The Growing Role of Customer Service in Healthcare
Thirty-three percent of patients are at risk of leaving their healthcare provider in the next two years. And a quarter of those who’ve already left said it was because of negative experience. Their top complaints were being treated poorly by staff, feeling like a number, bad communication, and difficulty scheduling.
Patients of all ages are at risk. Even baby boomers who have the highest levels of satisfaction are looking for something better. Thirty-five percent of baby boomers switched in the past two years and another 20 percent are at risk of leaving.
What’s the best way to ensure your patients don’t leave and you can get more patients to boot? How can you keep your practice growing at a steady pace?
Easy. Ensure you offer the best possible patient experience and that your patients talk about it to their friends, family, and anyone looking at reviews for a new provider.
Do You Have What Patients Want?
Before you can ask patients for referrals and reviews and build your reputation, you need to make sure you do have that great patient experience. How can you find out about the satisfaction of your current patients? Ask them.
You have a couple of options to gauge satisfaction. You can email or text patients and ask a simple Net Promoter Score question. Basically you are just asking them to rate their experience on a scale of one to ten. When all the responses are compiled you get a score that tells you how you are doing.
But if you want more detail, consider a post visit survey. This allows you to ask an NPS question as well as a few questions that are more specific like how they would rate the wait time, the customer service, the follow up, the exam. Find out what you are doing well and what needs work. To make your survey effective, make sure you:
- Keep it short (under five minutes to complete)
- Focus on a single topic (i.e., post visit or a new service)
- Send it within 24 to 48 hours of the visit
- Personalize it with their name
- Automate the process
- Send it electronically
- Use close-ended questions that are easy to interpret
For more on how to make the best surveys, download this checklist.
In general, patients’ biggest frustrations are around wait times, not understanding their diagnosis or treatment, and billing. So, these are good areas to look at more closely. In addition, the survey that showed patient switching on the rise and patient’s dissatisfaction with service, also showed some things that patients are looking for today.
Patients want more access and convenience and to be in contact with their providers using the methods they use in their everyday lives. Think about whether or not you currently offer these solutions, and if not, consider adding them and promoting them to your patients.
It’s time for practices to think a bit more like Amazon. To summarize the approach of Amazon: be patient obsessed, understand the modern patient, and acknowledge your mistakes. And we’ll add: ask how you’re doing. It’s a good approach to ensure you can get those good reviews and referrals and handle the bad when it happens. Read more about the Amazon approach in this blog post.
Get More Patient Referrals
Whew, that was a lot of info to get us to where we really want to be, which is how to get those great patients referrals and reviews.
The stats don’t lie:
Those numbers are dismal. Pretty much everyone agrees that referrals are the most effective, and cost-friendly, way to attract patients. So why don’t we do it more? Probably because asking for referrals can feel awkward. Subsequently, many simply ignore referrals.
It’s time to change that. Today’s technology makes connecting with patients easier than ever before.
Use these quick steps to up your referral game.
- Put fear behind you: Fear is the driving factor behind many practices not asking for referrals. No one wants to come off as desperate or pushy. But the vast majority of patients are actually happy to refer friends to you.
- KISS (Keep it simple, stupid): The truth is that we are kind of a lazy society. When asking for a referral, you are asking a patient to go beyond the norm and do you a favor. In order to get the best response, it needs to be simple. You should have “refer-a-friend” links on everything you send out—from your emails and newsletters to your website.
- Be grateful: Gratitude is a powerful emotion. When you thank patients for referring friends, not only does their patient satisfaction level jump, but they are also much more likely to refer more friends in the future.
- Find the right timing: When is the best time to ask for referrals? When a patient’s appointment is still fresh in their minds. If you have a particularly happy patient, simply ask them in person if they would be willing to refer you to friends. In addition, you can send out a simple email after each visit asking for some feedback on how everything went. At that time, you can also ask patients to refer a friend.
- Become a contact: John is hanging out with his buddies when one mentions that his tooth hurts. He whips out his phone and gives his friend the name and number of your practice. This is only possible, of course, if your office name is listed as one of his contacts. Using text in your practice makes this more likely.
- Just ask: Okay, this sounds almost stupidly simple, but the truth is—not very many of us ask. Circling back to tip #1, it is imperative that we get out of the fear mindset and just ask. It can be done face-to-face, via text message, through email, newsletters, and more. The biggest mistake practices make is not even trying.
Get more details on the best way to ask here.
While it is easy to become buried in the hundreds of different marketing methods available to us, studies show that the #1 most effective marketing method for healthcare practices is still word-of-mouth recommendations. So what are you waiting for? You may be surprised at how easy it is!
Boost Your Practice’s Reputation with Online Reviews
Referrals are just one way to get those new patients to sit up and take notice. What’s the other? You guessed it, reviews. Lots and lots of reviews. And not just the good ones. You need all kinds. You just want more good ones. Having a strong online reputation is something to take seriously.
So what are the steps to ruling the online review world?
- Claim your business pages: Many online directories automatically create a page dedicated to your practice—with or without your input. By claiming these pages, you can control what it contains, respond to reviews, and interact with patients.
- Track reviews: It’s important to sign up for notifications anytime you receive a review. That way you can respond quickly.
- Respond quickly to every review: Seventy-eight percent of consumers say that seeing responses to online reviews makes them believe the practice cares more about them.
- Manage negative reviews: Always respond to negative reviews in a positive way. Ask for more information, apologize for any inconvenience, and offer to follow up. But, the very best way to counter negative reviews is to bury them in positive ones.
- Constantly refresh reviews: Did you know that 63 percent of consumers are more likely to do business with a company that has current reviews? Encouraging reviews is an on-going process, not a one-time push.
- Seize every opportunity: Encourage patients to review your practice at every touchpoint possible. Request reviews via email, text, and in person. Seventy percent of consumers say they will leave a review when asked.
- Keep it simple: When requesting a review, you are asking a patient to do you a favor. In order to get the best response, it needs to be easy.
For more tips and details, download this checklist.
Maintain an Effective Social Media Presence
Your online presence is about more than online listings and reviews. It also requires an active presence on social media. More than half of the top results on search engines are now social media pages. And Facebook is one of the top places for reviews. It’s also becoming a site where people search for services and ask friends for referrals. If nothing else, you need a Facebook page.
And despite what you may think, you can maintain a Facebook page in just a few minutes a day. It’s best to designate a “social medial champion” if there is someone on your team who can take this on and will enjoy it. They don’t have to be a social media expert. They just need to be willing to learn and put in those few minutes a day. That said, they should:
- Post something daily: It can be practice news or updates, health tips, or sharing content from other sites like the CDC. Browse top and trending stories and share. Ideally, 30 percent or less of the content posted to the page is promotional.
- Follow others: Follow thought leaders, healthcare organizations, and community groups. They may follow you back and they may provide content you can share with your patients.
- Respond to comments, messages, and posts: To build relationships on social media, you need to be responsive. Even if you just like the post or say a quick a thanks, it shows you are paying attention.
- Manage reviews: Always respond to reviews. You can say thanks and like positive ones. And thank even the negative ones for their feedback. Take the feedback to heart and try to make improvements. Let them know if you made a change based on what they said.
Want more on how to manage those negative reviews? Read this blog post from one practice that is finding the value in negative reviews.
Have a Mobile Responsive Practice Website
Mobile search has overtaken desktop search. Most people aren’t looking at your website on a desktop or laptop anymore. They are looking at it on a phone or tablet. This means that your website needs to be easy to read no matter where your patient may access it. In other words, a site that adapts to the size of the device.
Why should practices optimize for mobile?
Of course, the main reason you should make your website easy for patients to view on their phones (or tablet or any other mobile device), is because they are judging YOU by your website. Patients are looking for you on the web and your website is often their first impression of you. Virtually everyone—94 percent—say that web design, on either mobile or computer, is the #1 reason they mistrust or reject a site. You want to look as good online as you do in person.
In addition, a mobile responsive site leads to:
- Better SEO
- Increased traffic through social media
- A better user experience
- Easier management
- Higher ROI
For more tips on how to create an engaging website, read Eight Steps to a Website that Works.
Boost Local SEO for Your Healthcare Practice
One important thing to remember when creating or updating a website and claiming and updating online listings, is to optimize for local SEO (search engine optimization). You’re looking for prospective patients who are in your area not across the country. And there are a few things you can do to improve your odds of being found in local searches.
Be sure that your website contains the following information in exactly the same format on every page. You can put it in the footer.
- Practice name
- Address (city, state, zip)
- Main phone number
- Email address
Also, make sure you have your business hours and a short description of your business on your website. The business description should include your location. For example, “We are a pediatric practice located in San Diego, CA.”
When you claim and update online listings and create social media pages, be sure to use the exact same information in the same format. Also tag any logos or photos on your website, online listings, and social medial pages with your specialty and location if you can.
Capture Patient Visits with Online Scheduling and Text Messaging
So you’ve done all this work to create an amazing online reputation with tons of patient reviews. The patient referrals are rolling in. Now you need to capture those new patients quickly before they have a chance to look elsewhere. The best way to do that is to offer convenient, easy-to-use options like online scheduling and real-time text messaging.
More than two-thirds of patients would like to be able to schedule and change appointments online. Many practices worry about losing control of their schedule and having appointments double booked or having the wrong appointment type booked. But you can have convenience for patients and control for the practice with the right solution. Look for online scheduling that is:
- Available 24 hours a day, seven days a week
- Fully integrated with your practice management and/or EHR scheduling system
- Completely flexible and customizable for the practice so you can:
- Choose which appointments patients can schedule
- Confirm or decline pending appointments
- Select which demographic fields are required
- Allow patients to submit images of insurance cards
- Easy to link to from anywhere (website, social media, online listings)
Offering online scheduling means that no matter when a patient finds you, they can schedule. The convenience to schedule over the weekend or in the evening is huge for patients. Beyond that, it eliminates scheduling calls, which average eight minutes. That is time both staff and patients could use for other things. And, more and more, patients say they are simply unwilling to sit on hold for more than one minute. So, online scheduling ensures you don’t lose potential patients due to hold times.
Of course online scheduling isn’t enough. Sometimes people have questions they want to ask before they schedule. They may want to confirm you take their insurance. Or perhaps they have a question about the provider or want to confirm your location or hours. Seventy-three percent of patients say they want the option to text their healthcare providers. Why? Because real-time text messaging is a great option to allow potential patients to quickly ask these questions and get a response. Again, it eliminates phone calls and hold times. And it feels more user friendly to patients who use texting every day with friends and family.
There are some key things to look for in a text messaging solution. Choose a system that:
- Text enables your existing landline
- Allows both the practice and patients to initiate text messages
- Retains the full message history
- Is integrated with your patient database in your practice management or EHR system
- Doesn’t require patients to download an app or enter a password
For more tips on choosing a text messaging system, download this checklist.
Now you have all you need to get more patients. Download this guide and take it with you. Or find out how Solutionreach can provide the tools you need.