10 Strategies to Provide Patients With Superior Customer Service

1. Start seeing patients as customers. Taking care of patients is what healthcare is all about. It may be hard for some people to think of patients as customers, but they definitely are. Their choices bring thousands and even millions of dollars into a hospital's coffers. In most cases, they don't necessarily need to use your hospital, even though you have Dr. Brightstar on staff. They may end up at the institution down the street that treats patients better.

2. Be courteous and respectful. Always, always, make sure patients are treated with courtesy and respect. I know executives who pretended to be patients inside their own institutions and were shocked by the lack of focus and concern they received. Treating patients has become simply a job for many healthcare professionals. They manifest boredom with their jobs by treating patients indifferently. That's not professional and it's bad business!

3. Never show indifference to patients. Watch the way patients are treated when entering the ED. It can be quite disappointing at some urban hospitals and even at some suburban settings. If the illness is not life-threatening, patients are virtually given a number and told to sit down and wait. Many otherwise competent and even brilliant healthcare professionals give patients the feeling they are an inconvenience and a bother. Patients should not be made to feel inferior and misinformed.

4. Don't contradict, argue or match wits. Telling patients they are wrong about anything is just plain rude. Even when they have incorrect information, they still should be accorded respect. If you disagree with them, politely explain why their point of view isn't necessarily correct. Your goal should be to explain and communicate, and then to continue to explain and communicate. Help patients understand what is going on as treatment is being given. Patients should feel they are just important, in the scheme of things, as you are.

5. Tell patients you appreciate their business. Everybody likes to be thanked when purchasing an item in a retail store, but in all too many healthcare venues, saying "thank you" is seen as inappropriate. You know as well as I do that saying "thank you" has magic vibes for any kind of relationship. Go ahead and try it! It's a great way to receive your customers' repeat business.

6. Use plain terms and simple explanations. It may be fun to throw around complicated jargon, but it results in misunderstandings and sometimes errors. Nobody wants errors in today's healthcare environment. Always make sure your explanations are not clouded with excessive and complicated verbiage. Be brief and to the point. True professionals go out of their way to explain things in simple, declarative sentences.

7. Good manners will get you everywhere. Good manners are part and parcel of confidence and competence. Don't hide the truth even if it creates problems for you. Treat patients the way you'd want to be treated. Saying the appropriate words can show respect. Establishing eye contact is also part of good manners. Go way out of your way to show respect to others! It's what being civilized is all about, isn't it?

8. Keep seeing healthcare as a calling. Too many professionals begin to see healthcare as a job rather than a calling. There's a big difference between the two. When healthcare becomes a job, mistakes are not far behind. Today there are so many complicated variables in healthcare that it is easy to get off track. Remember who you are and what your core business is. It might help to recall what brought you into the healthcare field. Was it to take care of people or was it to make a lot of money?

9. Stay in touch with patients.
Many healthcare professionals don't think they have the time to stay in touch with patients after care is rendered. They tend to think it's unnecessary and creates too much stress. That rationale should never be tolerated. Staying in touch with patients, even if it's an e-mail or a phone call, will pay off.

10. Keep your promises. Many promises made to patients are never kept. Things like, "You'll get the best care here" and "We treat each individual who comes to us with dignity and respect" and also, "You'll be just fine in a week or so." The difference between empty talk and promises is that promises must be kept. And if it turns out you overpromised, own up to it. Being honest will pay off later. Any quality business must keep its promises.

Chuck Lauer (chuckspeaking@aol.com) was publisher of Modern Healthcare for more than 25 years. He is now an author, public speaker and career coach who is in demand for his motivational messages to top companies nationwide.

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