Healthcare is a customer service industry. Kind gestures and positive everyday interactions between staff and patients result in healthcare companies known for good quality of care. The first key to providing great customer service in the healthcare industry is to stop treating patients as customers whose sole purpose is to generate revenue. Great customer service starts with taking a patient-centric perspective – viewing them as people your company is meant to help.
Adapting to this patient-centric approach is quickly evolving, especially after the COVID-19 crisis changed consumer behavior towards medical and healthcare facilities. Keeping patient safety and overburdened healthcare centers in mind, virtual doctor consultations, and telemedicine practices rapidly increased. A PwC report on global healthcare trends highlights that 91% of consumers had used video virtual clinical care in the past and would do so in the future. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), also noticed a spike of 154% in telehealth utilization1 during March 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.
Apart from moving to digital experiences in healthcare, every employee in a healthcare company must also remember that they are potentially a customer service representative – someone whose daily activities should be focused on improving the quality of care provided to patients.
We’ve listed the sections covered in this post below to make it easy for you to navigate the article.
- Why customer service is important to healthcare companies
- Why customer service is important to patients
- What patients expect in the healthcare customer service experience
- 8 Tips to improve the end-to-end customer experience in the healthcare industry
- How a help desk software facilitates great healthcare customer service
The role of customer service is significant in any industry and is more prominent in the healthcare sector for the following reasons.
- Customer service experiences set the expectation for the quality of care: You may have the most skilled physicians and experienced nurses in the industry, but if you can’t provide a consistently high-quality experience for your patients, they won’t recognize you for outstanding healthcare. The goal of healthcare companies should be to develop long-term relationships with patients rather than approaching each interaction as if it was a transaction.
- Happy patients are likely to return to the same doctors, clinics, and facilities for all their healthcare needs: Happy patients are also highly likely to recommend healthcare companies to friends, family members, and co-workers. Doctor-patient relationships may not be easily and/or often recognized, but they are some of the best examples of customer loyalty in any industry and the strongest doctor-patient relationships start with customer service. The reputation your company develops for excellent or poor medical customer service will be critical in determining patient satisfaction and also indicates if they would seek your services in the future.
- Bad data can lead to life-threatening mistakes: The healthcare industry depends heavily on accurate patient data to make diagnostic and treatment recommendations. Errors, incomplete records, and staff’s inability to access needed data can severely impact the quality of customer care – even potentially leading to life-threatening mistakes and malpractice lawsuits. Customer service systems and processes, and the thoroughness of staff, are the first defense against costly mistakes.
- Poor customer service is an indicator of bigger problems: Customer service performance is often a symptom and indicator of underlying issues within an organization. A company that provides excellent customer service is likely to have robust and refined processes and systems. Companies that provide poor customer service are likely to struggle with process inefficiencies, staff training, and data quality. These don’t just impact patient care, they also impact the cost of operations.
Customers don’t seek healthcare services when they are feeling well. They typically engage with healthcare companies and individual providers to seek help for themselves (as the patient), a friend, or a family member. Health issues can be stressful. Patients are often worried about their health conditions as well as financial issues and this can strain interactions with customer service staff.
When engaging with healthcare companies, patients expect more than treatment – they want care. More importantly, patients want healthcare companies and their employees to show they care about the individual’s needs, situation, and well-being, which is demonstrated during every interaction.
The relationship between a patient and healthcare company is often an individual’s longest engagement with any business during his or her lifetime. Developing and nurturing this relationship requires a thorough understanding of patients’ expectations and the perceived value of their care during the healthcare customer service experience.
Patients have some basic expectations from a healthcare facility. These include quality medical care, a comfortable and safe atmosphere, caring and empathetic staff, well-maintained patient records, respect for their data privacy, and efficient processes that save time.
To deliver or exceed patients’ expectations, every employee in the healthcare industry must acknowledge and embrace their role and responsibility to provide a great customer service experience. Great medical customer service starts with taking a patient-centric perspective – viewing them as people your company wants to help and acting in a manner that leads to a lifelong relationship. From the scheduling staff to physicians and nurses to the billing staff – everyone in the healthcare company has a critical role.
Healthcare companies can support staff’s ability to deliver an excellent customer service experience that’s on par with customer expectations by owning accurate and complete patient information, providing them access to the right medical records, streamlining and integrating healthcare data across workflows, and keeping sensitive patient data protected.
Customer service in healthcare is more than the time the patient spends interacting with the provider. The end-to-end customer experience includes many touchpoints and interactions between the customer and the healthcare company. Each of these interactions provides an opportunity for the company to influence the customer’s perception about the quality and value of care he or she is receiving.
The following section is an overview of the key touchpoints in the healthcare customer experience and what you can do to improve them.
#1 Discovering healthcare products and services
Searching and selecting the products and services the patient needs is the first touchpoint in the customer experience. Many customers will compare reviews, advertisements, referrals from other providers, and recommendations from family and friends to determine their healthcare options and find the right products and services for them.
Pro tips: A healthcare company’s marketing materials, reputation, and relationships with other providers are the key factors that influence potential customers’ first impressions.
Given that 87% of consumers2 begin their product searches online with 79% of customers3open to chatting and 76% ready to use an app for their medical requirements, it’s vital to optimize your digital experience for brand discovery. Adding social proof including customer reviews and doctor credentials, apart from pricing details on your website is a good place to start.
Practo—a leading online doctor booking and diagnostics app—adds various elements of social proof on its ‘Find doctors’ page to establish credibility.
#2 Scheduling appointments
Appointment scheduling is typically the first active engagement between the patient and a healthcare company. During this interaction, the company often collects basic information about the patient and his or her healthcare needs. With this information, the provider is able to perform an initial assessment of urgency and schedule an appointment for the patient.
Pro tips: Healthcare organizations can improve the scheduling experience by minimizing wait times to talk to a scheduling agent, reducing the time taken to capture patient data, having accurate and up-to-date scheduling data that identifies the most convenient time to schedule the appointment, and providing appointment confirmations, instructions, and reminders via email or text messages prior to the appointment.
Since data and technology heavily drive the scheduling experience, this is an ideal interaction to offer self-service capabilities that show patients the efficiency of the company’s processes and demonstrate its respect for patients’ time.
#3 Appointment check-in process
Patient check-in for a scheduled appointment or a walk-in visit is typically the first in-person interaction with the healthcare company. Patients develop impressions based on the atmosphere of the facility, the friendliness of staff, and the efficiency of check-in processes. When a patient checks in for an appointment, there are typically two activities that occur: completing a health questionnaire and waiting to see a provider. The cumbersome nature of the data collection process and the wait time for a provider heavily influence the patient’s impressions.
- Hire for critical customer service skills and conduct frequent training programs to hone essential communication skills and empathy that result in a caring workforce which fully embraces their important role in providing patient care.
- Equip your staff with the right tools and technology that enable employees in different departments like pharmacy, billing, test centers, or insurance claims, have a unified view of the patient.
- While it isn’t always possible to control wait times (though scheduling density can help), it is possible to manage patients’ expectations about wait times. Having efficient customer support processes and systems can help staff track expected wait times and provide patients with accurate estimates which shows that you respect your patients’ time.
- Medicare companies can also enhance background questionnaires to include more information about symptoms, complaints, and health history (information that can be captured while the patient is waiting) to reduce the amount of time needed for the appointment.
- While capturing patient information, your customer service staff and healthcare providers must remember that they are the stewards of patient records and provide assurance that the data is used responsibly. Healthcare customer service processes should address adherence to regulatory compliances like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), authorization from patients for disclosure, sharing of data with family members or other providers, and managing interactions with health insurance companies.
Related resource: 10 Practical tips to improve customer service
#4 Service delivery experience
At the appointed time, the patient begins to receive services from a healthcare provider. This is definitely the patient’s most important customer service experience. Healthcare practitioners (physicians, nurses, technicians, dentists, etc.) don’t often recognize their importance in customer service. Optimizing the service delivery experience and making it a positive one is critical in the healthcare industry.
Pro tip: The key to providing a great customer service experiencehere is to provide practitioners with complete access to patient records, and health history as well as appropriate diagnostic tools and systems. Practitioners must be helped with digital tools that help them record treatment notes, patient questions, recommendations, and diagnosis notes while interacting with the patient which helps them more on the needs and experience of the patient rather than the mechanics of delivering care.
#5 Continuation of care
Many healthcare experiences require more than one activity and often more than one appointment. Practitioners may need to refer patients for tests, request them to return for follow-up appointments, or refer them to other practitioners. The healthcare customer service experience isn’t necessarily constrained to a single appointment or interaction. Customer impressions are based on their holistic, end-to-end experience.
Pro tip: Healthcare companies can improve this part of the customer service experience by optimizing how referrals and transfers to other providers are performed. Customer service systems can provide practitioners with the tools and right data to locate referral resources, make appointments on behalf of the customer, and submit orders for tests. This helps the patient feel the healthcare company is concerned about his or her overall health and is not just treating him or her as a business transaction.
#6 Post-appointment follow-up
You can only improve the experience for patients if you hear from them about how their interaction with your company. Gathering feedback on-website experience, appointment scheduling, check-in, or the service delivery experience, helps you know what went right for patients and the problems they encountered along the entire customer journey.
If you sense a bad experience, you still have an opportunity to recover from a negative patient impression with a simple, post-appointment follow-up interaction.
- Demonstrate to the patient that the facility cares about his or her health and experience by making a follow-up phone call from your call center to check how the patient is feeling which indicates personal attention from staff.
- You can auto-trigger feedback forms that allow patients to rate their experience and help you measure patient satisfaction. These ratings are usually referred to as Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) scores in other customer-facing industries.
- Follow-up any continuation of care recommendations. If the patient was referred to another provider, required testing, or was recommended for a recheck appointment, then be sure to ask the patient about the status of these activities. It may be necessary to offer new referrals or assist in scheduling appointments.
- Provide contact instructions for future engagements. Healthcare companies should also prioritize customer engagement to foster long-term relationships with patients. Post-appointment follow-up calls should always end with an invitation to the patient to contact the company again for further questions or future healthcare needs.
#7 Billing and insurance claims
Health conditions can be painful, but for many patients, the most traumatic part of their healthcare experience is the billing-and-insurance-claims process. This process is notorious for time delays, miscommunications, and frequent re-work of forms, records, etc. For healthcare organizations seeking a great customer service experience, it is important to make sure billing and insurance processes don’t spoil an otherwise favorable impression.
Pro tip: Healthcare companies can improve the customer service experience of their billing-and-insurance-claims process by treating these finance-related activities as part of the overall patient care experience. Billing staff should have access to customer records, and their interactions should be recorded and conveniently stored for future reference, and processes should be optimized for both speed and accuracy.
#8 Be prepared for future visits
Follow-up appointments on a health issue or future appointments for a different issue should not be treated as a new customer service experience. The end-to-end patient experience of interacting with healthcare companies is continuous throughout the entire relationship. Patients refer to providers as “my doctor” even when an active health condition isn’t being managed. This is important because it sets the expectation that healthcare companies will treat every future visit as a continuation of past patient care.
Pro tip: To take advantage of the long-term opportunities of patient-provider relationships, healthcare companies should focus on maintaining customer service records for the entire set of interactions. Staff should review and update any information and insights collected during one engagement (e.g. health history, contact information, insurance details, diagnostic tests, allergies, etc.) as preparation for scheduling appointments and future visits. This ensures that the healthcare company can provide holistic care without asking the patient for the same information multiple times.
Here’s a list of things that you can do with a help desk tool customized for healthcare professionals.
– Connect with patients on different channels from one centralized location: Patients may reach out to your clinic or medicare center through various channels like phone calls, email, live chat, messaging channels, social media, or web portals. An omnichannel support desk unifies all these patient interactions across different touchpoints on one screen. When Doctaly, a UK-based health tech company offering remote patient monitoring solutions, decided to carry out their bookings for remote consultations via Freshdesk Messaging, they saw that 85-90% of their consultations came through Whatsapp channel integration. They did not just handle a huge volume of consultations efficiently, but Doctaly’s patient engagement also reached 90% after adopting Freshdesk.
– Offer instant and accurate responses: Setting up automated workflows within your support software helps you respond to your patients faster, whether it’s an inquiry about billing or a quick call to check the availability of a doctor.
– Have contextual interactions with patients: When patients utilize a healthcare facility during emergencies and stressful circumstances, the last thing they want to do is narrate their previous record with the healthcare provider. Easily access patient information, previous appointments, and treatment notes right from your help desk system.
– Extend proactive support for patients: Delivering care is all about being proactive in anticipating patient needs and helping them without causing anxieties or frustrations. You can automatically trigger appointment confirmation notifications, send reminders before scheduled appointments, update about insurance plans and policies, and also send health awareness emails from your help desk software.
Watch a demo of how the Freshdesk Omnichannel help desk software with powerful integrations, packages all these features in a single tool.
Also read: Hosted Help Desk Software
With healthcare being a customer service industry, the difference between mediocre customer service experiences and those that are truly outstanding is how companies combine intelligent automation without losing the humane touch in their end-to-end patient experience.
Originally published on Oct 11, 2018. Updated on Dec 17, 2021.