By Steve Eagon, MA
“I want the patient to feel safe, comfortable, and at-ease when they reach out to us. I also want them to know I work with the best audiologist anywhere!” This was the answer given by Michelle when I asked about her role as the front office person tasked with answering the phones and greeting patients.
There was no hesitation in her voice and she answered with confidence and pride. And as we completed our workshop around front office best practices, she truly wanted to hone her skill because of how she and the audiologist viewed her importance in the patient experience.
Creating a memorable first impression with your front office person is a key driver in the sales process and is arguably the most over-looked and under-valued part of the patient experience.
Think about it – we’ve all called a business, customer service center, or medical office only to hang up frustrated and dismayed at the lack of courtesy and respect felt by a poor telephone experience. Yet in our industry, I encounter this on a regular basis and the owner has no idea of the negative impact this has on the customer.
Data Highlights Importance of Customer Service
An August 2015 survey of 2,000 adults by call analytics company Invoca found the following the results after a poor experience over the phone.
- 74% are likely or very likely to choose a competitor
- 70% are likely to or very likely to complain to family and friends
- Almost 60% said they expect the person answering the phone to be knowledgeable, transparent with answers, and they do not want to be put on hold or into voice mail.
What about a great telephone experience?
- 80% are likely or very likely to be a repeat customer – loyalty!
- 60% are likely to spend more money when doing business with you
Let’s look at this from a patient’s viewpoint. Our patients often wait several years stuck in a whirlpool of denial, coping strategies, negative comments from family and friends, and questionable information on the Internet. And at some point an event triggers this person to take action and they pick up the phone reaching out to your office for help.
Now, ask yourself the following questions about the first impression being created at your practice:
Do you know what is being said when someone calls? How is the phone being answered?
Does my team demonstrate friendliness, courtesy and respect? Are they perceived as competent?
Are they using a script to guide and motivate the patient to set an appointment?
Do they have answers to FAQs that are positive, transparent, and consistent?
Do they brag about you and the business and can they passionately state why people should choose you over everyone else?
Are they helping or hurting the ROI on your marketing and brand development?
It’s been widely reported that people begin making up their mind about a person or business within approximately 25 seconds of coming into contact with them on the phone.
Some studies are showing first impressions are made in even less time–especially with millenials! There is significant research about emotional motivators and personal value such that we cannot ignore this potentially major business differentiator.
What to Do?
So, what can you do? First, make time out of your day to observe and listen to what is happening in your office. It’s easy to stay wrapped up in the daily grind, but you must know what is happening on the phone and when people are being greeted. Ask friends and family to secret-shop your office and report back to you. Survey your patients about the first impression experience. You can learn about surveys by taking part in ones you receive by email and by phone from companies with whom you do businesses.
Pay attention to good experiences from all the businesses you come into contact with by phone and in-person, and note the ones who make you feel good. What did they do or say? How did they act?
Personally, I’ve called large companies like Apple and Southwest Airlines several times and they are fantastic at how they help their customers and make you feel good about their brand. It takes dedication and a company culture to create this experience, and we owe it to ourselves to make the same commitment to our patients.
Two Critical Things You Must Do
There are two pieces of advice I’ve given many times to colleagues. One, pay for a call monitoring service. This investment will have one of the best ROIs you’ll ever see. Not only can the call monitoring company record your calls for review and accountability, but you will have the information to train your team on best practices and how to also deal with challenging customer scenarios.
Do you remember being observed during the early stages of your development as a hearing professional and how helpful it was? Our front office staff deserves the same opportunity to perfect their craft.
The second piece of advice is hire the right person for the job. Do not cut corners with these positions. Using temp agencies is not a bad idea because you get to “try before you buy.” If the current person answering your phone and greeting your patients is not representing the values that you and your business stand for, find someone else who will embody that spirit. Be careful of giving second, third, and fourth chances for a person to get on board. Most of us are guilty of keeping someone around who we know is the wrong person for any job, let alone one this critical.
The most successful practices always have a front office person or team that are as respected and endeared by the patients as is the hearing professional.
In closing, there are many aspects that go towards creating a memorable and delightful first impression. Having the right human touch present when someone decides to pursue hearing help is immeasurable.
Creating the right first impression over the phone can be a bit time consuming but it can translate into a virtuous cycle of improved word of mouth, more appointments and lower patient acquisition costs, improved loyalty and increased sales. This may all seem obvious. But if it is, why isn’t customer service better?
Steven Eagon, MA, is Unitron’s Director of In-clinic Success, a new role that underlines the company’s commitment to supporting hearing healthcare professionals. Prior to assuming this position at Unitron, Eagon was director of learning and development for Sonova Group, and Vice President of Professional Services for Sonova Group’s Connect Hearing. Steve also served as Vice President of Sales and Audiology for HearingPlanet, and for more than 10 years practiced as a clinical audiologist.