Nearly every marketing consultant will tell you to mine your current customers before spending marketing dollars on acquiring new customers/patients.
What led me to think about this bit of marketing wisdom was a recent request from a Plastic Surgery Practice to answer their Marketing line. The request immediately made me wonder how they are doing serving their current patients.
They did not ask me, but the advice I would have given if they did ask is to focus on your current patients first before spending a lot of money on marketing.
There are five simple (and relatively inexpensive) steps that every medical office can take to improve their service to their current group of patients which should lead to an increase in the size of their practice. Adopting these five systems will definitely enhance a practice and put it ahead of the competition. The reason is that most will not adopt these simple systems. The steps to take are simple, but not easy. Most physicians and practice managers are not willing to invest the energy, time and money needed to make a real difference in growing their practice. They would rather spend a LOT of money to outsource the work to a Marketing Agency.
The five systems are: Improve (or create) your scripts, train (or re-train) your staff, create or enhance your customer service QA program, create or enhance your referral program, and evaluate and improve your communication systems. Each will be covered briefly below.
- Work on your scripts
One of the keys to sales at any level is to have an excellent script—but that is only the beginning. The script should be rehearsed so many times that it's memorized so that it is easy to depart from the script when necessary. Only when the script is known absolutely is it easy to weave in and out of the script to fit the needs of the prospect. Those most successful in sales use the same words time after time. They stick to their script because it works.
An excellent book on sales which includes a bit of information on the importance of scripts is “Hyper Sales Growth” by Jack Daly. There are many nuggets in that book that can help grow a practice.
- Train your staff
Everyone talks about training and believes they are doing an adequate job. But I have found through my experiences that although employees are trained in their job duties, they are under-trained when it comes to, for example, customer service, communication skills, and/or sales training.
Consider customer service training. In a Burger King, I once saw a poster in the kitchen area that read: Rule #1 – The customer is always right; Rule #2 – If the customer is wrong, see rule #1. Most have heard the saying, and have probablybeen expected to follow that rule at some point. I once believed it too. Later I heard someone say, no, our job is to make the customer happy and has nothing to do with whether they're right or wrong. This made sense to me, and it was certainly easier to teach to staff that knew the customer was wrong in many cases. However, I soon learned that this, while valuable, did not quite hit the mark either. The most important part of customer service is to “solve the problem.”
Three books I recommend for building a culture of learning and customer service in your office are: “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek, “Customer Satisfaction is Worthless, Customer Loyalty is Priceless” by Jeffrey Gitomer, and the book I require all aspiring leaders at my company to read: “Carrots & Sticks Don’t Work” by Dr. Paul Marciano.
- Create a Customer Service QA program
Quality Assurance should be an integral part of the customer service side of a practice just as it is an integral part of the clinical side of the practice.
Our industry measures things like: time to answer, average hold time, polite departure and return from hold (if a hold was necessary), confirming the spelling of the name, confirming the phone number, etc. What we do not do a great job of measuring is caller satisfaction and our own operator’s engagement on the call – yet these are two of the most important aspects of a call.
If your office has created scripts and trained on the scripts then there should be a way to measure the tele-receptionist’s performance on each call. The expression: “If it is measured, it matters,” certainly holds true in this case. If calls were graded due to a simple QA program, everyone answering the phone would be sure to be at their best on every call. Systems that record calls are available and affordable with today’s technology. Setting up an internal QA program requires a little time and effort, and then a few hours each month to listen to calls and offer feedback. The key is to have the tele-receptionists listen to, and grade, their own calls and the calls of their peers. Peer grading is an outstanding way to ensure consistency throughout the office.
- Create a Referral Program
For years, referrals have been our best source our new business. Desiring to increase our number of new customers by increasing our number of referrals, we hired a Marketing Agency to create on for us. When it was unsuccessful, we hired a different agency. After more than a year with two carefully selected agencies, to whom we paid tens of thousands of dollars, we did not generate a single sale from either program. Eventually we created a simple program internally which is being productive.
We built our program based on the philosophy of a quote from Jeffrey Gitomer. “If all other things are equal, people want to do business with their friends.” Gitomer then adds the money quote, “Even when things aren’t equal, people want to do business with their friends.” Think of it this way, would you spam a friend? If you put all of your planning for business referrals through the lens of doing business with friends, you are likely to create a successful program.
- Evaluate and improve your communications systems
Though we deal with many different clients, nearly every week we try to reach a physician, PA, or nurse on call who is no longer with the company or practice. Not only does this delay message delivery, it is an opportunity for a HIPAA breach. We frequently discover we are trying to reach someone who has not been with the office for months or even more than a year—and we have never been notified.
An even greater challenge, for both the practices we serve and our staff, is when there is a change desired in protocol, and it is communicated poorly or not at all. This can be something as simple as an on call change to instructions regarding which facility the physician uses for admissions and for whom they are occasionally on call. We have reached many people in the middle of the night only to be told they no longer take calls from that group or that facility.
We certainly realize that as a service provider we must do all we can to avoid lapses in communication. We work hard to keep all of our information up to date. Even if our staff were perfect they cannot do even an average job if they have incorrect or incomplete information. Strengthen your communication and you will realize immediate benefits.
Each of the above steps can be successfully implemented individually. However, I am confident if all five are implemented systematically your practice will experience unprecedented growth.