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  • Viewpoint: 5 Tips to Improve Customer Service

    By Stephanie Collins Mangham, MBA, COA, OCSR, Mike Lyons, MHRIR, Megan Odell, MHHR, Melissa Hartig, MSHA

    Viewpoint is a column created by AAOE® specifically for ophthalmologists and leaders in practice management.
    In part one of a two-part series, the leadership team at Austin Retina Associates in Austin, Texas, share their tips on creating a successful customer service training. 

    When it comes to customer service, it is absolutely vital to train your staff about what you expect. You also need to illustrate what good service for patients looks like to you. Here are five tips to get you started on improving customer service training in your practice. 

    1. Teach the Basics of Customer Service
    Have you taught your staff the key elements of customer service for your patients? 

    In our practice, we teach five key steps to service:

    • Greet the patient warmly.
    • Reassure the patient that you will address any concerns they have.
    • Explain to the patient what you were doing and why.
    • Ask the patient what questions they have as the encounter winds down.
    • Always tell the patient what to expect next. 
    These five steps are founded in psychological research that shows that people love information, and it makes them feel safer. It also reminds your staff to connect on an emotional level with the patient. 

    2. Teach How to Handle More Serious Conflict 
    During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, our practice saw a change in the intensity of our patients and their complaints. With prices rising, many people undergoing job changes, tension in the media, inconsistent pandemic policies and many other trials that we all live through on a daily basis, patients are more emotionally tense than ever before. The sad reality is that sometimes health care staff receive the brunt of this tension.

    It’s important to teach your staff how to handle extremely upset or rude patients. Let your staff know that they don’t have to accept abuse, but teach them the key social skills that it takes to defuse particularly angry patients. These skills will benefit them not just at work but in their home lives as well.

    The skills of listening with empathy, taking ownership and problem-solving can be practiced and taught. Explaining how to handle these situations teaches your staff what you expect from them when these situations arise. It will also mean a lot to them if they hear that you will stand behind them if they are being mistreated.

    3. Share Stories of Great Service 
    Human beings love a good story. Make it part of your job to note when staff members do things right and share those stories with all of your team. Don’t pass up an opportunity to use a story of great service as a teaching and culture-building tool within your practice.

    When your patients rave about an experience in your office, that is a wonderful opportunity to remind your staff of the positive impact that they can have on your patients’ lives. Promote those great stories from patients and talk about the staff behaviors that garner positive reviews.

    4. Create Visual Reminders of Your Service Goals
    Everyone can use a little reminder sometimes. We use stickers in our office to remind our staff of the key steps of great service. They can place the stickers on the back of their name badges so that the information is always available at their fingertips so they can remember how to give great service and handle a difficult situation. It’s a visual clue that they see every day that helps reinforce our customer service process. We also post our patient satisfaction metrics for all employees to see. 

    5. Reinforce a Service Culture
    Feedback is absolutely necessary for your management staff to use on a daily basis. That feedback will reinforce the good behaviors that you want to see. Positive and encouraging feedback requires at minimum two things:

    • Tell the staff member exactly what you saw.
    • Tell them how that behavior impacts the patient and the business. When people get to hear the reason why their behavior is so helpful it creates a much more powerful result than if you just praised alone. 
    A pro tip is to ask the employee, “Do you know what you just did there that was so awesome?“ Asking a question is a powerful way to reinforce someone’s memory and incentivize future behavior. Use an employee of the month program to highlight great behavior to the entire company. When you publicly praise an employee and specifically notate the things they do, you are beginning to reinforce the culture that you are trying to create on your team. What gets praised gets repeated.

    About the Authors

    Stephanie Collins Mangham, MBA, COA, OCSR, CEO; Mike Lyons, MHRIR, human resources director; Megan Odell, MHHR, director of patient experience; and Melissa Hartig, MSHA financial director, are the leaders at Austin Retina Associates in Austin, Texas.