“Thank you for calling the doctor’s office. If this is a medical emergency, please hang up and dial 9-1-1. If you are an insurance provider, press one…” And the message continues.
Everyone who has called a medical practice has navigated this interactive voice response (IVR) system, and it is almost universally reviled. Telephone systems like this are quickly becoming dinosaurs, and if your practice uses one, it may be time to review your call-handling.
Forget the fact that every second a caller is tied up figuring out which button to press is an opportunity for them to exit the system or that being placed on hold gives them time to research competing practices. IVR telephony is a symptom of a much larger issue: Practices that employ them are treating all callers the same even though they are seeking different experiences. It sets the tone for inefficient service in a sector where service is key, and it is indicative of practices that are failing on both the procedure and measurement aspects of inbound call-handling.
This matters tremendously because the way people purchase health care has evolved. The days of patients simply visiting whichever practitioners they are referred to is coming to an end. Armed with more information and options than ever before, today’s health care consumers are selecting providers based on the entire experience, and after a visit to your website, their first person-to-person impression of your office typically starts with a phone call.
Think Like a Telemarketer
People who answer the phones at medical practices don’t generally consider themselves telemarketers. Neither do their employers. But the truth is that telemarketing describes any business that uses the telephone to bring in sales, and all medical offices that answer telephone calls are, by definition, telemarketers. They just aren’t thinking like them.
That’s a shame because modern telemarketing centers have become completely efficient at optimizing revenue through procedure and measurement, producing a model that any medical practice can customize and duplicate. Thinking like a professional telemarketer is key to creating a customer experience that is both positive to the consumer and has the ability to increase revenue.
You can begin crafting the customer experience from the first ring by employing these three components of call center strategy in your office:
1. Provide thorough and consistent training to the people who answer your phones.
Call centers are adept at developing sales staff to sell products and services. This is achieved through highly developed recruiting, education, training, coaching, improvement and quality assurance. Many medical practices treat the telephone as an afterthought, just something that office staff has to attend to between faxing prescriptions, coding insurance claims and checking-in patients. Most have never been trained on how to provide an optimal customer experience from that very first phone call. This is vital because the person on the other end of the line could be a prospective patient that needs the most profitable service you offer, or a parent looking for a new provider for the entire family.
Good physicians know that bedside manner is as important as medical acumen because patients evaluate outcomes based on their entire experience. This notion is true for incoming calls as well. The first contact sets the tone for the full customer journey—especially because people calling medical practices are often in pain and a helpful, empathetic voice goes a long way.
Customers are seeking an “experience” at each touch point within the marketing funnel. Empowered consumers are sharing these experiences on social media and review sites, and one misstep can lead to a poor reputation and missed sales. Take a lesson from Walt Disney, who understood that he could have just built a big parking lot and had patrons walk to the front gate, but building a futuristic monorail that whisks visitors from their cars to the park starts the customer experience with the magic he wanted to convey.
2. Measure results tied to meaningful levers.
Do you know how many seconds callers spend on hold? Or how long it takes to move from inquiry to appointment setting? How many callers simply hang up before reaching a real person? Good telemarketers measure every aspect of the telephone customer journey and craft the process to minimize hurdles to conversion. The first step to moving customers through the funnel is understanding how the channel is performing, then identifying roadblocks and removing them.
When you measure the number of calls, the media channel that drove the call, how many are opportunities, conversion rates and revenue per call, you can isolate which marketing channels are working best and focus your budget on them. If very little money is made from billboard ads, the message needs to be changed or perhaps it should be removed, but you have to measure how it is performing before you can know what to do.
You can also identify which employees are great at converting phone calls and who needs help. Setting benchmarks and offering the right training sets your office staff up for success and reduces turnover. It can be helpful to work in reverse order: Before you decide what to measure, understand what lever the metric impacts so you know what to do with the data and don’t waste time with metrics that you can’t impact.
3. Dedicate yourself to continuous improvement and iterate accordingly.
Measurement tells you where you are winning and where you are failing. Efforts to dedicate more resources to what is working as well as right the course on what isn’t are equally important. Retrain employees based on the results they achieve, and set reasonable goals based on continuous improvement. A/B test as much as possible, providing simple choices that can be honed over time to optimize every aspect of your call-handling and complimentary marketing campaigns.
The old days of patients selecting health care providers because they are known to be “the best” or because other physicians referred them are waning. Selling the practice begins with that initial phone call, and offices that employ staff who understand how to provide the right experience at every touch point are coming out on top while negative experiences are chasing customers away. Health care is important to consumers, and they spend a great deal of time researching providers and outcomes. The cost of one negative experience shared online is exponential. So, set up your system to provide excellence on every call, every time.
This article originally appeared on Marketing Health Services.
Response Mine Health has the tools and expertise to optimize your call center operations and utilize our own in-house consumer acquisition call center. Contact us today to talk to our Director of Call Center Operations to see how we can help grow your business.