Customer Service


No mystery for your practice!

By Lynn Steffes, PT, DPT

When was the last time you called into a retail store or doctor’s office and received such a warm greeting and such compelling information that you really were convinced that you wanted to do business with them? If you are like many of us, it is a rare occurrence. Would you like every patient who calls your practice to become an immediate and loyal customer? Creating and maintaining a high level of customer service is increasingly important in the face of relentless competition and a difficult economic environment in health care. Improving the patient experience is also a key component to the triple aim of health care.

Monitoring and Improving the Patient Experience: The challenge for physical therapy private practice owners is that you spend the majority of your workday separated from the front desk operations. You are busy treating patients or handling myriad administrative functions. These tasks prevent you from hearing everything else that is happening in your practice. You may never know how often people call into your practice and never become a patient.

Patient Satisfaction Surveys: One accepted method for evaluating the total patient experience is to utilize patient satisfaction surveys. Some practices use them only at the final visit. Others survey after the first and middle visits to ensure that their patient care can be adjusted during an episode as needed. While surveys are key indicators of a practice experience, they do not target the specific goals and vision of the practice culture.

Mystery Shopping: Another very beneficial method of gathering patient experience information is to incorporate a mystery shopping program into your standard operating procedures. Hotels, restaurants, and retail businesses use mystery shoppers because of the high level of competition. Mystery shopping has not seemed as important in medicine until recently.

According to Measure Customer Perspectives: “When it comes to gaining a competitive edge, more and more health care professionals are using mystery shoppers to better understand their patients’ experience.”1

Even the American Medical Association (AMA) has come out in support of this practice: “Physicians have an ethical responsibility to engage in activities that contribute to continual improvements in patient care. One method for promoting such quality improvement is through the use of secret shopper ‘patients’ who have been appropriately trained to provide feedback about physician performance in the clinical setting.2

Private Practices Need to Invest in the Initial Customer Contact Experience

Having spent more than 25 years focusing on growing private practices through marketing and customer service, I am amazed at how little attention is given to that first phone contact. In the past 20 years, I have mystery shopped nearly 100 practices across the U.S. and been generally underwhelmed at what my initial call has been like.

Most practices do not understand that that first phone call initiates the customer interaction. In fact, I would like to suggest that all the marketing you do can be undone in a poor 5-minute inquiry call.

To ensure that your initial customer experience is outstanding, look at creating or accessing a mystery shop program for your practice. Start with phone shopping and then progress to some in-person shoppers as well.


1. Accessed December 2014.

2. American Medical Association (AMA) CEJA Report 3-I-08 Supports use of Secret Shopper Patients. Accessed December 2015.


Lynn Steffes, PT, DPT, is president and consultant of Steffes & Associates, a national rehabilitation consulting group focused on marketing and program development for private practices nationwide. She is an instructor in five physical therapy programs and has actively presented, consulted, and taught in 40 states. She can be reached at

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