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Why I Hate Calling a Doctor’s Office

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

At the risk of sounding like a minor rant…here’s a quick story with an important marketing lesson.

I HATE calling doctors’ offices.

I suspect that a lot of people feel the same way. Please let me know if you can relate to my brief-but-irritating experience.

Female receptionist wearing glasses talking on telephone

The other day I discovered that I needed a new supply of contact lenses. And since I prefer to support local businesses—I’m a business owner myself—I called to place my order with a local optometrist’s office.

That’s a simple and routine task, and something suitable for a fast phone call.

First, the office was closed (for an hour and a half) during lunch. I’m not anti-lunch, but that’s exactly when busy people find it convenient to call. Is it necessary or prudent to close the entire office at a time when new business is likely to be knocking?

The person who usually answers the phone is not always helpful, thorough or, it seems to me, particularly competent. I’m trying to give them my business, (i.e., spend money with them). But as an established patient, I’d like to stay loyal to the practice.

From my perspective, I’m the type of target-audience patient that they want…a busy executive who returns for additional products and services. I’m concerned that people like myself are not able to call during business hours. They we’re not making it easy for me.

It turns out that, if I get the contact lenses through this office, I need to drive over there to pick them up, or pay an additional $25 fee for FedEx delivery.

Eventually, I left a voice mail message and asked her to email or call back so I could complete the order correctly. (It was wrong in the past, by the way.)

Eventually, she called back, left a voice mail message telling me to call her again.

OK, I tried. This was too much swimming against the current. I placed an order through 1-800-Contacts.com. (“Fast, free shipping; low price guarantee, 100 percent satisfaction guarantee,” they say.)

End of story.

This local practice lost my immediate business (and perhaps an otherwise loyal patient) to a better service. And the marketing and customer service lesson here is that you may have the same problem and not know it.

  • Is your front desk following the policy you set down when people call in? Most often, we know from experience, that that’s not the case. Have you checked on this lately?
  • Do you close down the phones and the office at times that are convenient to people/patients/consumers? Are you missing an opportunity to serve your best patients?
  • Have you hired the right person (and/or invested in training) for staff members who answer your phone? Are they winning business or losing opportunities for you?
  • Are you aware of your competition, and recognize the fact that they are diligently trying to take business away from you? Are you inadvertently helping them win?

There are two main reasons why I hate calling a doctor’s office. First, as a patient (and someone who is spending money with them), I would like to think that I’m important to them, and they are prepared to answer my needs.

And from a healthcare marketing perspective, it’s alarming to realize that 90 percent of practices and healthcare organizations lose money when they answer the phone.

Sometimes really nice people at your front desk are secretly killing business…unless, of course, everyone’s out to lunch.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA

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