Originally published June 30, 2016
It’s surprising how often medical office staff overlook a fundamental aspect of delivering health care: practicing good customer service skills and focusing on a high-quality customer experience. This goes beyond the obvious component of pleasing your patients so they will refer their friends and family to your practice. There is an even more fundamental issue: when your patients are happy with the quality of care they receive, understand the recommendations of their doctor and are able to smile about their interactions with your staff, their stress level declines and they develop a deeper level of trust for your practice. Earning and maintaining trust is more than simply a compliment, it’s a critical component to patient care.
Unfortunately, even the very best practices end up with patients who are unhappy and want to talk to someone about it. For many practices, that person is you. Consider for a moment the process in which an unhappy patient escalates from a staff member to talking with you. Does your staff trust you enough to engage you in the conversation before the patient is demanding to speak to a manager? There is no simple answer to this and every interpersonal dynamic is different.
The crucial, first step is to communicate and demonstrate to your team your trust and commitment to them. They need to understand that you’re a resource and, as a team, you both share the burden and reward of turning around unhappy patients. Next, develop shared values around the customer experience. Finally, document and communicate your new values along with a clear escalation path.
Here are some simple things to remember when talking with your team about patient escalations:
- Show the patient that you value their time.
- Demonstrate empathy not only for the person’s feelings and frustrations but also for their physical condition. We all know when you’re in physical pain or are unsure about a medical outcome, you require more grace than others.
- Reinforce the value of your services and your commitment to their happiness as a patient.
- Take the mystery out of what medical bills they are personally responsible for and let them know you understand where they are coming from. Make sure they feel like they are talking to a person, a human, and not simply a management representative.
- When possible, look them in the eye and say you’re sorry.
Use of “real world” scenarios during team meetings can help to showcase and reinforce the best of your shared customer service experiences.