Rediscover the Lost Art of Customer Service
Ask “WWAD?” and then apply these tips to patient and colleague interactions.
By Chelle Johnson, CPC, CPMA, CPCO, CPPM, CEMC, AAPC Fellow
The medical world is still an arena where, regardless of how much technology is available, face-to-face communication still dominates. As such, customer service is key. To provide excellent service, ask yourself: What Would AAPC Do? (WWAD?)
AAPC professionals pride ourselves on being the best at what we do — whether that is coding and billing, auditing and compliance, practice management, or one of the many other career opportunities in the business of healthcare. Being able to express our knowledge and expertise in a manner that opens the line of communication and understanding is a win-win. So when we ask, “What Would AAPC Do?” we are asking, how would the “best in the business” approach excellent customer service. Here are some tips.
Being calm in the face of an irate patient or an annoyed colleague can be intimidating. The ability to remain relaxed and focused will help to defuse a sticky situation. One way to do this is to depersonalize the situation. Rather than defending, explaining, justifying, or excusing a behavior or action, talk about the situation from a dissociated place. For example, “I understand there’s a concern about the service provided by this office at your last appointment, as it did not meet your needs. I would appreciate you sharing your thoughts, so I can address this issue now and for future patients.”
Often the patient or co-worker is venting and not upset with you personally. Remembering you’re the representative of your practice will help you to keep the situation in perspective. Active listening, such as taking notes and focusing on problem resolution, will help to keep everyone calm. Sometimes, just keeping in mind that you are not personally responsible for the other person’s frustration or anger helps to depersonalize the situation.
Convey Clear, Non-confrontational Communication
It’s not just what you say, but how you say it that puts you on the road to a successful conversation. Eliminate “you” comments such as, “You should have completed this form.” Using “you” comments automatically puts the other person in an argumentative position. Rephrasing your statement so it’s less confrontational will ruffle less feathers. For example, “It appears the form was not completed. I’m happy to assist with that now.”
Ask questions and listen fully to the answers before you reply. Using the 1-2-3 trick is a good option in these cases — mentally counting to three before replying allows for a calm and thoughtful response.
“Say what you mean. Mean what you say” is a time-honored phrase and still very true. Communicate the truth in all situations. Although hedging or telling “little white lies” can stave off an initial confrontation, it leads to mistrust in the long run. Be honest and convey the facts as clearly and concisely as possible.
Handle Surprises with Grace
Often during a conversation, we are surprised by some information communicated to us. Not getting rattled is essential for excellent customer service. Remain calm so you can accurately process the new information. Kneejerk responses and panicked answers are not helpful, and often need to be amended. It’s better to note the information and inform the other person that you’ll look in to the issue and then provide an appropriate response. They’ll appreciate one full, clear answer.
The ability to understand and share the feelings of another is a strong tool in customer service. The importance of empathy is conveyed perfectly in the 1991 movie “The Doctor,” in which an uncompassionate heart surgeon gets sick and becomes the patient. Seeing the medical world from the patient’s perspective was an eye opener for the surgeon in this movie, and ultimately changed the way he worked with his patients.
We’ve all been in a patient’s or co-worker’s position; applying sensitivity and being aware of how they are feeling is invaluable. The medical world is a confusing and scary place, and empathy can go a long way toward a successful encounter.
Consistency requires strong policies and procedures, and the ability to recall and apply these policies when interacting with patients. Nothing is more embarrassing for your staff than a patient receiving conflicting information from two different employees.
A well-trained staff, conveying the same information in the same positive and professional manner is a wonderful united front. Ensuring your policies are clear and your staff is well educated will go a long way in providing excellent customer service.
Manage Time Wisely
Adhering to good time management skills allows you to quickly research and resolve the concerns and issues of your customers. Show you have a well-oiled and organized office by using your time wisely and meeting all deadlines for patient communication. Poor time management gives the impression of an unorganized and incompetently run office.
Add a Little of You
The most unique talent you can bring to your communications is a little bit of you. Each of us has a unique personality. Our natural ability to represent the office in a professional competent manner is a great skill. Letting personality flavor your interactions with customers adds an extra special touch.
Add your personal touch by getting to know your patients and co-workers. Chat about things that interest them. Often, you’ll find common ground and interests. It’s easier to bridge situations that arise when you already have a friendly relationship built on common ground
Learn from Feedback
Getting immediate feedback allows you to address concerns before they escalate. Always ask if you have answered all a patient’s questions or concerns before moving on. Getting immediate feedback is a great learning tool and an excellent measure to determine if your communication was sufficient.
Learn from your mistakes. If you did not meet the customer’s needs this time, use it as an opportunity to change your approach for the next time.
Chelle Johnson, CPC, CPMA, CPCO, CPPM, CEMC, AAPC Fellow, has over 25 years’ experience in the medical field. She has worked on both sides of the aisle with work history covering the insurance carriers as well as the facility and providers. Johnson specializes in FQHC, family practice, public health, compliance, obstetrics/gynecology, and pediatrics. Her past 20 years has been with the County of Stanislaus Health Services Agency in Modesto, Calif. She is a member of the Modesto Calif., local chapter.