Patients—our customers—and staff are two crucial components in the survival of any medical practice. If either is unhappy for any reason, another successful business—a competitor—will be lying in wait to pry away these assets. One foolproof way to retain your customers and staff is by creating a once-ina- lifetime experience.
For your patients and staff members alike, the decision to choose your practice over another should not be based on a service or product (or, in the case of your staff, their remuneration). This is because the latest technology can just as easily end up in the hands of your competitors, forcing a war in pricing strategies. Rather, consider following the two sets of plans detailed below, one for your patients and one for your staff, to help you succeed in the endeavor of creating a magical experience for your patrons.
THE PATIENT PLAN
Five elements are involved in making a long-lasting impression on your patients: Daily staff preparation, the patient experience, technology, the surgeon factor, and a welcoming facility.
Element No. 1: Preparations. Most practice managers would agree: Understanding that each customer is unique is important to the overall patient experience. Therefore, every customer should be treated as an individual, and learning how to make each customer feel special is necessary in this age of specialized care. Always aim to create a homogeneous yet unique service experience; delivering this is the key to retaining your patients. At Vista Eye Specialist, we believe this can be achieved with the following patientcentered initiatives for staff members.
Daily meetings. All of our branches and departments have a short (5-minute) daily morning meeting so that everyone starts his or her workday knowing all of the relevant information for the operations, news, and achievements and recognitions pertinent to that day. One key component is staff members sharing information on patients who require special attention or have special circumstances.
Internal social network. We use an internal online social network system (Salesforce Chatter) to converse, share, and disseminate information within our branches. This allows records to be kept and progress tracked.
Idea generation. We urge staff members to share ideas based on their observations, experiences, and feedback from patients in order to improve our practice and customer service. We have created the 3i program, an initiative that encourages each staff member to propose three ideas every month. The management team quickly assesses each idea, and, if approval is granted, that staff member is asked to explore and implement the idea.
The staff factor. Your staff is composed of the key people needed to deliver a magical experience to patients. Each staff member should be motivated and want to be part of the experience of providing a personal touch to patient care. Staff members should exhibit leadership and act immediately to solve any patient issues. These things can be accomplished with suitable training and by hiring the right people. There should be active and open acknowledgement when people do the right thing and mentoring when a mistake is made. One way to help staff react correctly when faced with patient concerns is to create a Frequently Asked Questions list. When coupled with sharing stories, this tactic can significantly improve the service experience for the patient.
Element No. 2: The experience. What the patient feels at the first and last points of contact are what he or she will remember most vividly. Simple ways to create good impressions include using seasonal greetings and salutations, remembering patients by name, being on alert for special needs, and making extra efforts such as flagging a cab, booking via mobile apps for patients, preparing a wheelchair in advance, shielding patients from the rain, and preparing blankets for patients during cold weather. Further examples of creating magical moments include taking postoperative photographs with the surgeon, engaging with patients, and making them feel like they are being taken care of. It is important that no patient is left alone for more than 10 minutes without any contact. Simple checks can be done by trained staff and ophthalmologists, when they are free. Service recovery procedures and plans should be created for different scenarios. Lastly, allowing families of patients with special needs to accompany them into the operating room can be reassuring and comforting.
Element No. 3: Technology. A good contact relationship management (CRM) system such as Salesforce.com (a cloud-based platform) is helpful. When incorporated into your daily appointment and patient filing system, a CRM system can help to generate goodwill and enhance the patient’s journey with your practice. It can be used to send automatic SMS reminders to patients; create birthday and anniversary reminders; track patient comments; create custom invoices, quotes, and reports for patients; and attach patient files for easy e-transfer if a patient decides to visit another branch.
Element No. 4: The surgeon factor. All practices should have not only a focused strategy to promote the surgeon but one that is balanced between the surgeon’s skills and knowledge and his or her human side. A decorated and celebrated surgeon may be seen as too good or busy to care; thus, balancing this yang with the yin—a caring and personal caregiver—is important.
Element No. 5: A welcoming facility. A great interior design and thoughtful planning can emphasize a welcoming feeling for their patient. Amenities such as reading material, comfortable seating areas, beverages, music, movies, and Wi-Fi services are considered a norm for sizeable practices. Other amenities such as massage chairs, multidevice phone chargers on loan, and child playrooms can be considered.
Touch-ups and facelifts are also important. At Vista, physical structures and marketing signage and materials are updated every 3 years to improve the center’s look. We also have designated periods of thematic decor that coincide with seasonal events and holidays. There are also interbranch contests to increase staff creativity and encourage efforts to decorate the branches.
THE STAFF PLAN
Retaining well-trained and motivated staff members costs less than hiring, training, and motivating new ones. Therefore, it is important to create a holistic employee package that addresses not just staff members’ financial needs but also their needs for growth, adventure, and empowerment. The following six elements should be explored in order to make and keep your staff happy.
Element No. 1: Setting expectations. Setting clear and advanced expectations is vital to staff development. Typical challenges and opportunities must also be outlined, in a bid to motivate the staff and prepare them for various scenarios. Updating the staff on the company’s happenings is also beneficial to help them feel like they belong in the organization.
Element No. 2: Providing tender loving care (TLC). Like your patients, your staff requires attention and care, too. Two examples of TLC are providing pregnant staff with an opportunity to be reassigned temporarily to desk responsibilities and designating on-site nursery and breastfeeding rooms. Also, supervisors should provide staff members with feedback on their work and progress; this can make life simpler for the staff and the human resources manager.
Element No. 3: Tracking progress. Feedback should be in accordance with staff members’ development and their work performance. At Vista, the Rockstar Program, a biannual staff training and development initiative, involves setting expectations for behaviors and actions, defining criteria for work performance, encouraging participation in company-related events, and promoting idea generation and implementation. This event helps us to measure staff members’ progress in terms of work performance, attitude, and perseverance. Upon completion of each season, the staff member is entitled to an individual award such as a bonus, early consideration privileges for training and overseas conferences, or entitlement to convert paid leave into cash. In order to create a magical experience for your staff, there should not be a culture of competition but, instead, one of cooperation and harmony. This also works toward increasing the camaraderie of the staff members and their work experience.
Element No. 4: Creating empowerment. Staff members should be given the opportunity to be involved in decisionmaking in various ways including participating in meetings, internal conferences, and project groups. Involvement in these activities will enhance staff participation and give each member a sense of ownership of their ideas, which brings forth greater motivation and satisfaction. We create project groups or teams for various product, sales, and service-related events and even for staff well-being. These projects enable the staff members to present their ideas and be recognized for them, and to learn how to manage a project team. Staff members should be given the opportunity to lead the team or act as a team leader-elect in order to increase their learning opportunities.
Element No. 5: Benefits and rewards. We believe in promotion through the ranks to create continuity, familiarity, and motivation. On top of the usual performance bonuses, Vista offers year-end awards, longservice rewards, overseas training opportunities, local and overseas conference participation, study tours, and exchange programs. We also encourage staff members to pursue continuous learning and development programs or courses and facilitate and sponsor them in related programs. On top of government regulations on statutory holidays and leaves, Vista provides special leave for extended festivals, staff or spouse birthdays, and special on-request leave such as priority leave for parents.
Element No. 6: Fun and enjoyment. Your staff should be encouraged not just to work hard, but to play hard too. Vista sponsors quarterly staff outings for each department or branch and allows staff members to join other departments’ activities. These activities range from a night at the movies to laser tag and special dinners. We have contests throughout the year for our branches to win additional allowances that can go toward extending their outings to outstation trips. These create both a learning experience to organize activities and a bonding experience for the staff.
Looking in depth into creating a magical experience for your patients and your staff can pay huge dividends toward retaining these assets and reducing the need to expend effort bringing in new patients or staff.
Bernard Chan Kwok Loong is the Marketing Manager at Vista Eye Specialist in Malaysia. Mr. Loong states that he has no financial interest in the products or companies mentioned. He may be reached at e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.