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March 17, 2021

Improving Customer Service in Healthcare – What You Need to Know

Customer service is one of the most important jobs within a company. However, it is also one of the toughest jobs. When your customers are patients, your job becomes even more challenging. Your customer could be in pain and stressed so when they call for help it may not be easy  for your call center agent to easily please them or help solve their problem. 

Competition is extremely high for many businesses including the healthcare industry. If you are not providing exceptional customer service you risk losing a customer. It’s a fact that patients are customers when we’re referring to the healthcare industry. Patient satisfaction and your office reputation go hand and hand so ensuring your patients are satisfied with your service will support the success of your practice. 

Every employee in a healthcare office is essentially a customer service representative so everyone should be focused on providing excellent care to every patient. Some employees interact directly with patients and others work in the background with supporting roles but everyone should go about their work with customer service in mind. 

Reasons Customer Service is Critical for Healthcare Companies 

1. Positive patient experience starts with first class employees  

Quality care goes right along with great customer service. You could have the most skilled and experienced physicians and nurses but if your office staff provides poor customer service it will negatively affect your company’s reputation. If you want to be recognized for exceptional healthcare it will take high quality care as well as first class customer service. 

It’s critical to hire only the best employees that have a positive attitude, are patient and have similar values and culture. When you onboard a new employee they should be made aware that an exceptional patient experience is top priority for your office and then trained how to provide it. This includes a smiling face, eye contact, friendly and helpful when working directly with patients. Your employees are the backbone of your office and set the standards so ensuring you only hire awesome staff will support the success of your business.

Typically your customer service team is the first to speak with a patient when they call to make an appointment. Then, they are the first to interact with the patient when they come into the office as well as the last ones to help them before they leave. This is the reason the customer service experience is primarily based on the quality of service of the office staff rather than the physician or nurse.  

2. Think of patients as paying customers

As a business a customer comes to you to purchase goods or services, you provide great customer service which makes for a happy customer and they come back to you in the future to purchase again. The same is true with patients. A patient comes in for healthcare services, you successfully diagnose and treat their illness or complaint, your office staff provides excellent service and the patient comes back to you for future visits. So yes, a patient is just like a customer and should be treated as such. Provide exceptional care and service and they will be your loyal patients. 

3. Communication is Key 

Your healthcare professionals could be accurately diagnosing your patients and providing the best treatment. However, if they are not truly listening to the patients and their concerns to make them feel understood and valued then your customer experience won’t be considered exceptional in the eyes of your patients. Communication is both verbal and nonverbal to make a patient feel secure and that their concerns are acknowledged.

Nobody enjoys calling into an office, pressing zero to reach a human only to get sent to a voicemail to leave a message this is especially true for a patient with healthcare needs. Having real life customer service agents available to take care of your patients when they call in will add to a positive customer experience. The agent should also be pleasant, friendly and helpful. 

4. Kind and courteous is always the way to go 

Patients should always be treated with kindness and respect. Remember that old saying the customer is always right? Well it’s really not true but the idea is that they are to be treated as if they are even if they are not. In healthcare, some people will have different opinions about things and that’s OK. If your patient is wrong about a certain thing it’s better to politely let them know why you disagree and provide supporting information to back up your claims then to just tell them they are wrong. You could educate them and explain the details in a way where they are not feeling unintelligent. 

Your customer service team should be trained on how to handle upset or irate patients in a calm and caring manner. As a professional, your team should be able to handle all types of patients from the easiest to the most difficult. Healthcare workers deal with all types of patients with different backgrounds and attitudes so being able to handle them all in a friendly manner is important for the patients as well as your office. 

5. Customer Appreciation

Customer appreciation is patient appreciation in the healthcare field and it is just as important. Your patients could choose another healthcare professional but they choose you which you should be appreciative of and tell them. When a customer feels appreciated and valued they are more likely to stay loyal to your practice even if another service provides more conveniences. After visits, you could verbally thank them for choosing you as their provider and even send a thank you email when they leave. 

6. Keep it simple 

Let’s face it, healthcare terminology can be a foreign language to a lot of people including your patients. It’s important to speak in plain simple terms so your patient really understands their diagnosis and treatment plan. If not, you may confuse your patient where they are not clear on the care you are providing. Some patients will not tell you they don’t understand what you are telling them to avoid feeling uneducated. They may just choose to go to another provider to get a clear understanding.

7. Follow up 

After a patient’s visit a follow up call to check on them makes them feel important and shows that you really care. This is also a great opportunity to get feedback on how their visit went in their eyes which you could use to improve your customer service performance. 

8. Get feedback 

Getting feedback directly from your patients will help you improve your service and processes. If you don’t ask, you may never know how your patients’ customer experience really was with their visit. There many ways you could get feedback but the best and easiest way is to send customer surveys after a visit. It’s important to do it within just a day so the experience is fresh in their mind so you get the most accurate answers. Open ended questions will give you the most detailed feedback. In order to really improve your service it is crucial to really listen to the feedback and implement changes where needed. 

9. Reviews

Online review could make or break the success of your healthcare business. A survey reported nearly 59% of patients have chosen a doctor based on positive reviews. On the flip side, around 60% of patients say they have avoided doctors based on negative reviews. 

Customer service is the primary factor of a positive or negative experience with your healthcare services and if you can be sure you see what your patients think by looking at your online reviews, and definitely you should. You should stay on top of your reviews including responding to both the positive and negative ones. By responding to any negative reviews it shows that you really care and are taking action to implement changes for a better experience in the future. 

Remember, reviews are not just online. Your patients will tell their friends and family about their experience with your healthcare team so if they had a positive experience it is like free marketing for your business and you will see more new patients from referrals. 

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Call center agents have a challenging job handling customer service requests. This is especially true for agents working in healthcare customer service. A stressed patient calling while in pain could be difficult to please. This is when having the right staff to handle your customer service is crucial for a positive customer experience. 

A customer service team that deals with cultural diversity must be prepared with proper training, efficient protocols, and a lot of empathy. These skills and techniques will help ensure that patients can quickly get their needs met and are provided excellent service.

 

Sources:

https://www.aafp.org/fpm/1999/0100/fpm19990100p40-rt1.pdf

https://nrchealth.com/patients-trust-online-reviews/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/ryanerskine/2018/12/31/how-to-respond-to-negative-reviews-including-examples/?sh=6276d9737534

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