Great First Impressions: a plan for success

“If your staff doesn’t meet patient expectations for customer service, especially in a Covid-19 world, not only will those patients think twice about coming back, they will tell everyone who will listen about what happened.”

There are aspects of healthcare these days that are beyond your control but treating patients kindly from the very first moment of contact is an achievable goal. Urban hospitals (and some rural hospitals too) don’t always have the best reputation when it comes to customer service, but that won’t stop patients from holding you to a high standard. Now more than ever,  rural hospitals must strive for the highest standards of customer service throughout the patient encounter. .

Stress levels are high, and climbing, for everyone and a lot of the fears and anxieties are focused on health and wellbeing. People want to feel comforted when they visit a hospital or clinic, not annoyed, or agitated. An effective Customer service program can make a huge difference.

It starts with your staff

Good customer service is half skill, and half attitude. When making staffing decisions it’s important to ensure the people you place in first contact positions are naturally inclined to treating people kindly and competently. With the right people in place, the next step is to ensure they get solid training on customer service essentials. This includes how to handle challenging or distressed patients with grace.

There is a key consideration many managers fail to account for. When staff are stressed and unhappy, they are far less likely to treat patients with understanding and kindness. Get together with staff and identify daily stress points and be active about finding ways to mitigate them. Unhappy and stressed out staff can quickly lead to bad customer interactions.

In a rural hospital staff often must wear many hats. When customer service is an “add-on” to other responsibilities, staff will feel like customer interactions are an unwelcome interruption. That does not lead to high quality interactions.

Phone calls are key

We forget our phone calls are most often that first impression. You can often expect hundreds of calls every day compared to a much smaller number of people that walk through the door. Start this interaction right! People will usually remember when being treated with empathy and compassion on the phone. Long hold times, rushed calls, or being presented unhelpful solutions are things people don’t forget – especially when their health is at stake.

In customer service, the first and last moments of an interaction are what a customer is likely to hold in memory as the permanent “snapshot” that encompasses the whole event. It is exceedingly difficult to recover the goodwill of a patient whose first impression a bad one.

Customer service mentality needs to run deep

While those making first contact with patients are the most essential to this effort, it’s important everyone understands the mission. Treat others as you want to be treated, and as you want them to treat your customers. Interaction between staff often sets the tone and mood for staff when they interact with patients. The more everyone is sharing a spirit of kindness and helpfulness with each other, the more the average patient will feel it as well.

The healthcare industry must continue to raise its level of customer service. The stakes are high when you mistreat patients: rural hospitals will have a hard time recovering  when they are unable to command patient or employee loyalty. Start making the change where it can matter the most – the first impression!