In a busy practice, keeping your patients happy and loyal can sometimes be
a challenge, but a strong commitment to customer service can make all the
The concept of customer service in healthcare is not new. As early as
the 1960s, The Healthcare Customer
Service Revolution:the growing impact of managed
care on patient satisfaction1, documented thousands of patients’ surveys across the
US and found increasing levels of patient dissatisfaction with the service provided
by the health system. So, while recognition of the issue of customer service is
widespread, the key is to translate this into action in your practice.
What is good customer
The first step in the process is to look at what customer service is, why
we use the term ‘customers’ and then to identify who the customers are.
No two people or businesses define customer service in exactly the same
way, but there are some common elements:
- It is characterised by the customers’ perception of the service you
- It is vital for every business and may increase business profitability
- It should create a positive first impression.
- It should reflect the image of your practice.
Quality customer service embraces a range of factors that may influence
the customers’ perception of the interaction with your practice. Overton2 (2002,
p3) lists a number of aspects that create a good customer service experience:
- personal responsiveness
Customers are people or businesses who interact with your practice in a
It is important that the team recognises customers are not only defined
as patients and may come from within your practice or outside your practice.
While your practice provides a service to a specific cohort of customers known
as patients, it also provides services to other groups of people such as referrers,
pathology personnel, x-ray, pharmaceutical and waste disposal companies, suppliers,
specialists and allied health professionals etc.
Customers can also be divided into internal and external groups. Your
external customers may include patients, family and friends, third party payers,
contractors that help you run your business and other healthcare professionals.
Each of these customer groups has different expectations and needs. Your
internal customers are your support staff – everyone from the practice manager
to the newest casual employee. It is critical in good leadership for your practice
to fully support the ‘internal customer’ as they will increase productivity and
Organisational culture plays a key role in the delivery of service to all
your customers, internal and external. This concept enshrines a set of underlying
expectations and values which provide a framework to guide the way members of an
organisation act, or as the saying goes, “it’s the way we do things around here.”
There are a
number of ways you can improve organisational culture in your practice. Some of
the key components are:
- Ensuring there is effective
- Ensuring you listen to your
- Being open and transparent.
- Making sure all staff are
involved in the decision-making process.
- Being conscious that leadership
begins at the top.
Many practices have defined customer service standards and train their team
in line with these expectations. Customer service standards are commonly determined
by the practices’:
- customer needs and expectations
- resources and ability to deliver
- desired business outcomes, for example, return of investment etc.
Customer service standards are integral to a practice’s success.They are
characterised as levels of customer service that exceed expectations –
embodying the notion of always going one step further. Customer service
standards are set as policy and procedures within the practice. They also
communicate a level of managerial commitment to the whole process of customer
service. For example, you may have a customer service standard for answering the
telephone or making post-operative phone calls to patients, or simply the way
you greet someone.
Understanding your customers, their needs and expectations, should help
your practice to identify ways to improve
customer perception and instil an organisational culture to exceed patients’
expectations. Remember, customers are an investment – so maximise your return.
The important elements are:
- understand the role of verbal
and non-verbal communication
- learn the difference between
positive and negative language
- never pass judgement
- Identify special needs of
Provide internal customers
(staff) with good task instructions, tools and resources to do their job and
for external customers set standards for the service you deliver.
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1 Zimmerman et al
(1996). The healthcare customer service revolution: The growing impact of
managed care on patient satisfaction. Chicago, Irwin Professional.
2 Overton R.
(2002). Customer Service Delivering service to your customers. Martin
Management, Sydney Australia.