The journey to great customer service
Job satisfaction means a great deal to most people, and it certainly does to me. In my role as customer service manager at DPAS Dental Plans, I often deal directly with the general public, so receiving a complimentary email or phone call is always a real positive and gives my team and I a lift. We monitor all of our customer feedback very carefully and this helps us establish whether we are meeting expectations and where improvements may need to be made, either to our product or our processes.
When someone tells me they’ve had ‘great customer service’, I think of polite, attentive, thoughtful staff who understand customers’ needs and always do their best, and I’m sure that for most of us these things would tick the right boxes. In the fast paced dental practice environment it’s sometimes hard to find time to pay attention to the finer details, and making sure that patients are provided with great service from the very first interaction can be a challenge when a practice has so many points of contact. To exceed customer expectations requires attention to every aspect of the customer journey, which these days can start even before the patient gets to your front door.
Many new patients are likely to have their first interaction via your website, others might make an initial enquiry by phone, but whatever the method, this engagement goes right to the heart of your customer service proposition and must consistently provide a positive patient experience.
Websites are now valuable communication tools and should reflect the practice’s individual brand and values. A general family practice will have a look and feel very different to a high-tech cosmetic practice, simply because they are aimed at different audiences. So it follows that what might represent great customer service in one, may not necessarily hold true in another.
Telephone manner is an equally important aspect. Those who are responsible for answering the phone in your practice must be calm, confident and knowledgeable, able to handle difficult situations as and when they arise. We all know that reception staff often perform the role of gatekeeper, but when dealing with potential patients, existing patients or other callers it’s important to create a positive customer experience at all times.
When patients visit the practice this is your best opportunity to actively engage with them and another chance to reinforce positive perceptions. Good customer service does not necessarily demand that reception staff should know the name of all patients, either from memory or by reference to the appointment book, but it is important to be polite and welcoming when patients first enter the practice. It is also good to acknowledge that some patients may be nervous and to take account of this when dealing with them. The last thing a patient wants to face before endodontic treatment is a harassed team member adding to an already stressful situation!
Measuring patient satisfaction
The most straightforward way to ascertain whether your team has delivered great customer service is to actively measure patient satisfaction, although in reality few practices actually do. Customer feedback is enormously valuable regardless of the industry, and asking for patient feedback is now a routine requirement in NHS practices, following the introduction of the ‘Friends and Family’ test. Although this is not mandatory for private practices, the culture of valuing patients’ opinions is one that is well worthwhile cultivating.
Few practices conduct annual patient satisfaction questionnaires, but as all patients are required to update medical histories with every new course of treatment, asking patients to complete a few more questions should be an easy task. Surveys give you the opportunity to discover those things that really matter to your patients, remembering that their priorities might not necessarily be the same as yours. Once completed, a questionnaire enables the practice to harvest feedback that can then be used internally to motivate staff, or engage in improvement processes and, with the permission of the patients, can be used externally as short sound bites on leaflets, on your website or in advertising.
At DPAS customer service is at the very heart of everything we do and we place great emphasis on delivering excellence in this area, through every part of our business. Our whole team appreciates the innate culture within DPAS that puts customers at the centre of all our endeavours. As part of this commitment we test how we measure up to customer expectations annually and encourage the practices we work with to do likewise.
My colleague, DPAS’ insurance manager, Melissa Reid, leads the insurance team, which also deals directly with individual policyholders in handling claims under the DPAS Supplementary Insurance, an inclusive part of every DPAS-supported dental plan. The insurance team faces a particular challenge in that most claimants have recently suffered some form of dental emergency or dental trauma, which obviously requires careful and sympathetic handling, not least because we are dealing with the patients of the practices we work with. So when we receive compliments via email and phone thanking us for the prompt and efficient way we have dealt with a claim, it makes the job all the more rewarding.
Here are just a couple of examples of the excellent feedback we have received recently: ‘You [DPAS] have been a brilliant group to deal with. I appreciate everything and would thoroughly recommend you to anyone. My accident was a horrible experience, (I now watch where I walk everywhere!) and obviously could have turned into a hugely expensive one, but thanks to your company, and the way you and the dentist have dealt with it, it has made it better.’
‘Thank you so much for confirming the approval for Sophie’s root canal therapy. It is a comfort to know there is a very capable and sympathetic team behind us.’
Good customer relations have always been a cornerstone of DPAS’s business and I’m pleased to say that the same is true of the practices we deal with. With immediate communication now a part of everyday life, practices cannot afford to take any aspect of the patient journey for granted. Delivering great customer service is a vital part of ensuring patient loyalty and encouraging word of mouth recommendation. If practices can get this right, customer satisfaction forms part of the solid foundation on which a practice can grow its reputation, its patient numbers, its revenue and profit.