With as much work as we do helping to manage the online reputations of our physician clients, it is critical that practice managers focus not just on doctor bedside manner but also take a look at their front line employees as well. Just this past week we had a client who received a very negative rating on a physician rating website that will take months for us to push off the front page of Google and will certainly impact this practice’s online reputation. It ended up that although the doctor was in a foul mood that day and less than curtious to his patient who had been waiting over an hour, it was also the front desk assistant who escalated the situation to one that now requires an outside firm to immediately begin elevating our focus with very reactive online reputation management.
When was the last time you called your office and tried to set up an appointment? When did you last sit in the waiting room simply to observe what the experience is like from a patient’s perspective? If you’re like a lot of area doctors, you probably haven’t done that anytime within the past, oh, ever. That’s fine, I’m not here to judge, I’m just here to tell you that you should be doing that. The look and actions of your office staff are often the first thing patients will experience when it comes to your practice – and that’s why an organized, friendly staff is key to your overall success.
Now that’s a pretty obvious statement, sure. But when was the last time you actually examined what your staff is like and what they do to help your office? After you’ve developed your marketing plan and you’ve got your prospective patients calling in, what happens then? Your receptionist or someone at the front-office answers the phone and deals with patients. That makes them the most important assets to you retaining patients and gaining referrals, aside from your actions, of course. Trust me when I say you will be judged by that first interaction – which is why you should do everything within your power to ensure it’s a good one.
They say you’ve only got one chance to make a first impression and you should always put your best foot forward. They’re absolutely right. Your staff needs to be friendly, courteous and just plain nice when they interact with patients – no matter what. Here are a few more tips that can help put your office over the top:
Always Smile, Even on the Phone
When someone calls or walks in to anywhere, for any reason, they want to be treated with respect. They want to see a friendly face that’s ready to help; and the same goes for when they call your office to set up that initial appointment. One simple way to make patients feel immediately more comfortable is to walk them through the process step-by-step – whether that’s setting up an appointment, asking questions in a friendly and non-intrusive tone or giving directions. It all goes back to wanting to feel welcomed, and it’s up to your staff to give off that warm feeling.
When a patient first walks into your office, the first thing a staff or front-office person should do is acknowledge them. A warm smile and a simple “Good Morning” is more than enough to make someone feel a little less anxious. Like I said before, these first interactions are of grave importance – we all want to feel like we matter. I’m sure you wouldn’t want to be ignored for 3 minutes and then spoken to rudely, I know I wouldn’t. I’ve seen it happen numerous times, and each time I can’t help but immediately sympathize with the patient. If you’re lucky they’ll just bad mouth your office to a few people, but if you’re unlucky they’ll post their negative experience all over the internet.
Organization and Efficiency Are Key
Let’s say you go to a new restaurant for a nice evening out. Upon walking in you see a wet floor sign in between tables, servers running around like their heads are cut off and the hostess stand is empty. You’re probably a little uneasy, but you’re already there so you might as well try it. Now, even if the food is incredible, when you talk about that place to your friends and family, what will you most likely include in the review? Something like this perhaps: “Yeah the food was great, but they were so unorganized. I thought we were in trouble, but it turned out alright.” You’re essentially saying, it’s good but the atmosphere made us uneasy. You’ll want to avoid that at all costs at your office because, well, people won’t like you as much as they like the place that fed them good grub. That’s why organization and efficiency are key to your success.
You want your office to appear tidy – another factor relating to a friendly staff that cares about their work environment. Your waiting room should be organized and clean. In addition to providing a comfortable area for patients to relax, this is also the perfect time to educate patients and cross promote your practice’s services.
Having an organized office also makes you seem more professional. Plus, if you’re organized, that means you’re likely more efficient as well. This will help in the immediate short-term because no one likes to wait, especially at a doctor’s office. Even if their wait times won’t decrease due to efficiency, if the appearance is there, it can go a long way into making a patient feel more at ease.
Keep the Gossip Turned Down
One of the larger complaints patients often have in regards to office staff aside from rude stems from when they can blatantly hear the staff talking about private issues. Not only is disrespectful to the patients sitting anxiously on the other side of the glass, but it also is incredibly unprofessional. If they don’t care, what’s to say you, as the doctor, will? The best advice here is to keep the gossip turned down and the focus turned up.
Correcting the Problem(s)
One of the quickest ways to correct the problem is to go ahead and actually try what I mentioned at the beginning of the article: call your office and see what that process is like. After that, have you or a close friend sit in the waiting room to observe. Take notes and be as harsh as possible, cruel as it may sound. Then, consider a staff meeting to correct the issues, or you may consider incentivizing staff with a rating or prize system to motivate them to go above and beyond.
If that doesn’t work, it’s not like there’s a shortage of qualified individuals looking for employment.