7 Ways Doctor’s Offices Can Create Customer Retention
If you’ve read a business blog or magazine in the last five years, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard the phrase “customer experience.” Otherwise known as CX, Forrester defines customer experience simply as “how customers perceive their interactions with your company.”But there are many layers to good CX. A company must be useful, usable and enjoyable, which can be done by taking a customer-centric approach to just about everything.
For whatever reason, healthcare still hasn’t gotten the customer experience memo, in part because patients are historically viewed as care receivers, not customers. But the truth of the matter is, with dozens of review sites and more competition than ever, the medical world has to start thinking of their patients not only as receivers of care but also as paying customers who will gladly take their business elsewhere if their experience is sub-par. That’s where patient experience, the practice of improving interactions with patients across all channels, comes in.
As simple as this seems, creating a positive patient experience is moderately complex. Patients don’t judge physicians only by their skills, how long they spend with patients or how empathetic they may or may not be. They also harshly judge medical professionals based on factors like wait time, phone hold time and friendliness of the front desk staff. All of these things can alienate patients and cause them to turn elsewhere for care. Here are some great ways you can improve your patient experience for the better.
- Know Your Customer—The most important thing to do before making any major changes to the way you run your practice is to gather pertinent information from your patients. As you’ll see from the tips below, there’s a never-ending pool of patient behavior studies out there, all of which provide insight into what a modern patient prefers and expects from their doctors’ office. Make sure to occasionally distribute patient satisfaction surveys to your patient base, with queries covering everything from convenience (“Is it easy to get hold of someone in our office?”) to philosophy (“Do you feel that your doctor actually cares about your health?”). Use the results to make changes that improve quality and patient experience.
- Offer Online Scheduling—Study after study confirms it: Patients prefer online scheduling. Not only that, but the majority of patients will be scheduling their appointments online by next year, so updating to a digital scheduling system isn’t just a good idea, it’s also an expectation. Partner with one that allows your patients to schedule appointments in three taps or less and consider adding chat and e-mail accessibility to expand the ways your customers contact you. This plays into the “usable” aspect of CX, which emphasizes a provider’s need to make interacting with a company as easy as possible.
- Join Doctor Databases—As a healthcare provider, you probably already know the good and the bad of online doctor review sites, and if you’ve noticed that your reviews don’t seem to jive with the face-to-face experiences you have with patients, you’re not alone. A recent study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings showed that those review sites don’t usually reflect what patients think about their doctors. Instead, they focus on big-picture things that may be out of a doc’s control, like wait times and insurance issues. Understand that your entire practice, not just the doctor, will be under scrutiny, so a good customer experience is key.
- Offer Video Check-Ups—There are so many benefits to offering video check-ups, but the most important one is that customers want them, plain and simple. The reason behind this is that people often see the doctor when they’re not feeling well, and the idea of leaving the house isn’t at all appealing. Video check-ups also help to improve customer retention by increasing access and flexibility—a patient might be able to receive a diagnosis or treatment plan while they’re on vacation or in between meetings at work. As an added bonus, digital visits can also reduce the spread of germs in your office.
- Know Your Limits—Earlier this year, a study found that among urologists in California, those with more patients had lower online ratings. The study indicated that the slower ratings may be associated with the fact that a large volume of patients leads to longer wait times, which leads to lower patient satisfaction. Of course, a high-volume practice is a good thing, but as you know, it might translate into an unrealistic physician schedule and little flexibility for your patients. Do your best to prevent overburdening yourself and your staff with too many patients.
- Provide Patient-Focused Training—With all this information in mind, it’s clear that physicians have a major hurdle to overcome. Not only should they be very good doctors, but they also must run their offices in a way that’s friendly and considerate to the customer, lest they receive negative reviews online. One way to ensure that you’re providing a quality patient experience is to train your staff in customer service, providing them with the tools they need to handle undoubtedly difficult situations with a positive attitude.
- Be Transparent—Many things prevent doctors from being 100 percent transparent, but know that when a patient feels he or she is not privy to all the available information, they may perceive you as dishonest or an opportunist. While it’s almost impossible for you to know exactly how much a procedure or treatment will cost for a particular patient without looking into their health insurance, do your best to ensure clear, uncomplicated billing and to spend time discussing costs. Make all of a patient’s electronic health records available on demand, disclose any drug promotions and take full accountability for any mistakes. It seems counter-intuitive, but transparency could actually decrease malpractice and defensive medicine.
At the end of the day, a higher customer retention rate means more loyalty, and more loyalty means more referrals. In some scenarios, it’s not right to handle your practice like a traditional business. A person’s health shouldn’t be treated as a marketable commodity and the liabilities much higher in your field than in others. But there are some cues we can take from the commerce world to create a care continuum that caters to the patient, and it doesn’t take a whole lot of effort on your behalf to transition to a patient-first approach.
Author Bio: Brett specializes in assisting and franchising small to midsize companies and is now in his 17th year of owning and developing more than 30 companies nationwide. In the last 5 years, he has shifted his attention to the healthcare industry and HealthSplash. With Brett’s innovative solutions and his ability to develop an incredible team with strategic partnerships, the healthcare industry will continue to see much-needed innovation.