Is it really important for a medical practice to adopt a “world-class service” approach? After all, is it not enough for the organization to practice good medicine and provide excellent eye care for its patients? What else is to be gained?
Most of us don’t relish a doctor visit, and, when we do have to make the trip, we would prefer that it be uneventful and reasonably quick. The idea of using half a day of our time to get something accomplished that shouldn’t take more than 30 to 45 minutes is rather distasteful.
When we do make the commitment, more often than not, we have decided that this is not going to be a pleasant event. The one-on-one encounter with the physician is generally not what is at issue. It is the time spent waiting; the staff’s treatment of us as individuals; the feelings of being herded about; the enormous amount of paperwork asking for our name, birth date, and address plus today’s date on every one of the seven or eight pages (just to name a few) that create a negative atmosphere.
In fact, just about everything from the layout of the parking lot to the cleanliness of the elevator has an impact on our feelings about the visit. It is difficult for the average layperson to accurately judge the quality of the care that we receive; thus, we are forced to rely on our “feelings” about the episode as an indicator. This is hardly fair to the physician but is, unfortunately, a fact.
Given this knowledge, it is of extreme importance to the medical practice to create an atmosphere where the patient leaves the office with the feeling of “Wow! That was a refreshing departure from the norm.” In physicians’ offices where this kind of treatment takes place, word-of-mouth referrals are of such a number that they bolster demand beyond any reasonable expectation.
NOW YOU SEE ME, NOW YOU DON’T
On a recent visit to an area hospital, as many times before, I had parked in the lot across the street and walked to the main entrance. This day, however, I was met by a young man with an eager smile standing next to a podium marked “Free Valet Parking!” That was certainly out of the ordinary. Valet parking at the hospital … and, of all things, for free? With this wonderful new benefit in place, the next three trips to that hospital became almost effortless. Free valet parking!
Six months went by before my next trip, and, upon my arrival that day, I found that this great benefit had been eliminated. I immediately supposed that someone in his or her infinite wisdom had decided to save money. Alas, the hospital valet service had vanished as quickly as it had appeared. I had arrived with anticipation and was met by disappointment. Today, there was absolutely no difference from the way things had been prior to the provided benefit. The only change had been the exposure to a great benefit, which consequently raised my expectation level, and, suddenly, my expectation was not met.
This event clouded my visit and set the tone in a direction that I did not necessarily wish for it to go. Would this support the idea that we should not offer similar services in an attempt to give our patients an incentive to choose us over our competition? Not really. Rather, we should give serious thought to any changes in our patient environment prior to making commitments and attempt to ensure that we can justify whatever costs are to be incurred prior to initiation. Once changes are made, they can be amended to one degree or another without negative ramifications. Complete removal of services, however, can be quite negatively viewed.
THE POWER OF INTERNAL MARKETING
Internal marketing is the best marketing method our practices can possibly buy. It is reasonably inexpensive, and it is remarkably effective. It starts with our staff training programs and branches out to other efforts, but the most important of these is the staff function and interaction with patients.
All of us will make an extra effort and perhaps spend more money to do business with people who appreciate our business and show us that they care. This simple axiom alone should tell us that this approach is a key to success. This works in the practice of medicine just like it does in the finest restaurant or the tire store. Successful merchants learn this early on in their existence. Nordstrom, Ritz-Carlton, and Cabela’s are just a few of the retail merchants who employ world-class customer service. We can learn a lot from them.
As Tom Friedman once said, “No matter what your profession—doctor, lawyer, architect, accountant—if you are an American, you better be good at the touchy-feely service stuff, because anything that can be digitized can be outsourced to either the smartest or the cheapest producer.” These are words that ring true and should not be dismissed casually. In the increasingly difficult practice of medicine, the wise practitioner will seek ways to stand out from his or her peers. World-class customer service is one of those attributes that the competition will almost invariably overlook.