Overheard: Patient Satisfaction Starts at the Front Desk Dek:Keeping clients happy goes beyond direct provision of services. It also requires solid communication by phone, mail, e-mail and the like. Practice management expert Kevin D. St. Clergy recently chatted in an online conference about client-communication strategies for practice managers and front desk personnel. The Leader was there. Chris ... Overheard
Free
Overheard  |   January 01, 2014
Overheard: Patient Satisfaction Starts at the Front Desk
Author Notes
  • Kevin D. St. Clergy, MS, CCC-A, is founder and chief business development officer of www.educatedpatients.com, a site that helps audiology and hearing aid practices with staff education and modern marketing solutions. kevin.stclergy@sonus.com
    Kevin D. St. Clergy, MS, CCC-A, is founder and chief business development officer of www.educatedpatients.com, a site that helps audiology and hearing aid practices with staff education and modern marketing solutions. kevin.stclergy@sonus.com×
Article Information
Speech, Voice & Prosodic Disorders / Hearing Disorders / Hearing Aids, Cochlear Implants & Assistive Technology / Audiologic / Aural Rehabilitation / Practice Management / Professional Issues & Training / Telepractice & Computer-Based Approaches / Overheard
Overheard   |   January 01, 2014
Overheard: Patient Satisfaction Starts at the Front Desk
The ASHA Leader, January 2014, Vol. 19, 22-23. doi:10.1044/leader.OV.19012014.22
The ASHA Leader, January 2014, Vol. 19, 22-23. doi:10.1044/leader.OV.19012014.22
Patient Satisfaction Starts at the Front Desk
Dek:Keeping clients happy goes beyond direct provision of services. It also requires solid communication by phone, mail, e-mail and the like. Practice management expert Kevin D. St. Clergy recently chatted in an online conference about client-communication strategies for practice managers and front desk personnel. The Leader was there.
Chris DeMoor: I often have people call my speech-language pathology practice and ask if I take their insurance. If I say “No,” they just hang up immediately. Any suggestions on how to get these people to consider going out of network, while you have them on the phone? And when they are private pay, they always ask why I charge so much. Mind you, I charge exactly what the practice a mile away charges, and less than the biggest practice in my area. How should I respond to them? I usually mention my 26 years of experience, but they don’t seem to care about that. Any suggestions?
St. Clergy: That’s a tough one, Chris. Think about how you search for doctors on your insurance, I usually go to those docs. The question should be, do I need to get on more insurance plans or is that not how I am positioning myself in the practice? If you are getting quite a few calls about whether you take insurance, you might want to start listing the insurance companies that people have and consider getting on their plans. Getting folks to go out of network is difficult, and I don’t have any scripts to get folks to take action. But focusing on their needs and what they are trying to accomplish might help.
Barbara Samfield: Are there any apps for use in collecting data from callers—such as home zip code and referral source—that could be used online or on an iPad or iPhone?
St. Clergy:Absolutely! Great question. [And] they do more than that. For example, we use Call Source (www.callsource.com), which has a tracking number so that you know which marketing media bring you the most calls, but more important, the calls are recorded, they allow you to take notes for staff members, and they do a reverse lookup on the patient calling—if from a land line—so you get their phone number, address, etcetera, if they are available. No app for that, unfortunately, but there are a lot of solutions out there. Do a Google search for “call tracking services.”
Lolly Wigall: Can you give suggestions on how a front-office person can structure their day? I have a busy audiology practice, so between greeting clients and answering the phone, the front person is very busy. She checks in hearing aids, calls patients for pick-ups of new aids and repairs. What other items should she be doing that need structuring?
St. Clergy: The first suggestion I have is to make sure you have the right person in that position. It is much easier to take a person that is good to great, than to waste your time on a person that you are trying to take from poor to good. Once you have the right person, there is a lot that happens to them during the day. Time blocking is what I recommend: setting aside specific times during the day to do other projects besides answering the phone and scheduling appointments. She or he should be scheduling time during the day to go through files and pull names of folks who haven’t been in in a while—you can go by A, B, C, etcetera, at first. Tracking is something that she should be doing, and I would make it non-negotiable. Clearly define her job responsibilities and how you plan to measure her success (or his success). But what you have that person doing sounds good. The key is to not make them start doing things that may take them away from scheduling a new patient.
St. Clergy: I have a question for everyone: Can anyone tell me what their training/certification program is like for new front-desk employees?
Wigall: I have started a weekly meeting with each front-office staff member, per your suggestion. I take the audiologist out to lunch once a month and we talk over procedures, and any issues. My director of operations and I are beginning the monthly lunch next week to go over marketing plans and numbers.
St. Clergy: That is great news! Congrats. When you are doing these meetings, make sure you put measures of success reviews in your agenda, have a working agenda, take notes with cascading messages, etc. For example, for the audiologist, I would measure binaural rates, average selling price per unit, total sales, return rate (on dollars) and exchange rate (on dollars). For the front desk—since this class is focused on them—I would measure call-to-appointment ratios, scheduling efficiencies (i.e., how booked are you?), is tracking being done consistently, and secret shopper scores.
Betty Walton: As a sole proprietor, I am the front desk. However after your session, I will be making changes. I am planning to make a list of my goals and share them with other colleagues to hold me accountable.
St. Clergy:Betty, that is great news! I want you to think about how much your business might grow if you weren’t the only one answering the phones...I was doing around 25–30k per month when I was answering the phone, but after I hired Penny back in the day I took it to 50–60k per month because I had more focus.
Megan Murphy: Any suggestions on how to make suggestions to a highly efficient front-desk employee on how to obtain a more friendly disposition without sounding disrespectful or nit-picky?
St. Clergy: Megan, can you tell me more, please—is she short and rude? Or just direct and not friendly?… which is hard to teach, really.
Murphy:[She is] direct and not friendly, [but] not rude and certainly not short. I work at a dual adult and pediatric clinic. I manage the pediatric end, and although our front desk person is very efficient and better at speaking with our adult patients, the way she answers the phone doesn’t give the sunny “pediatric vibe” that most pediatric clinics (should) have.
St. Clergy:Setup a meeting with this person, then start with a list of all the things this person does really well—communicate that in the meeting first. Then say, “Those are all great things, but do you mind if I/we express a concern that has come up from patients numerous times?” Then let her or him know what needs to change, but be more specific about the vibe you mentioned, be clear, use examples, et cetera.
Aletta Sinoff:What are cascading messages?
St. Clergy: One of the most powerful tools for transforming any organization, whether it has 50 employees or 5,000, is a communication program that eludes most companies. I call this tool “cascading communication.” Here is how it works: Members of an organization’s executive team leave each of their meetings having agreed on a common set of messages that they will communicate to their respective staffs within a set period of time—usually between 24 and 48 hours after the end of the meeting. Then, members of their staffs communicate those same messages to their staffs, and so on until they have cascaded throughout much or all of the organization. While the depth that is reached by cascading communication varies depending on the size and structure of an organization, in most cases it manages to descend two or three levels below the executive team. But what is important is that messages are being communicated consistently and quickly in a personal way.
Dana Weise-Brown: We are also very small—therefore, my therapists and I are the front desk. Most clients seem to appreciate having us answer their questions, but we are also, obviously, unavailable at times, and voicemail picks up. I think our ongoing clients understand this, and don’t mind, but for new calls, do you recommend we indicate that somehow in the voicemail message? “All of our therapists are currently in session. However, your call is important to us... ”
St. Clergy: Dana, if you have more than one therapist in a practice, you need someone to answer the phones during the day. If you hear the phone ring, then worry about that, can you honestly tell me that you are really present for the current patient you are seeing? I think you are looking for the wrong solution, and updating your message won’t help. If you did change the message, start with something like, “Sorry for the phone message. We have had a flood of new patients lately which keeps us pretty busy, so leave your name and number and I promise we will call you back right away.”
Mara Kapsner-Smith: When you are a new private-practitioner, how do you know when it’s time to start thinking about hiring someone for the “front desk?”
St. Clergy: I would base it on revenue, the time you want or need, and the number of patients you are seeing, as well as what type of image you want to create for your patients. Do you want to be seen as a fly-by-night organization, or as a professional who plans to stay in business for a long time and is so successful you can afford to hire someone. So there is no golden rule for that, but traditionally your personnel costs should be around 20 to 30 percent. If you take what you are generating in revenue, then figure out what it would cost to pay someone to work the front desk, you should know.
Samfield: How can I, as the owner, achieve more accountability from my office staff, particularly the one who is acting as primary receptionist, patient scheduler and part-time marketing representative for the business? She handles most of the inquiry calls and manages the scheduling of all our patients—about 150 each week—for six treatment rooms. I can see that she is doing the scheduling, handling the inquiries and helping with specific marketing projects. But other staff sometimes complain to me that she is just talking with the clients and not entering daily patients into the billing scheduler—which is also part of her job, but one I don’t see happening directly. I overlook some things because she is cheerful and socially adept on the phone and in person.
St. Clergy:[Have the] same type of meeting I described earlier, make sure you have clearly outlined her—and everyone else in the organization’s—primary responsibilities. Then have a meeting to discuss what she is doing really well, then simply state, “But these are some things that must change.” You have to have a way to make sure it is happening, though. Develop success measures for each person in the group, share them with [staff] publicly, then make sure you review each of them often with each member.
Sinoff: Do you recommend sending out customer satisfaction surveys for a solo speech-language pathology pediatric practice? The downside is that it is difficult for people to remain anonymous. I am looking for some way to find out if I am meeting my families’ needs, if they’re satisfied, if they think something is missing? Any suggestions?
St. Clergy:I recommend you can do it by using www.surveymonkey.com and sending them the link—that will keep it anonymous. Keep it short; no more than 10 questions at the most. I would do five and make sure one of the questions is, “How likely are you to refer a colleague, friend or family member?” Make sure you use a 10-point scale, and aim for nines and 10s only on that question, then you’ll know how you are doing.
Patricia Grady:When you are new private practitioner, would it be better to hire someone part-time to answer phones—and list your phone hours on the website and voicemail—than not hiring someone at all?
St. Clergy: Yes, I think that is a good idea. Just think about how much more focus your patient will get if you don’t have to worry about answering the phones, etcetera, which should cause them to want to tell others about you.
Crystal Reszczynski: My scenario is—potentially—renting a room in an established physical therapy office—not sharing their front desk person, just the real estate. Should I work toward using her (she is not very energetic and not likely to get the appointment). Clients will have to walk through the waiting room to get to my room.
St. Clergy:Crystal, you might consider a calling service to start, but I would at least negotiate that the person acknowledge their presence and point them in the right direction or say things like, “She’s with a patient and will be right with you.” Otherwise you risk neglecting your patients.
0 Comments
Submit a Comment
Submit A Comment
Name
Comment Title
Comment


This feature is available to Subscribers Only
Sign In or Create an Account ×
FROM THIS ISSUE
January 2014
Volume 19, Issue 1