Creating the right first impression is vital to building long term relationships. However the practicalities of delivering such a vital element are often left to chance or scuppered by the other activities of a busy office. In the words of Maya Angelou “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” The irony here is that it can be what you say and do that creates the feelings.
It's become an unconscious obsession to be constantly evaluating new experiences and the opportunities to create an outstanding experience. Sadly most fall short.
Have you ever experienced something like this?
You are walking into an unfamiliar environment, the receptionist is sat behind a desk, usually doing something on a computer, or busy with another patient. You know that they know you are there, yet there is no effort to acknowledge you. You feel uncomfortable, you are in strange surroundings and you may be in a lot of pain. Eventually they glance over and your greeting consists of a ‘Hello, how can I help you? It is polite yet there is no genuine meaning or thought behind the words. You explain that you have an appointment; they look it up on their computer and (hopefully) agree that yes you do. They gesture over to a chair and ask you to take a seat. They call you back across the room "Can I get you just complete this form" and you have to ask for a pen and feel silly that you don’t have one with you.
When the forms are complete do you hold on to them? Do you give them back? Now your nerves are kicking in and you find yourself needing the bathroom, but the receptionist is busy again and you don’t want to interrupt. You can wait but now the thought about your impersonal greeting, the lack of communication and feeling of bothering he receptionist is just niggling in your mind. As you look around there is a bit of dirty paint work, nothing much just a mark here and there. Strange noises are coming from behind a wall and you start to think what on earth is that! Then the news comes on the radio behind the desk, there has been a world crisis and you strat to feel sad. There are other people walking around, you don’t know who they are and no one talks to anyone else, you feel really uncomfortable. Eventually, 20 minutes after your appointment time it’s your turn and you are told to ‘go through’. You don’t know where you are going and the receptionist just points. The practitioner is clinical and you don't understand half the fancy jargon they are using. The experience seems more for their benefit than yours. It’s not that anyone has been rude or done anything that is particularly wrong, it’s just the norm. You have nothing tangible to complain about, however there is nothing to really make you feel special or want to share your experience.
By asking ourselves just three simple questions, we can transform this experience into an intentional process which leaves the patient feeling confident and extremely impressed.
1. How is the patient feeling prior to the initial appointment?
They may have been very nervous prior to booking the appointment, unsure of the directions or how long it would take to find a parking space. Provide the answers to potential error or cause for concern by clearly explaining what is going to happen and providing any important information will help ease some of the anxiety and assist in the practice running to time. Maybe they are a referral patient and have a clear expectation of what is expected. But are you confident that you can deliver a consistent service?
2. How do we want the patient to feel during the appointment?
We talk a lot about the new patient visit, however, consider for one moment at what point do you think they actually count as a new patient in your office? Wouldn’t a new patient really be someone who is receiving some form of care with you? When you think about it, at this point they are still only a potential new patient. This initial part of the patient’s visit is going to trigger a reaction which will leave them confident or confused. Health implications obviously form an important factor, however the overall experience and customer service is equally important. You will not be the only health professional offering to help and the patient is making an informed choice to invest with you.
Prior to the start of the shift, take a look in the diary for any new patients that are due today. Estimate that they may arrive up 15 minutes early so keep an eye on the clock! You know who your current patients are, so if someone walks in that you don't recognise its highly likely that this is your new patient. This may sound rather obvious, however if the first interaction is asking 'how can I help you' then you could have just lost an opportunity to make an impact. When greeting a new patient, always remove any physical barrier such as a desk. Use their name and show them that they are in the right place. “It's Mrs Smith isn't it, Welcome to ABC Practice, we’ve been expecting you.”
If you are completing new patient forms, have these printed ready and on a clipboard with a working pen; a clear demonstration of organisation and efficiency. You should know the referral source of each patient and acknowledge it “We really appreciate Lucy for trusting your health with us, it is such an honour. We will be sure to thank her.”
3. How do we want the patient to feel after their appointment?
There are no right or wrong answers here and your answers will depend on the intention of practice and the services offered. It is however not just a generic statement. This will form the basis which will determine the preparation, the language and the actions that will allow us to measure if we have achieved our intention.
For example; To ensure that every client receives a fantastic welcome and is aware of the practice’s focus; to provide an efficient gathering of all required information and patient leaves with a future booking.
Pick apart each key word - EVERY - how can we make the process consistent? FANTASTIC - note this is not ‘ordinary’ or ‘professional’ - our word here is fantastic so what makes people think we are fantastic and different to everyone one else? AWARE - What does the patient need to know about the appointment? EFFICIENT - How do we make sure nothing is missed? FUTURE - What is our intention for what happens next?
So let’s change that initial impression. What if you arrive on time for your appointment, as you were able to plan how long your journey would take thanks to the welcome pack. As you walk into the practice the receptionist is standing up ready to greet you. They come around from their desk, smiling; they shake your hand and welcome you by name. You feel like you have their undivided attention and they were expecting you. They show you to a seat and explain the form you need to complete and to just let them know when its complete. You are offered refreshments, offered to hang your coat and informed where the bathroom is - you feel relaxed. As you look around there is a clean bright environment, easy music is playing and it makes you tap your feet and smile. The other people in the practice acknowledge you and on the wall are testimonials from other happy patients - you feel reassured. The practice is running on time and you are shown through personally to the assessment room, on the way they explain the other services on offer in the other rooms. You are introduced to the practitioner by name and as you start your assessment you notice this place is really different.
By detailing the processes of the new patient visit we can ensure that every patient that walks through your door no matter what day or time, no matter what their symptoms or how they heard about you, that they receive a fantastic first impression.