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7 customer service improvements for practices

There’s always room for improvement

Customer service isn’t a static thing.

It’s consistently evolving and what good customer service looks like to one practice, won’t be the same to another. Nevertheless, customer service can always be improved.

  • It’s your call – don’t miss it

First things first – no practice, indeed no business, can afford to miss a call. A missed call is a wasted opportunity, potentially a lost patient and certainly a customer service fail. First impressions count and it’s no more acceptable to leave a phone call unanswered than to leave a patient unattended face-to-face in clinic. But is enough value being placed on each individual call and the way each one is answered?

How many times have you heard someone say: `I’m only answering the phone’ or ` I’m just on the phone’? Well there’s no `only’ or `just’ about it.

Telephone answering differs from many other operational functions in its immediacy and the weight of responsibility it carries as front of house, protecting your brand and helping shape your reputation; yet it is a widely undervalued element of the overall business function. The way you answer your telephone calls has a direct impact, not only on the image you present, but the overall patient experience and ultimately the bottom line.

Every call matters. No caller wants to be left hanging and we know from our own research that the vast majority strongly dislike answering machines and leaving messages. Imagine for a moment say just five calls are missed a day. The figure soon adds up – 150 in a month, 1,800 over the course of a year.

  • Wear your patients’ shoes

If there is one `golden rule’ for delivering the very best in customer service that I could highlight above all others, it would be this one. Experiencing your practice as your patients do. Customer service has to be at the heart of a thriving practice but to fully understand the way this is delivered, take a close look at every patient contact point to appreciate how it feels to be on the receiving end.

Put yourself in your patients’ shoes. Think about how you are answering the telephone and how you would feel if you received the same response.

A confused patient is an uncertain and uncomfortable one, so be clear, not only in the information you are giving, but the way you are delivering it. Understanding your patients – their needs, expected outcomes, timescales, circumstances and what drives and motivates them, will be key to getting your communication with them just right.  However busy you are, taking some time to think this way will be worth the investment and you’ll be amazed by the insights you’ll gain – often little things that make a big difference.

  • Is your red carpet permanently rolled out?

Gone are the days of callers expecting a real person to pick up their telephone enquiry only within traditional opening hours. Patient habits, indeed the habits of all consumers, have changed beyond recognition, with 56% of us apparently `addicted’ to our smartphones or other devices and making personal, lifestyle and buying decisions in the evenings and at weekends when we have more time to act on them.

Patients want to feel special and important. They need to be nurtured, yet delivering a seamless response over the phone, whatever the time of day (or sometimes night) can be a real challenge. Meeting expectations isn’t enough. Aim to exceed them, ensuring that those getting in touch outside of regular hours are receiving the same level of customer service they would expect during the day. There’s not only a job to be done in capturing every call, but in engaging patients over time. A well-kept data management system will help calls flow, leading to an improved patient experience at every stage of their journey.

  • You don’t have to do everything

The reality is, few practices can do it all and many now seek outsourced support to take the pressure off. Staffing your reception to cover every call during a busy working day, with one eye on 24/7 provision, especially if working across multiple locations, can be a logistical nightmare and is in most cases financially non-viable. There are many considerations – fluctuations in incoming call volumes, busy times when staff are juggling other demands or priorities, staff absences, holidays and emergencies – all of which make providing exactly the right level of internal resource at any one time potentially problematic.

With outsourced telephone answering support, practices are boosting their capability with the flexibility of overflow capacity as and when they need it, safe in the knowledge that they have all calls covered while avoiding the headache and cost of recruiting. Some fully outsource individual elements, for example new enquiry lines so they know each one is being handled in the same professional way.

Engaging an outsourced partner has proved particularly popular with self-pay aesthetic departments who are concerned they may be missing consultation enquiries, as well as clinics that want to extend their perceived opening hours or need temporary assistance. It can be a welcome relief knowing calls are taken care of by specialist receptionists who become extended members of the in-house resource. Handled well by a joined-up team, telephone calls offer golden opportunities for improved patient engagement.

  • Finding the right people

If you’re looking to hire someone to look after your calls, interview them over the phone before you meet them. Carefully selecting individuals to answer the telephone should be a bit like taking a seat on BBC’s The Voice – making a decision on how a person comes across without other influences. Particular styles of voices and different responses suit different situations so making the right appointment is a skill. Think about how you wish to be perceived – are you fluffy and friendly, conversational, clipped and to the point or does a bespoke mix of styles work across different elements of the practice? Getting this right can significantly build your call handling efficiency while helping to build your relationships with your patients.

  • You can hear a smile

One of the most important things you can do when answering the phone is smile. Admittedly it may sound a bit odd when we’re speaking to people we can’t see and who can’t see us, but smiling is a crucial currency. While it’s easy to convey your pleasantness in person, with no visual clues, body language gets lost over the phone, so what we say and the way we say it becomes all the more important when seeking to make a great impression. However busy your day is or whatever has happened only seconds earlier, smile and your demeanour will change. Your voice will become sharper, your pitch higher and you’ll be surprised how much brighter your pronunciation will be. It makes the whole call a more satisfying and reassuring experience for both you and the caller. Smiling is infectious too. A happy workplace makes for a more productive one, which will positively affect the service you are delivering on every level.

  • Patients are talking…

And not just to their friends and family. It used to be the case that online reviews were the domain of retail consumers, holiday makers and restaurant-goers. Not any more. These days pretty much every product, every service, every destination is analysed and talked about in the most public of arenas. Like many people these days I rarely make a significant purchase without first checking out online reviews or social media sites. You name it, I’m keen to know what others think before I commit – a behaviour fast becoming the norm when it comes to seeking private medical services.

While many in the sector will be sceptical and somewhat nervous, these outlets should encourage practitioners to really think about the way they are delivering their service – introducing elements that will help to build patient satisfaction, trust and confidence. Don’t see it is a threat. See it as a valuable opportunity to gather honest, free feedback that you can take away, act on and use to your advantage. Managing phone calls well will stand you in good stead when it comes to this kind of new-age scrutiny.

We give you amazing people and technology:


Your own Moneypenny PA to answer calls exactly as if based in your office.

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Pocket Phone System

All the functions and support of an office phone system, minus the hardware.

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