Patients are one of the most powerful stakeholders in healthcare. They have the power to choose from many providers in the eye care marketplace and switch providers as they see fit. What’s the secret to getting patients to choose and stay with YOU? High-quality customer service.
If you want to run a successful eye care practice—one that is profitable and productive—you have to deliver the best customer service possible. Your optometric business solutions are inextricably linked to your financial future, and can change how patients feel about your practice. In fact, data shows that the happier your patients are, the faster they pay their medical bills. So for optometrists and ophthalmologists who are committed to building a successful practice, prioritizing customer service is not optional.
Providing the highest quality customer service requires the dedication of your entire office. All physicians and staff need to be on board with treating patients like gold. But great customer service starts with your front line staff. The face of your office—front desk employees and techs—see and talk to patients the most. They especially need to know how to keep current patients happy and new patients coming back. And sometimes that means going back to the basics.
Great customer service begins well before you even see or talk to patients. A lot of preparation—training, script-writing, and mindset shifts—goes into creating an office culture that makes patients feel valued. Prepare staff to create high-quality customer service experiences for patients by following these recommendations from practice consultant Laurie Pierce and optical marketing specialist Samantha Toth, both presenters at previous SECO conferences:
Make this your new office mantra: “It’s about the patient, not our policy.”
Don’t tell patients, “Our policy is…” Instead, tell them why your office has that policy and why it serves them. This way, if they go to another practice and don’t receive the same level of care, they’ll recognize it.
Remind yourself to LISTEN to patients’ needs and concerns.
Anticipate patient questions. Prepare a list of questions that patients usually ask when they come in for their appointment or call your office. Create scripted responses that you can then tailor to individual conversations.
Keep your waiting room and front desk space clean. When you come in for the day, use the same entrance as patients. How does the waiting room and front desk look? Disinfect surfaces, remove clutter, straighten piles of paper, and eliminate eye sores.
Communication: Right from the Start
As soon as patients walk into your office, you’re responsible for creating a high-level patient experience. They want to feel confident that they’ve chosen the best physicians and staff to take care of their eye health. That means you have to be prompt, organized, friendly, and prepared. These best practices, created by Pierce and Toth along with practice consultant and fellow SECO presenter Mary E. Schmidt, will ensure that your patients have a smooth check-in process and feel great about choosing you:
When patients walk into your office, greet them by name and with a smile.
For walk-ins, always ask for the patients’ name. For returning patients, review their records before they come in for their appointment. Say something that makes them feel special and remembered. When you learn something new about patients’ lives or interests, mark that in their EHR to say during your next interaction.
Always make eye contact when speaking with patients.
Giving them your full attention makes them feel like the most important person in the room, at that moment.
When confirming patients’ contact and health insurance information, don’t ask, “Are you still at the same address/with the same provider/at the same phone number?” Ask instead, “Are you still at 1234 University Dr.?” Or, “Do you still have the Blue Cross Blue Shield Open Access plan?”
Do NOT turn your computer screen and ask patients to review their information. This is a major HIPAA violation.
Consider patients’ comfort level. Adjust heat/air conditioning, have water available, stock waiting room with books/toys if patients have kids (especially if your patients are kids), and bring in extra chairs as needed.
Never say “no.” For example, if a patient asks if you take Medicaid and your practice doesn’t, don’t say, “No, we don’t take Medicaid.” Say instead, “We are currently not a provider in the Medicaid program. But if you’d like, we have a list of nearby providers that are.” Or say, “We are aware of xyz discount programs.” Make your patients feel like they have options and power as a customer.
Always ask yourself, “How can I make this patient feel special?”
Check out, but don’t “check out.”
As with the check-in process, patients want to feel taken care of by your staff at the check-out desk. They want to know what happens next, they want to be heard, and they want to know that you care even after they leave your office. To accomplish that goal, Pierce, Toth, and Schmidt recommend these simple steps:
- When patients come to check-out desk, have their files ready. Use their name, smile, and make eye contact.
- Explain to patients what they need to do next—make a payment, schedule another appointment, etc. Don’t let patients wonder and ask, “Am I good to go?”
- If patients complain about the care they received during their visit, apologize. Don’t make excuses. Ask them what they are unsatisfied with specifically. Take action to turn them into a happy patient.
- Make it easy for patients to write positive online reviews about their experience at your practice. Gently encourage patients to write a review. You can say, “We’re always looking for ways to serve our patients better, so we would love your feedback about your visit today.” Provide a tablet at the checkout desk for patients to write a review immediately. Add links to your social media sites and email signatures that take patients directly to your review sites.
- Educate and teach patients about their options—don’t sell to them. If patients need to purchase eyewear or undergo a procedure, show patients several options that best suit their needs. Demonstrate your thorough knowledge of each option. Give them all of the information they need to make a good decision for themselves.
- Whether a patient purchases eyewear, undergoes a procedure, or submits a complaint, give them a follow-up phone call one to two weeks after you see them. Ask if they are 100% satisfied with their eyewear/recovery/complaint resolution. Create a script for follow-up phone calls.