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Frontline of Doctor Marketing: Listen to the Voice of the Patient

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

green "Give Feedback" text above gold switchHow to find the greater value and medical marketing opportunity in negative comments

The marketing vernacular is "voice of the customer." Either praise or complaint, it's the most direct feedback for medical professionals, group practices or hospitals about service delivery and satisfaction. Here's how to deal with negative comments, increase patient satisfaction, enhance your reputation and open the door to new opportunity and revenues.

Our best advice about patient feedback is: Negative comments are more valuable than positive ones.

Everyone likes the positive comments from patients because they are affirmations about what's already being done is correct. The fundamental healthcare marketing principle is that happy/satisfied patients will remain bonded to your practice, refer to your practice, and return again at a time of need.

It's the front line of doctor marketing, and positive feedback—the voice of the customer-can be ego boosting and enhance self-esteem for physician, staff, hospital or healthcare organization. What's wrong with that?

Well...nothing, really. The positive side of comments or feedback is, well, a positive force. (Keep it up.)

But it is often the negative comments—stuff we don't enjoy hearing about—that reveal opportunities for improvement that increase overall satisfaction, open the door to new business and even enhance reputation in physician marketing.

Label it "constructive criticism" if you prefer. But think of it as truly hearing, understanding and learning from what patients feel and say. And it's an opportunity for corrective action.

Finding diamonds in the coal mine.

There's an opportunity in every complaint or criticism. True, some concerns present less opportunity than others, but evaluate each issue for an up-side value. Here are some examples:

  1. Identifying and fixing an issue promptly demonstrates your concern; even small things count. If one person commented, others probably noticed silently. Making a change, repair, policy adjustment or whatever the remedy is valuable in its own right.
  2. Let others know about the change. Depending on the nature and importance of the change, promote it as an improvement.
  3. Identify a market need. Comments about what you don't do, for example, may be a signal that others might want that service as well. Is there some procedure that you can provide that is underserved or under promoted in your office?
  4. The voice of the customer/patient can also tell you about the competition. Sometimes the "competition" includes over-the-counter products or non-medical solutions.
  5. Consider your reputation and/or branding message. What message can follow a change? If you now offer a new or high tech healthcare solution, consider how to leverage this message with referring practices, in your advertising, or with professional colleagues.
  6. Target your audience with greater precision. What are the demographics of your prospective patient audience group, and how can you refine the match between message and target?

How to handle critical feedback.

Here are 8 ways to work constructively with critical comments.

First, have no problems. Any "perfect practice" people need read no further. For everyone else, lower your defensive resistance and recognize that all forms of criticism are an opportunity to learn and grow.

Use your radar. Light up your early detection system—such as the reception desk and other key staff—to identify possible problems (issues or people). Everyone who has interaction with patients can pick-up on possible problems, and should be trained to defuse things or alert others to resolve them...on the spot.

Ask. Ask Constantly. Formal, patient satisfaction surveys have a purpose, but use conversational questions with every patient encounter. Just asking demonstrates a sincere concern. (But don't ask unless you intend to do something.) Here are two easy, conversation-starter questions:

  • "What did you like most about your visit today?" You're not fishing for compliments; you want to discover what patients value most and consistently deliver on the positive side.
  • "How can we improve our service to you and others?" Encourage people to speak candidly or confidentially; provide a means for them to respond anonymously.

Understand the issue. Listen carefully to what's being said and be clear about what it means to the patient. Listening and understanding keeps you close to what you actually deliver.

Acknowledge the issue. Accept the information (comment or complaint) with appreciation, and thank them for bringing it to your attention. Their perception is the reality.

Extend a sincere apology. Let the person know that, above all, the quality of professional care is of paramount importance...and you're sorry if their experience was less than excellent.

Offer a fix or a plan of action. If you can fix the issue, say so. If you need more information or the help of others to address the problem, say so. But clearly communicate that their concern is now your concern and that you have a plan to resolve.

Silence is not golden. The vast majority of lost patients simply, and silently, never return. They may be unhappy about inconvenient parking, a hurried staff interaction, or a dimly-lit reception area. The actual reason could be subjective or objective, real or imagined—and what you don't know hurts.

We'd like to hear your voice. Reach out to us today at (800) 656-0907.

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