The front office in any medical practice is the first thing that a patient sees when walking through the door. As the first thing that a patient sees, it’s crucially important that the interaction and perspective that a patient sees sets the tone for what they can expect from the practice. Many times within medical practices, the front office staff is busy handling many different tasks all at once. They are talking on the phone with one patient, on hold with an insurance company while checking another patient out, setting appointments, and then trying to greet the next person who comes through the door.
In order to be effective at being a face of the practice, it is important that your staff is able to focus on each patient as they arrive. Not only that, but those patients must feel a warmth and a positive presence at each interaction. That positive presence will set the tone for what that patient comes to expect and why that patient wants to be in your practice. If you have a negative front office staff, one that is not smiling, warm, or otherwise uncaring, you will not have patients that want to be in your practice. They simply will not come to your practice.
It’s warmth and enthusiasm that becomes the attractive force to patients.
They want to come in and have somebody that makes their day better.
Key #1: Hiring the Right People
So first, let’s think about what it takes to make sure that you have a warm, friendly voice to greet patients. It starts with your hiring practices. When you’re hiring, what are the skills that you are specifically hiring for? Think about when you first meet that prospective employee. There is a first inclination that you will have when meeting that person that will provide you the insight into how that person is and how they will be while working in your office. I’ve interviewed hundreds of potential employees and when interviewing those individuals, the first thing I notice is whether the person is warm and friendly, whether they are talkative, and if they make me feel comfortable within the setting. I do my best to make sure that the interviewee is comfortable.
However, when they are comfortable, they need to be able to engage in conversation, talk about themselves openly and warmly, and make me feel like I am their friend, like they want to talk to me and engage with me. That engaging social relationship will play a large role into how it is that a patient sees this person when they’re in your office working in the front. Make sure that when you hire people, you feel a warmth from them. You feel engaged in the conversation that you are trying to have. If you have an interview with someone and you are struggling to get them to speak to you, that is not the sort of person who is going to provide your patients a warm and friendly welcome.
If You Don’t Like the Candidate, Neither Will Your Patients.
Secondly, when you hire front office staff or even with your existing office staff, make sure that your staff understands the importance of building a relationship with the patient. Patients will come to your office because of the level of service they receive and the relationship they have with your organization and with the people that are taking care of them. If your front office staff is cold, unfriendly, and as they walk in they say, “Sign in on this clipboard here,” that is not going to be something that will provide a relationship-building experience.
The front office staff must be genuinely caring for the patients that come in the office. They should try to build relationships and keep up on the lives of my patients. They will inquire about how their dog is doing after the surgery last week or their sister’s wedding that happened last month and how they enjoyed the occasion. They ask things about this person’s life and become engaged in their life so that they feel that we care and they know that we care. This is the sort of service that makes a difference. Make sure that your staff understands what is important to a patient. Patients are there for an emotional reason, so you need to have an emotional connection with that patient in order to ensure that they feel comfortable and confident in the place that they have selected to undergo service.
Key#2: Proper Training
When you’re thinking of training for your staff, make sure that your training includes information about understanding patients. Your staff needs to understand who those people are, their motivations, and why they’re coming in to see you. Most training of administrative staff is totally task based. They learn how to enter charges and appointments into the practice management software but they don’t understand the details and importance of how to take care of patients. This is a customer service business. How many of your team have been through customer service training?
Customers who rate you 5 on a scale from 1 to 5 are six times more likely to buy from you again, as to if they ‘only’ gave you a score of 4.8. – TeleFaction data research
Make sure that they understand how to make a personal connection with patients. If you have individuals in your office that are not conversationalist, and not outgoing, then make sure that they know the basics of what they need to do when someone walks through the door. If someone walks in and all they get is a simple “Hello. Please sign in here,” that is not going to make that person feel warm. A simple statement like, “Hi, thanks for joining us today. Please help yourself to some coffee, granola bars, juice, or cookies that we have in the corner. We’ll be with you in just a couple of minutes.” Make sure that your staff understands what statements need to be conveyed, how it is they make those statements, and not only that but also the importance and impact of those statements on your patients.
Key #3: Recognition and Incentives
It is important to keep in mind that in order for your staff to be effective and perform at the highest level, you need to be a leader and support your staff by providing them with motivation. An unmotivated staff will never be able to perform at the levels that you desire. Keep in mind, motivation is not just about monetary incentives. Many staff members are motivated by a simple, kind gesture: a matter of providing gratitude and recognition for the things that they are doing. You can’t just give somebody a pat on the back and say, “Great job.” Provide an individual specific recognition for a specific action and that individual will understand why they are getting recognition and what they need to do to continue getting recognition in the future. These actions will build their morale, provide motivation for continued performance, driving effectiveness, and performance to the next level.
Key #4: Tracking Performance
Performance is always a concern in any organization. The difficulty lies in a practices ability to track performance. Make sure that there is some means of tracking the performance of your front office staff. One of the most important components of front office staff responsibilities is communication, and that encompasses communication either on the phone, in person, or electronically. Make sure that you are comfortable with how and what your staff communicates to patients. The level and quality of communications that your staff provides directly impacts a patient’s perspective of your practice and the conversion of that prospect into becoming your patient.
Tracking systems can range from a telephone tracking system, which will provide you the ability to listen to phone calls, listen to how your staff handles people, to peer reviews you can have during the annual compensation review. Your managers and coworkers actually review other individuals to assist in building them to be better staff members. The easiest means of providing tracking for front office staff members comes in the form of telephone tracking. The basic process of phone call recording and review will help you have evidence and tools in order to ensure that your front office staff is performing an effective job and communicates in a manner that reflects your vision for your practice.
Key #5: Coaching
Utilize your performance assessments and tracking measures in order to perform additional coaching for your staff. Tracking and performance measures are excellent at determining how effective an individual is. However, in order to improve an individual’s effectiveness, those tracking measures need to be reviewed with the employee and additional coaching must be provided in order to improve performance and maximize effectiveness and outcomes. One-on-one coaching is the most effective means of being able to improve an individual’s performance.
In summary, the five points that will help you to achieve a powerful front office staff are to (1) hire the right people and make sure they’re in the right position, (2) ensure effective, consistent training of those individuals, (3) provide those individuals with the recognition and incentives they need to maintain motivation, (4) have an effective tracking system in place to measure performance, and finally, (5) be able to coach each individual for continued improvement and enhanced performance.