience.
- Start with your telephones. Most phones are answered in a rush, which sends the wrong initial signal to your patient. Slow down, the difference between speaking your phone greeting rapidly and speaking it calmly is about 1.5 seconds. The difference in patient perception is timeless.
- Acknowledge your patient. At check-in, look the patient in the eye and welcome her to your facility. Ask about the weather, whether the office was easy to find, or about any plans for the weekend.
- Describe the visit step-by-step. Everyone who comes in contact with your patient should tell her who they are, what they do and how long it will take.
- Respect their time. If you are running more than 15 minutes late, tell your patients at check-in. If the backup starts while they are waiting, go into the waiting room and tell each patient personally what happened. Even better, phone the patients who have not yet arrived and tell them of the delay.
- Finish strong. At discharge, tell your patient what happens next, whether it is the need for another appointment or how long it will be before test results are back. Don’t wait for her to ask you. Make sure that the last person seeing the patient says, “Thank you for coming in today.”
A few seconds – ten seconds or less – is a low-cost investment with a priceless return.