Five Tips to Help Your Practice Set the Stage for Quality Customer Service

PPRC

Customer Service Isn’t Just for Bank Tellers Anymore

Below are two recent excerpts from ­actual Yelp online reviews of doctors’ offices in Massachusetts:

Example #1: “Long waits for scheduled appointments.” “Most unhelpful people at the counter. I understand you’re busy and all, but so is CVS and I’ve never had these problems there.” “If you have the choice, go elsewhere.”

Example #2: “It’s hard to find a good doctor’s office... but this place seems to fit the bill!” “The medical assistant was friendly and very competent, and the doctor was pleasant and a good listener.” “I feel like we are partners in my care, not just a doctor telling me what to do. The office staff is always very considerate and responsive.”

The first example clearly illustrates a failed customer service model in which the patient is upset about a number of things that surprisingly have nothing to do with the actual consultation with the physician. The second example demonstrates how a practice can and should engage with a patient in their care. Providing high-quality care is the ultimate goal for physicians. However, there may be a significant gap in the patient experience from when the patient arrives at the office to when he or she actually sees the physician, as illustrated in the examples.

As technology and patient- centered care become growing aspects of practice operations, such as the increasing use of EMR and practice management systems, practices should consider placing a strong emphasis on providing high-quality front-end customer service to retain existing patients and recruit new ones to the practice. The federal government has been a proponent of this movement as demonstrated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Meaningful Use Program, which is designed to incentivize physicians to communicate and engage with their patients through the use of information technology tools, such as patient portals and online patient education tools.

Below are five tips to help improve customer service in your practice:

  • Customer service isn’t just for bank tellers anymore. Establish routine customer service training for your staff. The interactions your staff members have with your patients prior to (and post) appointments are a crucial part of practice operations. For example, make sure that your practice has an established, standardized process for routing calls. Staff should really understand what the patient is asking for and determine the patient’s sense of urgency.
  • Building routine customer service training for your practice staff will reinforce the concept of providing quality care to the patient. You may have the resources in your practice to be able to develop your own training, or you may need to hire a professional to develop a customized solution for you.
  • Encourage your staff to participate in conversations around improving customer service and hold them accountable for following through on such initiatives. Some practices hold daily huddles prior to the start of the day to review patient charts and communicate information that will be helpful in preparing for the upcoming day’s appointments. Include your staff in conversations around how service can be improved based on patient feedback and streamline processes to address any gaps. Many practices ask patients to fill out patient satisfaction surveys so that they can determine where those gaps lie.
  • Create an inviting environment for your patients. This consists of maintaining the waiting area by ensuring that it is clean and comfortable. Make sure the TV volume is set at a reasonable level. Encourage your clinical and administrative staff to be warm and inviting by smiling. The front desk sets the stage for the patient experience, so envision what you would want to experience as a patient if you stepped into your own office. Sit in your own waiting area for a few minutes and see how many ideas for improvement come to mind.
  • Be on time. Everyone is busy, including patients. Let’s face it; no one wants to be at the doctor’s office for longer than they have to. If you are late, explain your delay to the patient and if you and/or other staff is habitually late, adapt the patient scheduling to make up for it.

For more information on improving customer service in your practice contact the PPRC at pprc@mms.org or (781) 434-7702.

—Talia Goldsmith
PPRC Specialist

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