When one thinks of “customer service,” retail, travel and hospitality, eCommerce, and call centers are some of the first industries to come to mind. However, healthcare is primarily a customer-centric sector that relies on customer service for customer acquisition, retention, and more.
After all, customer service is a preview of the level of care and comfort that a clinic, hospital, and insurance company can offer.
Despite this correlation between customer service and sectoral growth, healthcare establishments have been missing the mark for various reasons. Some fail to comprehend patient expectations, while others do not offer the required degree of convenience.
Whatever the cause, it leaves behind a chasm of unmet demand and unrealized potential. Here is a look at why customer service matters in healthcare and how one can deliver it.
Importance of Customer Service in Healthcare
The value of customer service in the healthcare industry can be summarized below:
1. Customer Experience Starts From the First Touchpoint
You could have highly qualified caregivers and well-educated physicians on your staff. Yet, your hospital or clinic might fail to attract patients simply because the receptionist is rude and apathetic!
This illustration proves how the quality of interaction between the healthcare service provider and the patient sets the expectations for the level of care they can anticipate for the patient’s injuries. More importantly, customers form such an opinion right from the first point of contact. So, if customer acquisition is on your mind, you must beef up your customer service.
2. Happy Patients are Loyal Patients
Customer acquisition is not the only segment in healthcare that can benefit from improved customer service. It also extends to customer retention. Handling your patients with care, empathy, professionalism, and efficiency fosters a sense of trust, which is the Holy Grail of healthcare.
This trust lays the foundation for long-term and repeated business. Customers would find themselves relying on you – not just in the present but for generations. After all, people do not depend on their “family physician” for nothing!
3. Happy Patients are Also Brand Advocates
The customer satisfaction you can evoke by delivering the highest customer service standards acts as a lead magnet. Survey says that nearly three out of ten satisfied customers are more likely to recommend your product or services to others. This statistic displays how brand advocacy translates into the most compelling form of marketing – word-of-mouth advertising.
Referred clients are easier to acquire and offer excellent customer lifetime value. Plus, you have the scope for bagging referrals from referred customers and setting off a chain reaction.
4. Identify Room for Improvement
Poor customer service is a symptom, not a disease. It can indicate underlying problems that hamper service delivery, say, understaffed facilities, lack of adequate equipment, poor appointment management, etc.
Since customer feedback is an integral component of customer service, capturing patient feedback lends insight into the critical breakpoints so that you can devise solutions for them. Streamlining processes to eliminate inefficiencies or bottlenecks can help deliver better patient care — for now and in the future.
5. Automate facility and asset maintenance management:
Healthcare facilities are complex environments tasked with responding tending to patient well being no matter the circumstance – be it a normal day, a flu outbreak, or a full-fledged pandemic. How safe, comfortable, and confident a patient feels about hospital facilities dictate how much trust they will place in the institution. To deliver quality patient care, healthcare facilities need to ensure equipment, facilities, and the overall environment are safe and efficient. Automated systems streamline maintenance and improve resource allocation, accountability, and compliance with regulations. A robust healthcare computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) is a key step towards proactive healthcare facility management. Coupled with IoT-enabled real-time monitoring, proactive maintenance offers several benefits, including increased equipment reliability, enhanced patient safety, improved staff productivity, lower operating costs, improved compliance, better resource allocation, and enhanced planning and budgeting.
How to Provide Better Care for Your Patients
Since we have set the background on why customer service is essential in healthcare, here are a few practical ideas for improving customer service:
1. Implement Help Desk Software
In the age of the internet, where information is available at our fingertips, patients don’t like to wait around. Patients demand the ability to connect with healthcare providers instantly and in real time. As such, healthcare providers will require the help of help desks.
Help desk software solutions, such as Zendesk or Zendesk alternatives, can take care of end-to-end customer interactions — from scheduling to check-in to appointment to continued care. It can also be deployed to capture feedback and centralize communications. In short, it is the one-stop shop for all customer interactions.
Given its mission-critical role spanning various touchpoints, healthcare institutions should strongly consider implementing customer-centric help desks. Such a tool or platform helps build and nurture customer relationships based on consistent and reliable communication.” – says Dr Kasen Somana, director of Signature Dentistry.
2. Digitize and Centralize Patient Files
The healthcare industry is a mesh of interconnected businesses and stakeholders. This web features players ranging from hospitals to chemists and druggists to path labs to at-home caregivers to health and life insurance policy providers, to name a few. Given this network, patient records have to traverse through different nodes on an ad hoc basis.
However, it is impossible to seamlessly share such vital information if healthcare organizations still use the obsolete system of maintaining physical patient files. It means that the patient will be subject to manually filing paperwork while repeating details several times — not fun.
In this respect, patient file digitization can offer a new level of convenience by making information shareable and accessible, along with access control, authorization, and validation. Such a system paves the way for a boundaryless economy that surpasses industries, organizations, and geographies.
3. Simplify Billing and Collection
While the journey from a prospect to a patient may be seamless, everything boils down to billing and collection, as it is a significant pain point for healthcare customers. The situation turns graver as the high stakes come with the high possibility of miring the patient experience. After all, quite a lot can go wrong at this stage — from incorrect or opaque billing to the lack of clarity in making payments.
The easiest way to defuse the situation would be by leveraging an integrated software solution. It can perform various functions, from preparing a detailed and transparent itemized bill to sharing the same through text or email and even accepting online payments through various means.
It automatically issues reminders and notifications for pending payments. Such a smooth transactional process will surely elevate customer service.
4. Conduct Regular Staff Training
Your healthcare business cannot adopt a patient-first mentality if your staff fails to imbibe the same. As such, the mindset should originate from the grassroots level.
To reiterate, your customer-facing staff is the flagbearer of customer service. Hence, they need to display the highest degree of empathy and compassion, especially in adverse conditions – as the case may be when one is in pain or discomfort.
While hiring the right people for the job can strongly address the issue, it does not offer a long-term solution. You need a regular training and sensitization program that reinforces that the patient comes first. Compliance software could help you with staff training and keeping them up-to-date on various issues.
Follow it up with a critical evaluation of your employee performance, especially in real-world conditions as they interact with patients. Observe their strengths and weaknesses so that you can help them develop their personality based on their inherent traits.
5. Follow Up and Offer After-Care Care
Patient care does not end with discharge. If anything, it is the starting point for building rapport with your customers, clinching more business, and improving turnouts since you would be offering them care even when they are outside the premises. In a way, it reassures the patient that just because they are out of sight does not mean they are out of mind. You may even think of this as post-sales customer service.
Use the help desk software to schedule follow-up visits automatically, send reminders for prescription renewal, or collect patient feedback. At the same time, you can use health apps and smart, wearable devices to monitor their vitals and remotely check in on their health without establishing direct contact. Such inputs may even shape the course of the treatment, frequency of patient visits, etc.
Making Healthcare Healthy
There is no contest that exceptional customer service lays the groundwork for business growth regardless of the industry. However, the case becomes more vital for an industry like healthcare, where a lot is at stake.
As such, players in the healthcare sector should prioritize customer service as it aids in customer acquisition, retention, advocacy, trust building, and nurturing customer relationships. Such tangible advantages put businesses on the path to sustainable growth and improvement driven by customer demands.
However, embracing customer-first principles will not be an overnight pan-organizational change and would require the active participation of everyone involved, followed by regular training. As for the rest, most of the problems can be addressed through technological interventions that neutralize stressors and infuse convenience, transparency, and reliability.