Somewhere in your organization, a phone is ringing. What happens when that call is answered can, and does, have an impact on your reputation and, ultimately, your bottom line. We spend thousands of dollars on ad campaigns that tout the merits of our great health care services, but what happens when a customer calls to schedule an appointment or ask a question? Does every phone encounter support the mission, vision, and values, or is it 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 into the hearts of administration. Cold transfers, angry attendants, rude remarks, or just being bounced from recorded message to another are just a few of the issues we uncover during mystery shopping.
Just the other day, one of our callers contacted a radiology department to review what was needed to prepare for a test. The attendant told her, “You need to be NPO for that.” Not knowing what the abbreviation meant, the caller said, “NPO? I don’t know what that is.” The attendant barked back at her, “It means NPO!” The caller was not only confused by the medical jargon, she felt stupid for not knowing what it meant. At the end of the encounter, the caller was clear about one thing–that she wouldn’t seek care at that organization. In her mind, that one attendant represented the type of care she would get from everyone.
Another mystery shopper 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 scoffed 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, it may be seen as an interruption of the staff’s “real work.”
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. We have found that people will generalize that the kind of encounter they have over the phone is the same treatment that they will get in person. The question is–are you managing the customer experience with every phone encounter? During my Patient Experience Boot Camp, we will offer some inside secrets for making every encounter count. Training experts from Beryl will share skill-building tips that have earned them a stellar reputation in the call-center industry. Beryl handles over five million phone calls each year for thousands of healthcare organizations.
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.