Five Steps for Improved Customer Service at Your Medical Practice

December 13, 2013
Jason J. Davidson

Making the holiday spirit the norm at your medical practice can result in more satisfied patients, happier families, and an increase in referrals.

In the retail space, many industry leaders report improved customer satisfaction scores during the holiday season. Despite the high-volume pace and workload, both staff members and their customers often smile more frequently, wish each other well and work to spread the good cheer of the season.

Perhaps it isn't only in the retail industry where we see this trend, but also in our day-to-day work within healthcare. In one family medicine practice where we consult, a practice manager was recently encouraged to hear a member of her front-line staff give a genuine "thank you for coming in" to a patient who was checking out after her visit. While it was encouraging to hear this, expressing genuine gratitude to our patients and making authentic connections shouldn't be a seasonal focus. Rather, it should become a daily focus, as readily apparent in July as it is in December. If you can make the "holiday spirit" the norm for your practice, you will likely be rewarded with more satisfied patients, happier family members, and an increase in referrals.

Here are five functional steps for front-line staff to take to bring the holiday spirit to patients year-round:

1. Express gratitude. As with the real-life example recently shared with us, patients are often surprised to hear a warm thank you for their business, but they shouldn't be. Practices should be focusing on treating their patients as customers and reinforcing their loyalty clearly and consistently.

2. Personalize the patient experience. Front-line staff should focus on greeting patients by name, taking a moment to inquire how the patient is doing, and establishing a warm and authentic connection.

3. Set expectations. Work with front-line staff to set clear and reasonable expectations for patients. If patients need to wait for their appointment time, coach staff to share this clearly and compassionately. If a patient will be getting a follow-up call after an appointment, explain how long they can expect to wait and then follow through accordingly. Informed patients are satisfied ones. 

4. Build affinity through hand-offs. Patients want to know about their care providers and have a personal connection with the people taking care of them. Taking the time to share something as simple as, "Amanda is a new RN to our office and we're very lucky to have her. She'll be with you in just a moment," only takes a few seconds, but the opportunity to build positive affinity towards the provider or staff member is priceless.

5. Lead by example. Physicians set the tone for patient experience in their practices. If you expect your front-line staff to engage proactively and warmly with your patients, it's up to you to model these best practices with every patient.

While most of these steps may seem like common sense, it's easy to overlook them in the midst of a busy practice. Treating our patients well and with kindness reinforces their continued loyalty and encourages word-of-mouth referrals - the very best kind of marketing.