Medical Practice Customer Service from the H.E.A.R.T.

September 13, 2012

Want to keep patients coming back to your office? Try a little service from the H.E.A.R.T.

High on the list of complaints from patients (also known as customers) is a lack of customer service in a physicians office, they may call it "poor bedside manner" or a "cranky receptionist" but no matter what the specialty, it all boils down to customer service. Medicine isn't what it used to be - you have to be in the business of medicine and that includes winning customer service.

You are probably wondering what customer service from the H.E.A.R.T. entails and waiting for a sappy list of hearts and flowers (no pun intended).

You might be surprised at these commons sense applications:

1. Hospitality

This can be pretty simple - be inviting to your guests, make your waiting room clean and comfortable, have coffee or tea available, and offer bottled water to your clients. Keep televisions, especially those advertising services at a reasonable level. Make sure staff (including doctors) are smiling and warm (this starts on the phone before the patient ever gets to the office). You may even consider making a person the "hospitality ambassador" for your office, who holds weekly meetings and generally gets the staff on board with hospitality.

2. Empathy and Enthusiasm

It was really a toss-up when filling in the blanks of the H.E.A.R.T. acronym between these two, so when all else fails, cover both.

Empathy is very important in customer service because it allows you to put yourself in the patient's shoes for a minute. It can also instantly diffuse an irritated patient. You can show empathy by saying with sincerity (of your face and tone):
• "That is awful, let me see how I can help."
• "I understand your frustration."
• "I would be upset if that happened to me."

It bears repeating to make sure you are sincere. Otherwise, your empathy will not be effective.

Enthusiasm is also very important. If the staff including the physician is enthusiastic in their work, patients will want to be there (and so will the staff). Enthusiasm goes hand-in-hand with hospitality and must be shown sincerely in body language, tone, and facial expressions.

3. Attitude

This is a big one, attitude is everything. Everyone that comes in contact with a patient must have a winning attitude and show it. Even over the phone. Each patient should feel that you are thankful they chose you and your business. By no means a groveling attitude but in general a thankful attitude. (Thankfulness or gratitude is being glad they are there and confident you won't lose their business. If you are thankful and afraid of losing your patients, you give off energy of fear and stress which isn't healthy for your patients or your business.)

4. Respect

The patient isn't always right, but always deserves respect. The best way to show your patients respect is the same way your folks taught you but probably not in such specific terms: ask, listen, respond, and adapt. Ask patients how you can help them or improve. (When a patient walks in, the front office should ask "How can I help you?" not look up and say, "Yes?") Really listen to what your patients are telling you about ways you can improve and how you can help them. Respond or act on the ways you learn you need to change and improve and adapt to this changing market where customer service rules.

5. Timeliness

Be on time and explain to patients truthfully why you are not on time. And if you as an office or practitioner are habitually late, adapt the patient scheduling to make up for it.

Don't fall under the pretense that your practice has some basic talent or service that can't be found elsewhere. If you have poor customer service, your customers/patients will find someone else with winning customer service and MD on their shingle to care for the family and recommend to their friends. Give customer service from the H.E.A.R.T. a try, and watch your practice transform into a place where patients want to be, and it can transform your business. (It can also transform morale with the staff.)

Find out more about Audrey "Christie" McLaughlin and our other Practice Notes bloggers.