4 Things Healthcare Providers Can Learn from the Customer Service Industry
A 2018 survey conducted by NTT DATA Services highlights a growing desire among healthcare service users for experiences that are more in line with those delivered by retailers. What lessons should healthcare providers learn from the customer service industry?
Although some professionals are loath to accept it, there can be little doubt that healthcare in Australia is now an industry driven as much by modern approaches to consumerism as it is by developments in medicine.
While high-quality consumer goods are always going to be popular, brands like Apple and Amazon have become market-leaders because they also deliver exceptional user experiences that suit consumers’ preferences – particularly when it comes to customer service.
What can healthcare providers learn from successful businesses like these to further supplement quality healthcare?
1. Be Available on the Channels Patients are Using
One of the most important lessons that successful customer service providers have learnt in the recent past is that you have a better opportunity to delight users when you make yourself available via the channels they’re already using.
With over 17 million Australians projected to own a smartphone by the end of 2018 and 87% of the population accessing the internet every day, success in the digital age means ensuring services are available at your patients' fingertips – wherever they are and whenever they need access.
“Wherever” is relatively simple these days. Websites and patient portals are easily accessed from tablets, laptops or smartphones, and empower patients to book appointments, request repeat prescriptions, leave feedback on treatment, and access the latest health information.
Similarly, SMS and email notifications about upcoming appointments are proving helpful in reducing the number of no-shows that providers deal with. This shows that directly engaging with patients via the channels they already use can help overcome one of the biggest challenges faced by healthcare practices – with this challenge in particular costing Queensland taxpayers alone $4m a month.
For most healthcare providers it’s unfeasible to treat patients 24-hours a day, unless running an organisation built for this purpose.
However, they can create the illusion of being available around the clock by using their websites to provide information 24/7 and automating their patient requests (whether booking appointments, ordering medication or checking test results).
This mirrors customer-facing businesses that empower customers to make support requests at any time or use AI-chatbots to engage with consumers.
2. Take Data Privacy Seriously
From personal and private information to medical and financial records, patient data is extremely valuable to a wide range of players – not all of them operating legally.
In a world that is plagued by frequent high-profile data breaches, a large number of which target healthcare organisations in Australia, many people are justifiably concerned about health data security.
Stolen patient data can massively affect people, with the ramifications ranging from identity theft and prescription misuse to simply losing money. A recent study of US consumers showed that half the people who experienced a medical data breach were victims of medical identity theft and had to pay an average of about $2,500 in out-of-pocket costs per incident.
Worryingly, the healthcare sector now accounts for 20% of all data breaches in Australia, which really shows that providers need to take a page from their customer service counterparts and doing more to protect patients against cyber-attacks.
It’s not just patients that lose out in the wake of a healthcare data breach though. Research from IBM and the Ponemon Institute reveals that healthcare organisations themselves are hit hard financially in the wake of an attack, with reputational damage, customer turnover and lost business all contributing to an average cost of $408 for every record that's lost.
3. Balance Experience with Satisfaction
Traditionally, when it came to judging healthcare providers, all that mattered to patients was the quality and effectiveness of treatment. However, as patients begin to spend more of their own money on healthcare, demand is growing for a more customer-friendly product.
For providers, this means delivering a patient experience that is more satisfying and easier to access experience – something that's increasingly vital for attracting and retaining patients. Unfortunately, the idea of delivering “patient-friendly” healthcare seems to have blindsided many providers and they're struggling to understand what this consists of.
To better demonstrate what we mean by "patient-friendly" healthcare, here are the results of a recent survey conducted by Kelton Global and West on how healthcare providers can improve patient satisfaction. Of all the patients surveyed:
- 50% said shorter wait times
- 41% said making it easier to book appointments
- 39% said improving interpersonal or communication skills
- 38% said offering more clarity on available services
- 27% said providing more modern facilities
Obviously, you shouldn’t prioritise patient satisfaction over providing quality care and treatment. However, unless you can balance the two, you’re likely to struggle with retaining patients.
The customer service industry has perfected this balancing act and now, something that was once considered insufferable, actually influences consumers as they make purchasing decisions. Consider how often you've chosen a brand because you knew they provided better and more convenient customer service?
4. Listen to Your Customers!
Although the cliché of “the customer is always right” doesn’t translate perfectly to healthcare (after all, doctors are slightly more qualified when it comes to medical matters), there’s a lot to be said for paying more attention to patient feedback.
The drive towards greater patient satisfaction has led to the emergence of “patient voice” as a leading trend in the healthcare industry. This can largely be summed up as the side of patient engagement that providers are sometimes guilty of neglecting – listening to patients.
While a lot of effort has been spent by healthcare organisations on improving the way they communicate with patients, patient engagement is too often considered a one-way street. Simply put, if patients don’t feel their voice is being heard they won’t engage with their treatment.
We’ve covered patient engagement extensively in the past, but it’s worth restating that it isn’t just a buzzword, but actually has a tangible effect on patient health outcomes. From The Kings Fund to the British Medical Journal, countless studies have shown that a patient simply engaging in their healthcare leads to:
- Better recalling necessary information and knowledge
- Reporting that the chosen treatment was right for them
- Being more likely to adhere to their chosen treatment plan
- Participating in monitoring and preventative medicine activities
We briefly covered this in our post about patient satisfaction, but spending time perfecting how you measure feedback is also vital to your success – with the format, delivery method and questions asked all affecting the results.
Traditionally, healthcare providers have relied on patient surveys as the primary tool for capturing patient feedback. While surveys are perfect for identifying patient satisfaction trends, they're often just ignored by patients – be honest, how often have you actually filled out and submitted the feedback forms you’ve been handed?
As the use of online live-chat for customer service became widespread, forward-thinking businesses empowered users to give feedback on the experience directly from the chat window. This seamlessly blended the survey with the process of accessing support services and this is largely considered the standard now.
The proliferation of digital check-in kiosks presents a similar opportunity for healthcare organisations. Patients in your waiting room are essentially a captive audience and aren’t likely to feel inconvenienced by the addition of a few optional questions about their experience to the check-in process.
This provides a quick and seamless way for you to listen to your patients that feels like a slight extension of checking in, rather than an additional chore, increasing the likelihood of patients responding.
As healthcare becomes evermore indistinguishable from other market-driven industries, providers will likely have to shift gears as they attempt to remain financially stable. This process will undoubtedly see an increased focus on patient satisfaction as attracting and retaining patients becomes as valuable as improving the standard of care.
The customer service industry went through a similar changes in the recent past, as consumers began to expect more from businesses – a prime example being less frustrating experiences than traditional customer service hotlines. It makes perfect sense then for healthcare providers to look to the customer service industry for lessons on how to embrace developing more convenient and satisfying patient experiences.
Healthcare providers in America are in the middle of this evolution and those delivering a more satisfying patient experience gain an average of 50% higher net margins than organisations that deliver average patient experiences. This is concrete evidence supporting the idea that improving patient satisfaction can increase a provider's profits.