On May 12, 2020 – Phil M Jones presented a special workshop to front office staff and PCCs of “Inner Circle” members. He designed this to help them navigate difficult conversations, answer common questions, and schedule more patients. These are some of the key take-aways.
If you work at the front desk in a hearing care center, you are one of its most valuable assets. You are the heartbeat of the patient experience. You set the tone for the fantastic treatment. But this means you carry a lot of responsibility on your shoulders.
In the current climate, you’re probably managing high volumes of calls with different stakeholders. When you’re unsure of which words to use, these can be difficult and stressful. I’ve unpacked some common scenarios, so you know how to react when faced with them.
There are three ingredients that we should be adding to any conversations with patients. You’ll find these themes running through all the scenarios in this article.
You should approach every conversation with curiosity.
Right now, it’s important to be open and responsive to individual situations. We need people to unpack their unique circumstances, so we have clarity moving forward.
You should empathize with patients.
This means looking at the world through a patient’s eyes, even if it feels impossible. Once you start doing this, you have far more chance of influencing the outcome of your conversations.
You should have the courage to make a difference.
This is being bold enough to make one more phone call and finding the energy to ask a final question when someone’s about to hang up.
Scenario 1: patients are finding COVID-19 safety protocols irritating
“Many patients are feeling that our center’s new cleanliness measures are challenging their access to care. They’re annoyed that they can’t get appointments right away and don’t want to follow our new safety guidelines. What do I do?”
This is an issue about “expectation setting.” In conversations prior to an appointment, these are some key points to bring up with them:
- Let them know the bad news: “Government protocols mean we can only remain open if we follow guidelines laid out by the CDC. This means you’ll experience some differences.”
- Show them you’re doing everything you can despite this: “We’re offering all the services we did before. These have just been adjusted, so they meet new hygiene rules.”
- Finally, invite them to follow the new guidelines: “To protect our staff and other patients, are you okay to follow these new rules when you come in?”
This creates a verbal contract with the patient. They now understand the conditions they need to follow in order to still receive your excellent service.
Scenario 2: patients don’t want to spend due to COVID-19 uncertainty
“We live in a small town. A lot of people have trouble spending money in the first place. After COVID-19, people don’t want to come for appointments. A number of them have recently rescheduled for a few months out or have just called and cancel altogether. What do I do?”
If you sense someone is worried about the financial implications of a trip to your center, begin to unpack this concern with them. Then, have the courage to address this in the conversation.
- Let them know a visit doesn’t mean they have to spend: “When you come to see us, there’s no obligation for you to move forward with a treatment plan.”
- Next, tell them if they do spend, they have options: “We have various different levels of treatment, suitable for all sorts of circumstances.”
- Finally, put them at ease about your sales approach: “Please don’t think that you’re going to be pressurized into buying expensive hearing aids!”
This will make them feel far more comfortable about coming to the center and talking about their hearing problem with a specialist.
Scenario 3: you need a patient to pay the balance on their hearing aids
“As front of office staff, we’re sometimes in a position where we have to call up customers about payments they’ve failed to make on their hearing aids. This can be a challenging call to make. What do I do?”
In this scenario, you can often feel like the “bad guys.” However, the patient has broken the rules of the contract, so it’s their responsibility to change this situation.
- After introductions, bring up the outstanding balance via a question: “We have got this matter of a small balance. Did you want to pay that with a card over the phone?”
- If they ask to change the arrangement, you say: “You’ve actually already had a 16-day grace period.” Now they feel like they owe you something, not the other way around.
- Finally, you follow up with: “It’s important we get this balance settled now. The last thing I want is for your account to fall into our collections department as debt.”
This demonstrates that you’re on their side. But now, you’re going to require their compliance to change the situation. Without this, it’s out of your control.
Scenario 4: someone’s about to leave without making a purchase
“When a provider doesn’t reach an agreement with the patient, sometimes they will just walk out the door without making another booking. This means we have no way of contacting them in the future. What can I do?”
In this scenario, you should implement an “exit interview” strategy. This is where you use questions to change someone’s decision as they’re about to leave your premises.
- Start by asking the patient if they have “a couple of minutes to answer a few questions before they leave.” This will present you with an opportunity to open up a dialogue.
- Then, talk them through a simple micro-questionnaire. This will include the query: “Do you think you’ll move forward with a treatment plan like this in the future?”
- If they say yes, then you have an excuse to book them in for another appointment. You can then rapidly sign them up for a time that works for them.
Front of office staff are critical in this situation. They can turn a situation around that would have lost you a future patient.
The value of role playing
Some of the scenarios we’ve discussed in this article will come up regularly. The great thing about this is that you have the chance to practice your responses regularly.
This process is about phrasing gateway questions and shaping conversations. Once you combine curiosity, empathy, and courage, you can navigate any circumstances, no matter how difficult.