Right now, somewhere in your organization, a phone is ringing. The patient experience when that call is answered can, and does, have an impact on your reputation and, ultimately, your bottom line. We’ve seen healthcare organizations spend thousands of dollars on ad campaigns that tout the merits of high quality, compassionate and personalized health care services. But what happens when a customer calls to schedule a first appointment or ask a question? Does every phone encounter reinforce the brand and support the mission, vision and values – or is it seen as an interruption?
Our company does thousands of mystery shopping phone calls every year to hospitals and medical practices to help our clients understand and improve the customer experience. What we hear during these phone encounters often strikes fear and dread in the hearts of administration. Angry attendants, cold transfers, rude remarks or just being bounced from recorded message to another are just a few of the issues we uncover during mystery shopping.
I’ll never forget the mystery shopper who called to ask if the emergency area had urgent care services. She mentioned that she just had a sore throat and didn’t need emergency care, but wondered if the hospital had walk-in type urgent care services. The attendant gave a loud, irritated-sounding sigh and said, “Look, we’re obligated to treat you regardless.” Obligated. The caller was thoroughly offended, not only by her tone, but by the term “obligated”. You wouldn’t dream of telling a guest in your home, “Look, you’re here so I’m obligated to feed you.” So why is it acceptable to talk to callers this way? It’s not. And most leaders wouldn’t tolerate it if they knew it was happening. But the reality is that calls come into your organization through any and all published numbers. When the phone rings, your staff may feel it is an interruption of their “real work” rather than an opportunity to engage and wow the caller.
The bottom line is that one phone call may be the only opportunity you have to impress and engage a caller. In fact, we ask each mystery shopper to tell us how likely they would be to seek future care with the organization based on this one encounter. A startling 35% will not.
Baird Group has a comprehensive approach to medical phone training. You’ll Have Them at Hello helps build skills that create a positive and lasting first impression. In addition to providing tools to train the front line staff, we also teach leaders how to observe and coach their team members to deliver a consistent patient experience.
If you want to improve CAHPS scores, don’t forget the phone experience. We have found that first time callers will generalize that the kind of encounter they have over the phone is the same treatment they will get in person.
Every element of the patient experience should build trust. So the next time the phone rings, pay attention to how the call is handled. It may give you some insight into your reputation and market share.