Dedication to customer experience creates raving fans
Customer service or customer experience? On the surface, they may seem the same – right? They are both statements geared towards customer-oriented strategies which teams and businesses focus on in order to define their reputation and draw in new customers. The difference, however, comes in the form of the mindset you have when approaching these two statements. Customer service can be described as what we as a team or company are doing for our customers – in this case, your OMS practice patients. Think of this as a unilateral proposition. Customer service is something you can influence directly and change immediately if you feel inclined to do so. Customer experience, on the other hand, is the customer’s perception of how easy it is to be a customer, how fun it is and how professional the interactions are with your practice. This is more challenging to change because our opinion or perception of our business doesn’t matter. The customer’s perception is the only one that matters. And why should you care? There are five gigantic reasons you should care and put significant team focus on the customer experience.
- Practice growth
- Practice reputation
- Treatment acceptance
- Employee sticky factor
- Lower overhead
Before you read the rest of this article, I want to point something out. I use “customer” and “patient” interchangeably throughout the article. You do not treat all customers; however, all patients are customers. Your team needs to see your referral sources as customers as well. Would we receive five-star reviews from them as well?
Great customer experiences start with LEADERSHIP
Exceptional customer service is what will eventually lead to an exceptional customer experience. Consistency in how we treat our customers or patients is the only way you will influence how many people value your service, how many are raving fans, and how many refer us to others. This is why fantastic team member interactions with your customers is so important in day-to-day activities. However, how do outstanding customer interactions materialize? Where exactly should your team go to observe great examples of how to interact with the people who are paying you and your team for your service? One of the most effective ways to get your team to “see” and experience these examples of superior interactions is from the top down. You – as the owner, manager, team leader, etc. – must be the driving force to initiate the customer service that you want to see. You must set the bar and create the example for the rest of the team in which there is only one way that customers and patients are to be treated and handled – and that is with understanding, care, respect, etc. There can be no exceptions in the way that you handle situations because your team members will automatically point to you, the leader, and say, “Well, I saw them handle it that way, so I assumed that that’s what I should do.” It should be the responsibility of every leader and senior employee to set the example!
I am certain you have high expectations of products and services that you buy, whether it be a meal at a restaurant or your own visit to the doctor’s or dentist’s office. Your expectations of others are a good starting point of how to approach the expectations for your own practice. Once those expectations are visualized, it will be easier to relay those high expectations to your team. Sure, everyone makes mistakes and has those days when there is a perfect storm of patients not arriving on time, patients canceling appointments, a team member who is out sick and other things going not quite the way you hoped. You might get stressed out. Nevertheless, one of the keys to great customer service is maintaining consistency even when your day is not perfect. Make the most out of it and do not concentrate on the problem. Focus on how to make the most of it. Service recovery is a form of customer service, too!
Ask what they want if you want to win
If you find yourself asking, “What defines a fantastic customer or patient interaction,”that answer doesn’t come from you or your team. The easiest way to find out what your customers want is by doing the simplest thing possible – just ask! The simple way to evaluate our customers’ expectations is to just simply ask them. If your team were to ask questions such as, “how could this visit be the best dental visit that you’ve ever experienced” and “what questions could we answer for you during your consultation.” you would be well-armed to exceed expectations. These are just a few questions that your patients should be asked before any interaction takes place. The secret to this is to ask – listen – deliver.
Let’s not complicate or overthink this. My barber can get this right and I know your team is capable as well. To your team, a patient is one of hundreds or thousands seen, but to the patient, you’re the only one. We should be making the customer feel like they are the only one. A simple example of this can be taken from my own personal experience finding a barber. Stephanie, my current barber, knows exactly what to do every time. Does she remember all of her customers’ preferences? No. But how does she know what I want each time I walk in? The first time I walked in, she simply asked what my preferences were for top length, a hard part, fading, etc. That’s step one. Once I explained what I wanted, she logged them into her software, which I was surprised to see because I’ve always had to tell any other barber the same thing each time I stepped into their shop. When I came back for my second appointment with Stephanie, she used my name to greet me, checked her computer and then asked me if I would want the same thing as last time. It’s for that reason that I have been going to Stephanie ever since. Even if I don’t remember the specifics of my preferences, Stephanie will. She took the information I gave her and made sure it was recorded for easy access in the software. A few additional examples of questions to ask the patient would be: who referred the patient, who’s their dentist (which is not always the same as the first question), have we treated the patient or their family before and do they have questions we need to answer at their initial visit. Be like Stephanie. Ask the questions. Record the answers. Record the answers in your practice management software. Be prepared for the next interaction. This is one of your most cost-effective internal marketing strategies with potentially the highest impact.
Anticipation is pure bliss
Too many businesses are in firefighter mode apologizing for mistakes, chaos and miscommunication. While in firefighter mode, customer service is the last thing on our minds. At that point, it is purely about survival. When we are systematized, scripted and trained, the team is able to anticipate needs. Surgical assistants are capable of anticipating patient and surgeon’s needs. Administrative team members are capable of anticipating patients’ and clinical team members’ needs. The concept of anticipation is endless. And when you are in that mode – it is pure bliss. The practice runs smoother, and we make time to prioritize customer experience. On a scale of 1-10 (10 is great), how well does your practice anticipate the needs of your customers? On a scale of 1-10, how well does each team member anticipate the needs of the rest of the team as well as your customers? Customer experience is not just for the customers. It is for our team members as well!
Ask customers to publish their experiences
When we do exceed the expectations of our patients or customers, it can be very easy to notice. Especially when they keep coming back! Smiles, positive body language and engaging conversation are also positive reactions to your service. There are even times when our patients will give us direct verbal compliments. These are opportunities to grow public awareness of your business. If customers are telling you that your team met or exceeded their expectations, the only logical next step for us to take is to ask them to grab their phone (or jump on their computer when they get home) and type up the exact same compliment into Google or Facebook reviews. It is easy to explain to the patient that it is beneficial for others to find your business so that they can also have the same experience. A constant influx of reviews for your business is a necessity in today’s environment. Customers are evaluating you online long before they ever call. Reviews allow experiences to be shared to further promote you, your brand and the public perception of your services or your practice. Where or how else could you share your customer’s experiences so effectively or inexpensively?
Do you believe it is possible for your practice to acquire 250 additional Google/Facebook reviews? Let’s look at the math. If you treat 1,000 patients in a year, I presume you would expect the majority to be happy with your service and their experience. With that assumption, it should be reasonable for 25% of those patients treated to be being willing and capable of leaving you a Google/Facebook review. That’s 250 new reviews – every year! We need those reviews to confirm for the team that we are doing a great job. It is really quite easy to add to your online reviews by listening for the feedback, asking for the review and providing the link through a text or email. Additionally, you also need someone on staff who is willing to observe or listen to feedback about less than stellar experiences so the team may improve. Everyone wishes for great feedback; however, constructive feedback is the most helpful to improve your practice. If you are fortunate enough to hear the feedback, act on it.
“Good enough” is not good enough
Ask yourself the following questions. The answers may help you prioritize the importance of customer experience:
- Do I go to the doctor who is closest to me?
- Do I go to the dentist who is closest to me?
- Do I go to the barber or hair stylist closest to me?
- Do I think everyone else goes to the doctor, dentist or barber closest to them?
In some cases, the answer might be yes; however, I would bet you have other criteria that supersedes convenience when deciding where to invest your money and confidence. How then, do people decide where to go to solve whatever problem that they have? Distance and proximity are the primary decision factors in the absence of positive customer experiences. Think, for example, how many times someone has asked your opinion on where to go out to eat or if one clothing store is superior to another. I guarantee that distance or convenience is never the only factor when you make a recommendation, because when a problem needs to be solved, people don’t mind going out of their way if it means receiving quality service that will exceed expectations.
If there isn’t something unique about a practice, the customer will seek convenience or lowest cost. For example, let’s say that there are two restaurants. One makes your drive home from work 15 minutes, and another makes your drive home 25 minutes. Which one will you visit? Obviously, you go to the restaurant that makes your drive home from work the shortest – right? Not always. Your expectation in this restaurant example is to get your meal and get back on the road so you can be home after a long day of work. But let’s say that the restaurant that allows you to be home in 25 minutes employs a server named Kathy who has remembered your name since the first time you ordered as well as your exact order. She is friendly, on point, timely and provides a warm experience that brightens your day every time because she took the time to remember you. You will drive out of the way to see Kathy for your meal! That is what exceeding expectations does to your customers. It creates loyalty and respect by doing the unexpected for your patients. Be like Kathy. Give your customers a reason to drive past your competition. If you are not confident that customers will drive long distances for your service, you need to upgrade your mindset and BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) for your practice. Shoot for the moon and the worst you will do is land amongst the stars.
Do you remember those five gigantic reasons?
These five reasons should be the fuel that drives you and your team to make patient experiences a top priority (right behind optimal patient care).
- Practice growth – Great patient experiences earn more patient referrals and more professional referrals. Pure and simple.
- Practice reputation – Positive reputation will make patients, dentists as well as current and future employees respect you. Through positive customer experiences, you will earn a great reputation, a schedule where there are no openings and a practice where future employees will drop off their resume in hopes they might work for you some day.
- Treatment acceptance – Patients say “yes” to treatment quicker and more frequently when we focus on experience. It’s that simple.
- Employee sticky factor – Great patient experiences makes life at the practice fun! Fun for patients and fun for your team. Your team members’ experience is equally as important as compensation. Giving employees $50/hour is not a guarantee they will stay, but fair compensation and a work environment where you make a difference is tough to beat.
- Lower overhead – Yes, you can lower overhead with phenomenal patient experiences. Internal marketing (patient experience) is far cheaper than paid ads, external marketing, etc. Employee sticky factors lower overhead with lower turnover and full schedules tend to increase collections, which decrease overhead.
If keeping your schedule full, retaining good team members and furthering your reputation is important to you – make customer experience your #1 priority. Make this article the foundation for your team meetings in 2023!
Kevin Johnson is the CEO of Leverage Consulting. Learn more at https://leverage4results.com/. He will also be presenting at the 2023 AAOMS Practice Management Stand-Alone Meeting on April 29 in Rosemont, Ill. Visit AAOMS.org for more event information.