There's a lot of news and noise out there right now about hearing aids, hearing aid providers and hearing healthcare. I recently googled "hearing aids" for my small town, located just north of Seattle and there were 522.000 results. Google Maps listed 17 hearing aid retail stores or clinics within 8 miles of me. How the heck are our patients supposed to know who we are and what we do? How do they know (and trust) what makes us different from the rest? If you ask most audiologists what makes them stand out from the crowd, they'll generally say their customer service. So if everyone's customer service is top-notch, how can we truly stand out? The answer is, we must create connection through an exceptional experience with every interaction, whether online or in person and we absolutely must create relationships in order to create that exceptional experience. Exceptional experiences are what keep patients coming back and what drive them to tell their friends and family about us.
Creating an exceptional experience centers on making the patient in that moment feel like they are the most important person to walk in the door that day, whether they are the first to walk in...or the 12th, or the 50th. Creating an exceptional experience is a culture. It must become your mantra. It should be taught to every employee and practiced in your staff meetings. Here are 5 easy ways to help create knock-out customer service:
1. Clean Your House
When you have a dinner party or invite someone into your home, you clean and tidy up, don't you? It should be the same in your practice. Take some time at the beginning of each work week to look over your consult rooms and your waiting area to make sure that it is clean and tidy. Check your magazines to make sure they match your audience. Don't know what your patients like to read? Ask them! We thought fashion and periodical magazines would be poorly received in the waiting room. When we asked our patients, People was the number one requested magazine. The second? Popular Mechanics. It just goes to show that you may not know your audience as well as you think you do. So ask them and cater to their wants and needs. They are a guest in your house. Make them feel welcome!
The same goes for what you offer for refreshments. Do your patients enjoy decaf? Creamers? Tea with honey? Take some time to send out a quick survey and ask them. They'll enjoy giving you input and will love seeing what you come up with the next time they visit. If you haven't done a survey to your patients before, Survey Monkey (www.surveymonkey.com) has a free service that is easy to use and simple to track. We recently decided to add fresh baked cookies to our refreshment offerings. We played around with when to offer them and how many. The cookies are most popular in the morning and you'd be surprised at how many patients ask where the cookies are if they've arrived after they've all been eaten! Warm, fresh-baked cookies for breakfast. Mmmmm. They smell amazing and they make our patients happy! Who knew?
2. Smile! It's Contagious
It's easy for us to get busy and distracted with the ins and outs of what we do every day. But each patient we see has the right to be respected for the time and effort they are putting forth to come in and work on their hearing needs. When you're with a patient, stop and look them in the eye when they're talking. When you answer the phone, smile! A smile can be "heard" through the phone and can affect the outcome of the conversation. When you see someone in the waiting room, don't just walk by. Smile and wave! They will be happy to be in your office if you are happy to see them. Being friendly also breaks down barriers. Generally, patients are in our offices because they are having trouble hearing. We can start things off on the right foot and ease any anxiety simply by starting off with a smile.
3. Focus on Relationships
The spice of life comes from having close connections to those we bring into our lives. As audiologists, we are taught from early in our training that we are the experts and must create a respect for our knowledge and skill with our patients. Unfortunately, that often translates as creating a figurative line in the sand that "keeps the relationship professional." Well, what if we can remain professional while being vulnerable at the same time? I find that patients are more willing to share their thoughts and feelings - their struggles and doubts when I share with them a little bit about my personal life. I have pictures of my kids on the wall and a digital picture frame with the most recent family outings and achievements that scrolls slowly through a slide show. I want my patients to know me so that they'll share about themselves. And, in every appointment, I have the same goal - find out something new about my patient. Often, I can get them talking with just a simple question: "So, what's new with you?" Or I'll comment about their shirt or their new suntan. You'd be amazed at how a quick comment can get someone talking in no time! Then, take time to celebrate them! If they tell you they're about to have a new grandbaby, make a note to send them a card. If their birthday is coming up, give them a call. Being personal isn't unprofessional and in the end, it binds us together as people and makes our lives more rich in the process. And with that connection, we create trust. With trust, we create long-lasting relationships.
4. Celebrate Holidays
Along with celebrating the special events and significant occasions in our patients' lives, we should celebrate holidays in our clinics. Without getting too expensive, you can easily create a warm and welcoming atmosphere at Thanksgiving and Christmas and a celebratory mood at New Years and the Fourth of July. Have fun with creating simple celebrations and your patients will enjoy coming to visit. And think outside the box! Back to School is a celebration for parents! Maybe you should celebrate it, too. Or think about a Birthday Board. Write a special Happy Birthday to patients having a birthday that month on a board that is easily displayed in your waiting room. Use their first names only so you don't violate HIPAA but let them know they're being celebrated with a picture of the board in an email. Making someone feel special and letting them know we've thought of them is an easy way to improve our customer service.
5. Let Others Tell Your Story
We should be asking our patients for feedback about our services and their experience in our clinic on a regular basis. Two companies that make it easy are Medical Practice Builders (OnlineReviewBuilder.com) and HearingTracker (HearingTracker.com). Both companies work with clinics to streamline the process of obtaining reviews from happy patients and then getting those reviews noticed online through social media and search engine listings. New and prospective patients trust what other people say about us online. When someone has something good to say, let them say it out loud for others to hear! And when there is a review that isn't so good, we'll also have the opportunity to fix a less than stellar experience and prove that we truly are better than the rest.
Creating an exceptional experience for our patients is what will set us apart from others who offer "great customer service." Making sure our focus centers on making every patient feel like they are the most important person to walk in the door that day isn't easy. But if we can focus on making our clinics warm and welcoming, make sure we smile when we greet each person, focus on building relationships with our patients and celebrate life with them, they'll be raving about us and others will know we truly are better than the rest. Give it a try. And if you have ideas on how to create knock-out customer service, let me know! I always love to hear how my friends and colleagues are Winning!
Dr. Kingham is a knowledgeable clinician and audiologist who has a passion for private practice and helping her colleagues pursue their goals. To see more of her posts, follow her on LinkedIn and Facebook.