There are no new rules for improving customer service. Merideth McDonald, vice president of The VGM Group in Waterloo, Iowa, does not offer any surprising information when she speaks with business owners all over the country.
She does, however, remind people of the importance of positioning customers — or patients — in the forefront of every business. Satisfied customers are the key to success in any industry; especially in the O&P profession, where patients can see clearly whether they have received the service they needed. In O&P, the difference between an ankle foot orthosis at one practice versus another might be, simply, a smiling receptionist.
Regardless of the industry or company mission, the main rule of customer service should be that the customer is always right.
“Even when they are wrong,” she said.
Customers are more likely to pass on their bad stories than their good ones. McDonald said that she has her own horror story about one discount department store from years ago — and it still makes her angry.
“Since we are all customers, we know what we expect,” she said. “That’s what we should be giving our customers every day.”
One way for business owners to find out first-hand the competency of their front-office staff is by becoming their own patients. In one exercise, the owner calls the office posing as a patient to schedule an appointment or request information. The key to gaining the most from this exercise is not letting the employees know that it is happening.
“You judge how your employees are reacting to any situation,” she told O&P Business News.
In every company, there are certain employees who believe they do not need to improve in this area, or who do not buy into the lessons McDonald offers. In these cases, she provides business owners with the names of these individuals.
She also advises business owners to reinforce on a yearly, or even quarterly, basis the lessons from this training to ensure that customer service does not slip to the back of employees’ minds.
In today’s economic climate, every industry is a competitive industry, she said, and O&P practitioners need to retain their patients in order to succeed in business. The cost for replacing a patient is much higher — five times higher — than the cost of keeping that patient happy. Patients who are satisfied with their office experience are likely to remain loyal to the practitioner and the business.
Sometimes, keeping patients happy is as simple as noticing when they enter the office, or for their problem or issue to be acknowledged. The front office staff members make the first impression that sets the tone for the patients’ entire visit.
Health care providers, and especially O&P practitioners, play a distinctive role in peoples’ lives. Practitioners cannot change patients’ circumstances — they cannot rewind the trauma or illness that necessitated the orthotic or prosthetic intervention — but they can serve as welcome support in otherwise unfortunate situations. The key to this is good customer service. Whether or not the receptionist is friendly can make all the difference to patients. McDonald pointed out that it is easy enough for patients to switch doctors.
Typically, the people who enter the O&P profession in the first place are the people who want to help patients. Any customer service issues in these businesses most likely are the result of miscommunication between employees and patients. Although this problem might be simple enough to correct, it can be the largest detriment to any business.
— Stephanie Z. Pavlou, ELS
I agree with McDonald in that satisfied customers are the key to any business. In the O&P business, you are not only in a service business but a “relationship” service business. At Ability P&O … we work tirelessly to create a working and patient environment that breeds congeniality and friendliness, as this does go along way to positive patient outcomes.
I don’t agree with the customer is always right even when they are wrong. This is a bit of an old rule of thumb. When patients are wrong, your practice will be better off in the long run if you practice skills to diffuse the situation and provide further education.
Additionally, I don’t recommend calling your own office to gain insight into how customers are handled. I believe this is a potential breach of trust with your staff.
If you are not rolling out the red carpet for your patients, you should really take an objective look at your practice and take some initiatives and make a capital and mental commitment to improve — it will only come back to you tenfold.
— Jeffrey M. Brandt, CPO
Chief Executive Officer, Ability Prosthetics & Orthotics Inc.