I’m reminded of the story of the new shop owner who, after being open for several days without a single customer, finally checked the front door only to find it was locked. Marketing is the key that opens that front door. With our consulting clients, I continually harp on the fact that marketing is the foundation of healthy patient flow. The sad truth is we have doctors spending from 0% to 18% of their collections on marketing. While we feel that a practice must invest an average of 3% of its collections toward attracting new patients, there sometimes exists a serious problem with keeping these new patients in our practices. The art of keeping patients for a lifetime can be compared to CLOSING THE BACK DOOR.
We can listen to patient complaints that happen to come in, or we can actively reach out and solicit patients comments. We can treat the symptoms, or we can attack the underlying causes.
Thus we can choose from among four possible strategies in dealing with patient dissatisfaction: deflect complaints, give lip service, react to needs, or build bridges.
1. DEFLECT COMPLAINTS
This is the classic response: provide an explanation, an apology, a discount coupon, or even a refund. The general intent is to get the encounter over with as quickly as possible, without spending too much time or effort.
Although such an approach places minimal demands on the staff, it provides few, mostly short-term, benefits. It also creates the appearance that only the squeaky wheel gets the grease. In the long run, this alienates patients and tends to turn even minor problems into major confrontations.
2. GIVE LIP SERVICE
Some offices proclaim their desire for patient feedback through widely displayed patient comment cards, mailers, advertising messages, and employee questions and responses. However, all of this is merely superficial. Although the office solicits patients’ input, it only treats the symptoms. The basic problems never seem to go away. In short, they’re saying to the patient, “We’re glad we were able to help you feel better. Now that you’ve got whatever it was off your chest, let’s get back to where we were.”
3. REACT TO NEEDS
Some staffs and doctors are relatively passive listeners but are quick to attack the specific causes of problems once the patient has made a complaint. This is often symptomatic of an office which is reactive rather than proactive. In other cases, offices have this reactive attitude because complaints come by way of a few strong customers, such as key patients, which eliminates the need for the office to take an active role in soliciting complaints.
4. BUILD BRIDGES
A few people both encourage communication and treat underlying problems. Rather than wait for disgruntled patients to get in touch with them, they actively seek out such patients and find out what is making them unhappy. They’re also not content with solving the specific complaint; rather, they continuously monitor patient complaints and problems to isolate and, wherever possible, attack the causes (poor delivery, inadequate communication, after-sales support, incomplete post-op instructions) that are responsible for patient dissatisfaction.
THE FORWARD PASS
Football coaches have a saying, “When a quarterback throws a forward pass, three things happen and two of them are bad.” When patients are unhappy, whether because the dentistry doesn’t work, because they were oversold, or because the service was poor, five things can happen and four of them are bad:
1.The patient suffers in silence. Not good. The next time the patient purchases the product or service, he will have a negative attitude from the start.
2.The patient switches in silence. Not good either. At best, the practice knows only that the patient switched, not why or how it can get him back.
3.The patient tells friends and neighbors. Worse. The practice stands to lose several patients; the one originally dissatisfied plus all the people he influences.
4.The patient talks to third parties. Worst of all. It can lead to lawsuits or investigations. 5.The unhappy patient talks to the office. The only positive outcome. It gives the practice a second chance to understand the patient’s needs, identify and correct the problems, and convert a dissatisfied patient into a happy buyer, one who will keep coming back.
PATIENT COMMUNICATION TO MANAGE DISSATISFACTION
A great deal of patient discontent is created by the inability to get results when there is a problem. By contrast, patient communication is a much broader approach to managing patient dissatisfaction. Its objectives are:
1. To ensure that unvoiced dissatisfaction is as low as possible.
2. To satisfy the patient on an individual basis by providing assistance and guidance as appropriate.
3. To determine the causes of recurring complaints and to recognize patient needs that the practice’s products and services are not addressing.
Building bridges is the ultimate example of this approach. Complaint handling is inherently limited in scope, because it deals primarily with the minority of patients who bother to complain to the practice. Patient communication, on the other hand, recognizes that:
1. Patient complaints are an outward expression of patients dissatisfaction;
2. Most patient dissatisfaction occurs because patient’s expectations have not been met; and
3. It is in the practice’s long-term interest that dissatisfied customers be encouraged to communicate with the practice, as opposed to suffering in silence, switching, or telling others of their complaints.
MAXIMIZING COMPLAINTS IS BEST
Consequently, where complaint handling often focuses on reducing the number of patient complaints, an effective communications strategy requires that the practice maximize complaints.
KEYS TO BUILDING BRIDGES
Top staff people actively seek out dissatisfied patients and find out what’s making them unhappy.
Continuously monitor complaints to isolate and attack the causes.
Look for patient needs the practice’s products/services are not addressing.
Satisfy patients by providing assistance and guidance as appropriate.
Encourage patients to communicate with the practice–rather than suffer in silence, switching, or telling others.
Maximize complaints–more than simply trying to reduce their number.
ARE “NICE CUSTOMERS” RUINING YOUR BUSINESS?
I’m a nice customer. You all know me. I’m the one who never complains, no matter what kind of service I get. I’ll go into a restaurant and sit quietly while the waiters and waitresses gossip and never bother to ask if anyone has taken my order. Sometimes a party that came in after I did gets my order, but I don’t complain. I just wait.
And when I go to a store to buy something, I don’t throw my weight around. I try to be thoughtful of the other person. If a snooty salesperson gets upset because I want to look at several things before making up my mind, I’m just as polite as can be. I don’t believe rudeness in return is the answer.
I never kick. I never nag. I never criticize. And I wouldn’t dream of making a scene. I think that’s uncalled for. No, I’m a nice customer. And I’ll tell you who else I am. I’m the customer who never comes back!
(Adapted from the book How To Win Customers And Keep Them For Life, by Michael LeBoeuf)
WHY DO CUSTOMERS LEAVE?
CUSTOMERS LEAVE BECAUSE:
5% BUY FROM FRIENDS
9% PREFER YOUR COMPETITION
14% JUDGE ALL BUSINESSES DUE TO ONE BAD ENCOUNTER
68% LEAVE BECAUSE OF INDIFFERENCE, RUDENESS, OR LACK OF SERVICE FROM EMPLOYEES
According to Michael LeBoeuf, a typical business hears from only 4% of its dissatisfied customers. The other 96% just quietly go away and 91% will never come back. That represents a serious financial loss for companies whose people don’t know how to treat customers, and a tremendous gain to those that do.
A typical dissatisfied customer will tell eight to 10 people about his problem. One in five will tell 20. It takes 12 positive service incidents to make up for one negative incident.
Seven out of 10 complaining customers will do business with you again if you resolve the complaint in their favor. If you resolve it on the spot, 95% will do business with you again. On average, a satisfied complainer will tell five people about the problem and how it was satisfactorily resolved.
The average business spends six times more to attract new customers than it does to keep existing ones. Yet customer loyalty is in most cases worth 10 times the price of a single purchase.
WHAT IS CUSTOMER SERVICE?
Good customer service is broad and proactive. It includes not only the handling of customer complaints and problems but also any interaction between a practice and its customers (PATIENTS). Good patient service includes:
- Providing fast answers to patient inquiries and problems.
- Offering toll free phone numbers, 24-hour service, prompt callbacks and whatever it takes to make doing business with you as easy as possible.
- Friendly, concerned, and responsive people, from the receptionist to chairside — and everyone in between.
- Making personalized service available whenever possible.
- Backing your treatment with a satisfaction guarantee.
- Delivering more than you promise….EVERY TIME.
- Show courtesy, consideration, and concern in all your dealings.
- Being honest, responsible, and reliable.
- Giving patients the best value for their money.
In this decade and into the twenty-first century the companies that combine these qualities with products that meet their customers’ needs will survive and prosper. Practices that lose sight of their customers (PATIENTS) will disappear.
THE 10 COMMANDMENTS OF CUSTOMER SERVICE
In Dallas, car dealer Carl Sewell built up his Cadillac dealership from $10 million in 1968 to $250 million today by emphasizing customer service. In his best-seller, Customers For Life: How to Turn That One-Time Buyer Into A Lifetime Customer, Sewell enumerates his guiding principles:
1. Bring ’em back alive. Ask customers what they want and give it to them again and again.
2. Systems, not smiles. Being polite doesn’t insure you’ll do the job right the first time, every time. Only systems guarantee you that.
3. Underpromise, overdeliver. Customers expect you to keep your word. Exceed it.
4. When the customer asks, the answer is always yes.
5. Fire your inspectors and customer relations department. Every employee who deals with clients must have the authority to handle complaints.
6. No complaints? Something’s wrong. Try to encourage your customers to tell you what you’re doing wrong.
7. Measure everything. Baseball teams do it. Football teams do. You should too.
8. Salaries are unfair. Pay people like partners — let them share in the profits.
9. Your mother was right. Show people respect. It works.
10. Japanese them. Learn how the best really do it, make their systems your own, then improve them.