By Jeff Russell, Author of Secrets to a Successful Practice & Executive Director of the IAPAM
In order to grow your practice, you need patient referrals. As a benchmark, at least a third of your patients should be brought in through word of mouth from past and current patient referrals. This is the most inexpensive type of marketing, and it’s the easiest to accomplish, by providing an excellent patient experience it will provide you with referrals. You need to make sure you have a process of asking each patient for a referral of a friend or family member who may be interested in the services that the practice provides.
John Spence, author of Awesomely Simple: Essential Business Strategies for Turning Ideas into Actions, mentions that a broad array of national surveys demonstrates that these are the most important patient expectations for great service:
- Reliability: The ability to provide what was promised, on time, dependably, and accurately.
- Professionalism: Highly knowledgeable, ethical, and honest team members who instill a sense of trust and confidence in the patient.
- Empathy: Genuine care and concern for the complete satisfaction of the patient.
- Responsiveness: Not just delivering prompt service but being proactive in anticipating the needs and concerns of the patient.
- Ambiance: The design and comfort of the physical facilities, cleanliness of the facilities and equipment, and appearance of the personnel.
Patient First Impressions
The patient experience first begins on how the phone is answered and is critical to the success of your practice. First, it’s important that someone always answers the phone, since if they don’t, your patient will just dial the next practice on their Google search results.
Every time you answer the phone you have about eight seconds to make a positive impression. Take a deep breath, clear your mind, smile, and focus on answering the phone in an enthusiastic manner. Don’t forget to smile! According to an article in Psychology Today, the act of smiling activates neural messaging that benefits your health and happiness since the feel-good neurotransmitters dopamine, endorphins and serotonin are all released when a smile flashes across your face.
The ultimate goal is to get the caller in for a patient consultation so you can more accurately assess their needs. However, you need to understand there is a reason the caller is calling the practice. They may have seen one of your ads, saw a procedure you offer on a TV show like The Doctors or Dr. Oz, had a conversation with a friend who recommended you, or possibly just looked in the mirror and decided it was time for a change!
The best way to build rapport with people and create an excellent patient experience is to learn about their needs is to ask questions. Ask questions, and find out why they are calling, and then you will know if they are a fit for your practice. Be genuine in your conversation, and let it flow naturally. The more natural the conversation, the more trust you will build with the caller.
You also want to ask open-ended questions, which are those that require more than a yes or no answer.
Here are some examples of questions you may want to ask to get the conversation going:
- “Did any questions come to mind about that procedure?”
- “Where did you hear about that procedure?”
- “Is there anything about that procedure that was unclear or confusing?”
- “Yes, we’ve done thousands of those procedures; is there a specific question you have relating to that procedure?”
You know your procedures and how successful they are to your patients, so speak with confidence.
Answer the call within three rings, or at least acknowledge them and put them on hold.
When answering the phones, keep the following in mind:
- Always keep a pencil, note pad and phone script near the phone at all times!
- Smile and speak clearly, which will give you a positive tone of voice and project enthusiasm.
- Introduce yourself to the caller and start building a connection. “Good morning/afternoon, this is (your name), how may I help you today?”
- Ask for the caller’s name— “Whom am I speaking with today?” –then use it in the conversation.
- Listen carefully; try to understand why they are calling and what they know about the procedures they are calling about. “Can I answer any questions for you?” “What do you know about that procedure?”
- Always ask them to come in for a consultation.
The last point is the biggest issue I see or hear in a clinic. Never end a call with “Please call back if you have any questions.” NO, they called for a reason—they are interested in a procedure or service you offer. I’ve found if you did a good job on the phone, 85-90% of callers will come in for a free consultation. If you charge for consultations, the rate will be lower.
Book the consultation no more than a day or two away.
Track the following and enter the caller into your EMR (electronic medical records) or CRM (customer relationship management) systems: name, phone number (record from caller id; if it’s a business extension, get their mobile number), where they heard about you, why they called (procedures they are interested in), personal email, and hopefully, their consultation time.
In this day of multitasking, it’s important that while you are on the phone you are not doing anything else (checking email, filling out paperwork, etc.). If you are distracted, they will know and not have a good patient experience and immediately feel as though they are not important to you and your practice.
Practice Phone Script
It’s a good idea to have a standardized phone script that is customized for the procedures you offer at your practice which will enhance the patient experience.
The script doesn’t need to be followed exactly, but the goal is the same:
- Find out why they called,
- See if you have a match for their needs, and
- Book a consultation in the next day or two.
Feel free to customize these scripts to match the procedures you offer at your practice.
Phone Script Tips:
Why do we ask, “How did you hear about us?”
We do this for several reasons; one is so we know where our marketing dollars are spent so we can focus on the ones that offer us the most return on our investment. Secondly, it helps you during the call. If they had a friend do the program, this is helpful to know, so you don’t repeat the information. As well, they may be a past patient looking to do a “touch up” round.
Secret Shopping Your Team
As the practice manager, I also think it’s important to “secret shop” your team at least once a month. It’s easy enough to train them, but as time goes by often-negative habits will start to develop. Have a friend or a professional service call the practice and have a checklist to see if everyone in your practice is following the process.
If you are ready to grow your practice or are preparing to start your first practice, check out the IAPAM’s Practice Startup Workshop.