Customer service is a trendy theme in virtually every business these days.
However, the gap between “woulda, shoulda, coulda” and reality is invariably significant. Simply put, the concept of customer service is given universal lip service, but it is rarely incorporated into the fabric of an urgent care clinic.
An effective patient service program requires five core elements: planning, training, execution, evaluation, and reward/recognition.
Your program should have a well-designed plan that addresses train- ing, execution, evaluation and recognition. Unlike a marketing plan, the development of a patient service plan need not be an annual event. Rather, it should be a singular, dynamic document that re- quires updating only as new ideas or policies come to the fore.
Include the following in your clinic’s customer service plan:
- An overview of patient service Where does the proverbial buck stop?
- An overview of training How will new employees be trained? Who will conduct the training? How will current employees be refreshed? How will you evaluate the training?
- An index of patient service protocols. Your staff should embrace these protocols in their daily work to ensure that various constituencies are wowed by your program’s dedication to their
- An index of how staff is expected to respond to common displays of patient
- An overview of patient service evaluation methods. Who will evaluate your performance?
- How will you ask them?
- When will your clinic conduct such evaluations?
Does your clinic systematically train new employees and period- ically refresh existing staff on basic patient service? Or does your clinic simply assume that staff will say the correct thing or react in the right way?
New employees are often asked to absorb your clinic’s patient service ethic via osmosis—by watching their more experienced brethren deal with patients. However, a new employee seldom stands around for long since they are needed on the front lines. Thus, an unprepared new employee is forced to deal with patients right off the bat, creating a likelihood that an issue will come up and be mishandled.
Set aside time during every new employee’s first few days so they can study your clinic’s patient service plan. I recommend that the new employee take an oral patient service exam on the last day of their first week in order to appraise their mastery of patient service protocols. Typical questions might begin with: “How would you respond when…?”, or “What is the standard or benchmark for…?” Existing staff also need to be reminded periodically of the importance of maintaining a strong patient service ethic. I recommend quarterly customer service meetings involving all staff. You should:
- Review protocols added since the last
- Review employer and patient evaluations received during the last
- Recognize the patient service “moment” of the
- Discuss pressing patient service issues as
To execute a patient service plan at the highest level you should:
Hire positive, people-oriented
Set the bar Your clinic should go beyond satisfac- tion and strive for the highest possible degree of patient loyalty.
Reinforce patient service It is far easier to design a patient service plan than to continuously maintain a genuine patient service ethic. Create constant re- minders of your clinic’s commitment to the highest standard of patient service. For example, use some form of the term “service” every time someone answers the phone (e.g., “Hello. Midtown Urgent Care. My name is Judy. How may we serve you today?”)
Assessing your performance is paramount to a strong patient satisfaction program. Your clinic should:
- Embrace the “customer-driven” concept that relies on patients’ input to garner ideas for additional
- Assess patient satisfaction
- Send out a questionnaire to employer clients
- Conduct a quarterly telephone blitz with top
Rewards and Recognition
Add a little fun in the form of rewards and recognition. Not only do rewards provide gratification to those doing a good job, but they keep the concept of exemplary patient service on the front burner. For example, a “patient service moment of the month” might be rewarded with a gift certificate for a local restaurant. The patient service employee of the year could be acknowledged with a reserved parking spot.
Outstanding patient service provides its own intrinsic daily reward: a sense of immediate gratification and satisfaction that you can see in your constituents’ faces. Over-the-top customer service requires an ongoing, systematic, and proactive approach.
Sample Protocol: Handling a Disgruntled Patient
Inevitably, a patient will become upset and express open concern in the clinic. Clinic staff should follow these steps:
Never show anger or contempt, no matter how irrational the behavior.
- Escort the angry patient to a quiet, neutral place.
- Ask the patient to thoroughly express their concern.
- Probe to acquire more details about the concern.
- Show empathy (“I can understand your concern, Mr. Dunn”).
- Ask what you can do to “make things right.” (Caution: never offer a solution; let the other individual propose one first.) If possible, quietly meet their request. Ask if they are satisfied with your resolution.
- Follow-up later, via e-mail, voicemail or letter, and express that you are sorry there was a problem and pleased that “we were able to work it out.”
Remember, your biggest critic often becomes your greatest
advocate if you are willing to go the extra mile.