Customer Feedback Matters
There’s more to this vital business tool
By Jeff Reeves, PT
In an age where customers can easily go online to tell the world how they feel about your business, can you afford not to ask for yourself?
This is where gathering customer feedback comes in: it’s an opportunity for a business to ask customers about their expectations, likes, and dislikes. However, it’s not enough to just collect feedback—business leaders must be prepared to act on customer feedback. There are several key reasons to gain insight into your customers’ feelings about your business and how that feedback may be used to improve your business.
Learn Who You Are
Long-term success requires a business to have a differentiator—that “something different” that sets it apart from competitors. We all say things like, “We give excellent, one-on-one care” and “We are compassionate.” But you and your team are special individuals and what makes you unique (and crafts your differentiating factors) is meaningful in your market.
However, it can be difficult for practice owners to convey what makes them different without the patient perspective. This is where customers can help. The right patient or customer surveys can provide the data to help you and your team determine your strengths, differentiators, core values, mission and vision statements, slogan, and marketing plan. Sometimes the elements that matter to us and the ones that stand out to our customers are different. Having that external insight gleaned from customer feedback surveys is enough to help understand and form that identity that sets your practice apart.
Strive for Greatness
Being the best physical therapist in town may help fill the schedule, but what makes someone the best?
Some may expect that being the most liked equates to being the best. Most patients don’t know or care what certifications you have. Patients generally have better results if they like their physical therapy experience and actually stick with an effective plan of care. This likeability factor is a noted driver of entrepreneurial success.1 How can you influence how much customers like you and your practice?
Find Out What Each Patient Wants
Meeting customers’ expectations is a key way to build a strong, positive foundation with customers. Find out their expectations before they start treatment with you with an expectations survey in your new patient packet. This tactic helps prepare you with important knowledge about how to excel in each customer’s eyes. It also allows you to identify those patients or customers who may not be the best fit for you. It’s far better to direct those patients to the right competitor or another health care resource than to suffer a dissatisfied customer, which often will result in negative online feedback.
Understand Physician Preferences
We can’t forget that your referral sources are also your customers. Sure, we should all be aiming to aggressively grow the percentage of our patients who come to us via direct access, but physicians will continue to be an important source of new patients for us. Beyond that, we possess a central role in health care, and we should care about what is important to other health care professionals. Customer feedback can include asking physicians via survey or phone call what is important to them in physical therapy for their patients.
Operationalize Gathering Feedback
Gathering feedback from customers, employees, and referring physicians is vital to making informed decisions to help improve all aspects of your practice. However, for this information to be useful, it must be gathered and analyzed regularly for trends and shifts that might influence your decision making. While phone surveys are one method practice owners may employ, customer and employee surveys at regular intervals can provide data that, over time, may illustrate trends and reveal issues that warrant action.
Another popular way to gather feedback is the Net Promotor Score (NPS). While NPS doesn’t highlight specific areas of improvement, the strength of NPS is that it specifically asks customers about their intention of referring: Did you have a positive enough experience to tell your friends and family about it?1 It has been found that companies that use the NPS grow at a faster rate than those that don’t.2 Read more about NPS from author Brian Gallagher in this issue of Impact in “Is NPS Legitimate?”.
Other Ways to Use Customer Feedback
Customer feedback is valuable in many facets of a business. Most clinics break the patient experience into six areas: marketing, front office, physical therapist, support staff, home exercises or post-discharge program, and the billing office. While improving the customer experience can build customer loyalty and help gain new customers, feedback may reveal other areas in need of attention.
For example, in our company, we recently discovered that two of our clinics have a lower number of visits per case than our target. Before we plan our intervention with the therapists of each clinic, we want to be sure that we know the cause. To understand the full picture of what the issue might be, it is crucial for us to send customer surveys to the sample of the population that attended for less than the target visits. Their feedback can provide insight into potential issues and changes that may need to be made.
This same approach can be used to evaluate the root cause and potential course of action on any KPI that is consistently not meeting your targets.
Upon recognizing an area of weakness and gathering the necessary information from customer feedback to understand the root of the issue, implement a strategy to correct issue and set a target to know when you have reached your goal. Patient feedback is an effective measure of whether you have reached your improvement goal.
Think Reputation Management
While customer feedback might be used to make internal process and management decisions, online reviews dominate customer purchasing decisions. However, in order to get positive online reviews, you often have to ask for them. Who better to ask than the people who think you’re great? Consider making it a regular practice to ask successful customers, ones who speak positively about you in the clinic or refer their friends to you, to post a review on the site of their choosing. If they share a positive experience with you, they may be willing to share that positive experience with their friends and family.
Incentivize Your Staff
Engage your staff in creating a culture focused on customer service with an incentive program that rewards staff who attain positive reviews, request reviews from customers, or get referrals from past customers. In addition to focusing on customer service and building referrals and customer feedback, it helps staff influence the practice in a positive way.
Conduct an Internal Assessment
With so much focus on what the customer says, have you considered how your staff’s attitude and feelings toward the company could affect the overall patient experience? Do you view your employees as your customers? If your staff isn’t happy, everything can fall apart pretty quickly. Obtaining anonymous information about your organization from your team members can reveal blind spots. A great way to do this is with confidential surveys. Ask questions that reveal their feelings about culture, leadership, and their engagement, and use that feedback to help guide decisions that may affect positive change for employees and customers alike.
Gather Testimonials for Marketing
Customer feedback is often provided anonymously and not shared publicly. However, testimonials are a public form of feedback that can be a powerful marketing tool. Testimonials are written from the customer’s perspective and may describe how the practice has helped them or detail a positive experience they had. This information, whether visible in the clinic or present online via social media or a website, can then be utilized in outward-facing marketing initiatives. In addition, it can encourage staff by reminding them of how valuable their contribution is to their patients’ lives.
Get Started Today
Consider one issue that seems the most important to you right now—do you have an underperforming staff member or consistent issues with an administrative function? Are you wondering if you need to provide different services to meet your community’s demand? Think about the information that you want to receive from your customers and how you will use that data. Write out the questions that will best reveal that information. Be sure to keep your questions to an absolute minimum in order to get the best response rate possible.
Choose the medium that you will use to ask the questions. Potential survey mediums include phone calls, in-person questioning, paper surveys, online surveys that you create yourself through software (e.g., Survey Monkey), and online surveys that are built for you by an external service.
Consistently review and analyze the data and hold yourself accountable to take action as a result. If you don’t take action on the data you’ve collected, the process is simply a waste of your and your customers’ time.
One last important point: Remember that any manner of obtaining customer feedback is part of the ongoing conversation between you and your customer. Make sure the tone of the survey is consistent with the tone of the rest of their customer experience. Finally, be sure to thank anyone who takes the time to share with you their thoughts and opinions and follow up on any suggestions or negative feedback with a written note or phone call. This simple act will build your customers’ trust when they recognize that you are listening.
1Entrepreneurs’ Organization. How to Increase Likeability to Boost Your Business. Inc. https://www.inc.com/entrepreneurs-organization/how-to-increase-likeability-to-boost-your-business.html. Published April 11, 2017.
2Lieberman M. How Are We Doing? Operationalizing Customer Satisfaction: Part 1 Of 2. Square2Marketing. https://www.square2marketing.com/blog/how-are-we-doing-operationalizing-customer-satisfaction-part-1-of-2. Published July 28, 2020.
3Reichheld FF. The One Number You Need to Grow. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2003/12/the-one-number-you-need-to-grow. Published December 2003.
Jeff Reeves, PT, is involved in leadership at STAR Physical Therapy and also works as a Clinical Operations Coach at STAR Management Company. Jeff has a passion for helping Clinic owners and managers thrive, without the headaches. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.