Crafting the Ultimate Customer Experience
A three-facet plan.
By Kim Stamp
In the health care field, it feels like a paradigm shift to view patients as customers, but that is exactly what we need to do if our goal is to build a successful private practice. Unlike a physician- or hospital-owned practice, we do not have a built-in referral source and must rely on a patient’s willingness to choose our practice for their rehabilitation. If we do not take the time to focus on creating a memorable customer experience, we are missing the mark and quite possibly stunting the growth of our clinics. So, let’s take a look at how we can craft the ultimate customer experience for our patients.
There are many components that could be considered in creating the overall customer experience, but for the purpose of this article, let’s focus on three facets as the baseline for creating and maintaining a positive patient experience: vibrant employee engagement, compassionate patient care, and impeccable attention to detail. Each facet is worthwhile on its own, but when interconnected, they create a framework for the ultimate patient experience. There is no “one size fits all” program for the ultimate customer experience. It must be genuine and complementary to your practice values and philosophy.
The foundation of any customer experience program is employee engagement. If our employees are not on board and daily engaged in the process, we will ultimately fall short. One of the ways to garner employee engagement is to clearly communicate both your practice values and the employees’ purpose within the company. If you’ve read any of my previous articles, you know that I am passionate about practice values. I believe it is imperative for a practice owner to establish a philosophy (values) on which their practice is based. That philosophy will then dictate everything else in the company. Once these values are set, they must be communicated regularly to staff so that everyone is on board. However, it is key to differentiate between purpose and process. It is more important that our employees default to their purpose (how their job fits into the larger company value) rather than the process (their daily job-related responsibilities). As managers, we must coach and empower our employees to discern what is needed in any given situation and to default to giving the patient what they need in any given moment. For instance, it is more important to stop and listen to a patient who is in pain rather than to leave them alone on heat or ice so that laundry can be folded. Lastly, when talking about employee engagement, I purposely added the word vibrant. We don’t just want our employees to make the right choices; we want our patients to feel valued and well cared for, not merely tolerated.
The second facet of crafting the ultimate customer experience is compassionate patient care. Compassion is empathy coupled with action. When we truly focus on what our patients are communicating to us, we set ourselves up to act with compassion. Therapists, especially those in a busy practice, can become hyperfocused on the treatment plan, and in doing so they may miss the cues a patient is giving, verbally or otherwise, leaving the patient feeling disregarded. Obviously, the bedrock of rehab is the plan of care and I am not meaning to discount that in any way. I am simply pointing out that if we remain compassionate—actively listening and observing with the willingness to take action—we will have a better chance of caring for our patients in a way that is meaningful to them.
The final facet is having impeccable attention to detail. The overall appearance of your clinic is a reflection of your company and those who work there. Like a mirror, a cluttered front office or dirty restroom reflects a lack of genuine care. Try to look at your surroundings with fresh eyes and make sure your staff is doing the same.
We should endeavor to create an atmosphere that is welcoming, nurturing, and clean in order to be conducive to healing. Each staff member must understand that they are responsible for how the clinic looks. Is your clinic clean but cold in appearance? Or is it warm and welcoming, with green and flowering plants to delight the eye and freshen the air? Cultivate a culture that promotes a sense of ownership among your staff.
We also want our staff to be proactively helpful. Each employee should be mentored in the art of communication. From greeting a patient by name and with a smile to effectively answering any questions they have, our employees must be equipped to provide a stellar customer experience. When it comes to attention to detail, Disney is the gold standard for customer service training. They have created a culture of excellence among their employees that we can all learn from. I would encourage everyone to read an article or two on the Disney customer experience philosophy.
In today’s competitive health care market, we must spend time crafting and implementing a creative customer experience plan if we want to succeed. More than simply implementing a clever program, in order to be effective these concepts need to become a part of the fabric of our practice. As owners and managers we can do this by instilling a vision in our staff both through our words and our actions. When we intentionally establish a culture focused on the patient’s experience, we will see both growth and patient loyalty begin to emerge and we will be well on our way to success!
Kim Stamp is the regional business manager for South Sound Physical & Hand Therapy in Olympia and Tacoma, and the president for the Washington State Physical Therapy Managers Association. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.