Physicians Practice Pearls: The Value of First Impressions

March 1, 2008

“Doctor’s office - please hold,” is not what anyone wants to hear when calling your practice, especially for the first time. Teach staff how to handle your calls properly.


Generally, the front-office staff is the first contact the patient has with the office, as well as the last. In these times of increased consumer knowledge, the customer service we provide can set us apart from our competition.

But the front-desk staff is tugged in many directions: answering the phone, checking patients in and out, verifying current demographic information, collecting copays, calling to remind patients about appointments, dealing with pharmaceutical reps and other vendors - you get the idea.

So what to do? Here are a few tried and true methods for improving your customer service in the front office:

  • Training - Make sure that your staff receives sufficient training on using the practice management system, scheduling, reading accounts, phone manners, and customer service skills. And once is not enough. Training should be ongoing.

  • Separation of duties - Create a distinct position to handle incoming calls, so that others on the front desk staff can focus on the needs of those customers actually in the office.

  • Knowledge empowerment - Make sure that your front-desk staff knows the answers to common questions, including office hours, directions to the office (including how to get there with public transportation), where to park, what insurance you take, and so on. If your office has an active intranet, post the information on that. If not, provide an answer book listing answers to the most frequently asked questions.

  • Mystery shoppers - A mystery shopper can provide valuable feedback on the way things really work at your reception desk.

  • See for yourself - Try calling into your office’s main line to gauge how patients are treated. Also, spend a little time sitting in your own waiting room. See what the patients see, and hear what the patients hear.

  • “Thank you, Mrs. Smith” - Simple, huh? But so often skipped. Teach your staff to thank your patients. And while they’re at it, why not have the staff ask patients if they have all of their prescriptions, or if they have any questions that could be answered before they leave? That one step alone can save countless telephone calls later in the day.

  • The other “thank you” - This is the one that you should do to show that you notice the efforts of your front-desk staff. Take time to learn their names, chat with them, and acknowledge the contribution they make to the office. Your positive attention will work wonders, guaranteed.

Bottom line: Never doubt the importance of your front-desk staff and the impact they have on your patient base. Keeping patients is far less expensive than securing new ones, and you need your front-desk workers to help keep them. With just a little effort and training to get the front office on board, you will have patients singing your praises and spreading the good word about the superb customer service at your practice.

Kenneth Hertz, CMPE, is a senior consultant with the MGMA Health Care Consulting Group. His special interests include operational improvement, practice analysis, strategic planning, and strategic marketing. He can be reached at khertz@mgma.com.

This article originally appeared in the March 2008 issue of Physicians Practice.