It’s 2021…thank goodness! Of the many lessons learned during The Year Which Shall Not Be Named was that digital interaction is here to stay. And just like when you’re interacting with a patient in your practice, interactions online need to be heavy on the customer service and heavy on the responsiveness.
How quickly you need to respond to patient inquiries depends somewhat on the medium. Let’s cover them in order from how quickly you should be responding.
Your staff need to pick up the phone when it rings. Surprise! Now that we’ve heard from Captain Obvious, let’s unpack a bit more about phone call service and expectations. During business hours, you should have someone available who can answer even the toughest questions on the spot. None of this “we’ll have to get back to you” nonsense. And that includes lunch breaks. All day, whoever answers your phone needs to be a dynamo with excellent phone customer service who can provide real-time answers. After all, the customer took the time to dial your phone number – no small feat in 2021.
After hours, you may want to think about giving your call service more options for routing patient inquiries. It’s certainly a good idea to encourage callers to visit your site, but if you’ve implemented text or chat options (more on that below) you’ll want to make sure callers know those are available as well.
You may not currently offer an ability for new patients to engage with you over text, but it’s likely that someone in your front office is handling some scheduling and communication over text. Whatever your current workflow, text messages need to be prioritized right up there with phone calls. And if you aren’t offering a texting option for new patients, keep in mind that there are now many good HIPAA-compliant texting apps that would allow you and your staff to securely communicate over text. Tiger Connect and OhMD are two good options.
Website chat (the little window that pops up at the bottom of your smartphone or computer monitor) is growing substantially in popularity, especially for your younger patients. Phone and email are tried and true methods of contact, but Gen Z and Millennial consumers indicate higher use and preference for chat. But it’s not just “the youth” who want to chat with you – according to Forrester Research, about half of all customers rank chat in their top three preferred methods of communication with a brand.
If you do decide to add chat as a service offering in 2021, you need to be strategic. A chatbot can provide instant answers to a set of pre-programmed questions, but be careful. A chatbot that isn’t actually helpful and doesn’t correctly answer a customer’s questions will leave a bad taste. On the flip side, if you want to staff your chat with front office folks during business hours, be careful there too. You don’t want your staff spending too much time tied to their computers and answering what can often feel like “pesky” questions. But they also can’t just log in once a day and respond – communication needs to be much more expedient than that.
Contrary to what some practices still think, social media is not just some billboard where you dump your latest marketing message. It’s all about conversation and engagement. Our clients who have built loyal and large social followings have done it by posting lots of relevant content and then engaging in the conversations that content creates. We get that it takes time, and hanging out on social media is not top of list for most doctors’ use of free time. As we’ve said before, identify the person who lives and breathes social media in your office and develop a plan for how to use their time productively to offer timely insights and responses on social platforms.
If a patient emails your office, it’s just not OK to let that lead sit for more than an hour, if it comes in during business hours. And honestly, that’s the outer bound of when you should be engaging. Even if it will take some time for your staff to formulate a response, it’s an excellent idea to write back immediately (not just set an autoresponder) with a detailed, personalized message that the inquiry is being worked on.
A quick response on email gives you an enormously higher chance of meeting that customer’s expectations and winning their business. You know what also helps? Setting up a system to follow up with each and every inquiry. Many of our clients say they are simply too busy to follow up with leads that go cold. That’s fine, if you’re not a fan of money. We are, and if you are looking to grow your business and maintain a top reputation in your market, lead nurturing is critical. Yes, you will always have some tire kickers. But you may be surprised how many more consultations and bookings you can achieve by being determined and following up even when an inquiry seems like it’s hit a dead end.
Speed Matters…And So Does Convenience
About half of the respondents to the Forrester Research Report we mentioned above indicated that their two most critical aspects of communicating with a business are quick responses and offering communication in a preferred channel.
This year, it’s not just about making sure you have a pro on the phones, or sharpening up your email inquiry management system. It’s about looking at all the ways potential patients might want to get in touch, and providing excellent and speedy service no matter how they reach out.