Customer Service for Medical Practices

Some people may think that medicine and the healthcare industry are world’s apart from customer service and the hospitality industry. That’s simply not the case.   

 

There is much that medical practices can learn in terms of how to better interact with patients as part of the overall experience.

 

A recent article by Customer Service Crusader Steve DiGioia summarized ten different methods that companies use to help their employees internalize how to best help serve customers. Each one came in the form of an acronym, making it easy to remember.

 

Check out a condensed version of Digioia’s list below, then scroll down to see my take on what this boils down to for medical practices.

 

Top Ten Customer Service Acronyms
(That Apply to Medical Practices, Too!)
 

 
1. APPLE

Approach customers with a personalized warm welcome.

Probe politely to understand all the customer’s needs.

Present a solution for the customer to take home today.

Listen for and resolve any issues or concerns.

End with a fond farewell and an invitation to return.

 

2. BLAST
Believe – It is important to understand that your customer believes that your establishment has wronged them.
Listen – Stop and listen to your customer’s complaint. 
Apologize – Always apologize even if you did nothing wrong. 
Satisfy – Make it right. 
Thank – At the beginning, at the end, in the middle; it doesn’t matter, thank the customer for calling and complaining.

 

3. CARES
Communication – Clearly communicate the process and set expectations.
Accountability – Take responsibility for fixing the problem or getting an answer.
Responsiveness – Don’t make the customer wait for your communication or a solution.
Empathy – Acknowledge the impact that the situation has on the customer.
Solution – At the end of the day, make sure to solve the issue or answer the question.
 
4. The LAURA Technique
Listen – Our instinct is to jump into action and solve the problem, but you’ll get a better result if you take a moment to listen. 
Acknowledge – Validate their emotions with a sincere acknowledgment. 
Understand – Customers often do a poor job of telling their story, so try to understand what they really need. 
Relate – Empathy comes from understanding what someone is experiencing and being able to relate to their emotions. 
Act – It’s time to act once you’ve addressed your customer’s emotions.
 
5. SOLER
Squarely face the customer, preferably at a 5 o’clock position.
Open posture. Maintain an OPEN posture at all times, not crossing your arms or legs which can appear defensive.
Lean forward. LEAN slightly in towards the client.
Eye contact. Maintain EYE CONTACT with the client without staring.
Relaxed and natural. RELAX. This should in turn help the client to relax.
 
6. HEAT
Hear Them Out – If they can just get it off their chest, they’ll likely be much more open to your solutions.
Empathize – Feel what your customer is feeling by putting yourself in their shoes. 
Apologize – This one is important, especially if you did not personally make the error or create the situation that’s making the customer angry. 
Take Action – Make sure you have an action plan ready to follow your apology.
 
7. GUEST
Greet – To make a positive first impression with every customer, employees should greet every person as soon as they walk in the door.
Understand – To understand customers’ needs, employees should listen carefully to customer requests and respond effectively and efficiently.
Eye-contact – Making eye contact lets customers know they are important. 
Speed of Service – Customers expect to be served quickly, even when you are busy. 
Thank You – A personalized and sincere “thank you” at the end of a customer experience will let customers know they’re appreciated and encourage them to return again.
 
8. CARP
Control the situation.
Acknowledge the dilemma.
Refocus the conversation.
Problem-solve so the customer leaves happy.
 
9. SERVE
Simplicity – Simplicity for a customer service organization means reduced complexities of the systems that are used by the customer service personnel and quick access to customer data, analytics, and well-designed business processes.
Efficiency – Efficiency is simplicity scaled. 
Repeatability – Repeatability for the customer means having the confidence and trust that a great support experience will be delivered.
Versatility – Versatility is an attribute of delivering a support service that engages customers across many interaction channels and creating a community of customers across social media channels and forums. 
Excellence – Excellence for a customer service organization means striving to perfect every part of the customer service experience journey.
 
10. LEAST
Listen – To show that you’re actively listening to your customer, repeat their concern.
Empathize – Show genuine concern while putting yourself in the customer’s shoes.
Apologize: A sincere “I’m sorry” goes a long way. 
Solve – Find a solution as best you can. 
Thank – Thank customers for bringing the problem to your attention and for simply being a customer, such as: “Thank you for letting us know so we can get this corrected.”
strength of your customer service chart

The first acronym comes from an Apple sales training manual in which employees are taught to solve a problem rather than sell a product. Most of the acronyms pertain to customer service and are used to help increase employees’ ability to respond in the moment. My own “meta analysis” of this top ten list showed four basic steps that were common to most of the ten methods:  

Listen and Empathize

Acknowledge and Apologize

Solve the Problem

Thank the Person

What’s critical here is the order and flow of the conversation. Too often we are in a hurry to solve the problem at hand. This is a common mistake. You need to take a moment and listen to what the patient is saying. Let them vent. You can empathize without necessarily agreeing with what they are saying. If they feel like they are being heard, they will already feel better and the emotion will begin to subside.   

Even if it’s not your fault, it’s still your problem. This is why it’s so important to apologize for whatever happened. This confirms in the patient’s mind that they’ve been heard.   

Of course, you want to solve the problem to the best of your ability. A simple question, “What can I do to make this right for you?” allows the patient to tell you what would make them happy. You will often be surprised by the answer, especially if you did a good job of with the first two steps.  

 

Finally, thank the person. Sincerely. With Gratitude. The data are clear that only 1 out of every 25 people with a complaint actually speak up. Getting this type of direct feedback is a gift that can help you identify weaknesses in the operation and fix them.   

How's the Service Recovery at Your Practice?

There’s an entire customer service sub-specialty devoted to what’s known as service recovery. In essence, data on customer satisfaction indicate that when a problem occurs, if the staff respond quickly and address the issue, then the customer satisfaction is higher than it would have been otherwise. In other words, it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s how you respond that counts.  

 

Restaurateur Danny Meyer, whom I highlight in Beyond Bedside Manner, understands this principle very well. When something goes wrong with a customer, he says: “we get to write the next chapter.”  

 

So here’s a question: Do you have a formal plan on how to handle patient complaints? Or do you just try to be nice and hope it all ends up well?   

 

The first question indicates whether you are going “beyond” in your efforts to make patient experience a differentiating feature of your practice. The second question reminds me of the saying, “hope is not a strategy.” 

Patient Experience Survey

Learn what your patients think! Use this sample PX survey to understand the questions that really matter.

Growing Your Practice Begins With Your Customer Service

The growth of your practice should come from increasing patient satisfaction rather than an increasing marketing budget. The best way to improve patient satisfaction is to measure it (like the survey shared above!) and then act upon what you learn.    

Improving patient experience WILL lead to higher satisfaction, more referrals and a thriving practice. Ready to get started?

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