Too often, we believe that making changes requires a dramatic shift in how we conduct our daily business. If we want to excel big, changes need to be made. This causes a problem because change is very difficult. Human beings are creatures of habit—we resist change (even when we know it is better for us).
However, I want to challenge this belief. It is not the big changes that make the most difference; the simple things make all the difference.
To quote Benjamin Franklin, “Watch your pennies and the dollars take care of themselves.” Translation: Focus on the little details.
There are three little things that I believe make a significant difference in our ability to provide excellent customer service to our patients.
1. Take the time to sit and listen to your patients.
Too often we do not listen. We may hear what our patients say (while we are anxiously awaiting our turn to speak), but we do not listen. Listening includes hearing the words, seeing the non-verbal cues, hearing the tone of the words spoken, and understanding the context. We can never try to remove ourselves from the cares and concerns of the patient, even if we believe they are “silly” or “irrelevant.” Listen with empathy; understand the patient’s perspective.
The second part of this is to sit. When you are working with your patients, take the time to sit with them. This is very powerful. It gives the perception to the patient that you are taking more time with them than when you stand (even if it is less time). A recent study conducted at the University of Kansas Hospital found that when the doctor sat in a patient’s room, 95 percent of patient comments were positive, and they felt that “the doctor took the time to sit and listen.” In contrast, when the doctor stood, only 61 percent of the patients had positive things to say. The prevailing thought from these patients was “I didn’t have time to ask the doctor any questions.”
The interesting part of this study is that the doctor actually spent more time with patients when he was standing (1 minute 44 seconds vs. 1 minute 4 seconds). However, the patient perception showed a significant difference of sitting vs. standing (perception was 3 minutes 44 seconds for standing vs. 5 minutes 14 seconds for sitting).
The point: Sitting sends the non-verbal communication to your patients that you care about them enough to take the time to sit and listen.
2. Say “thank you.”
Tell your patients (and co-workers) how much you appreciate them. Thank them for their business, for their commitment, and for providing support to you. You can never thank someone too often. People want to be appreciated.
3. Say “I’m sorry.”
Be accountable for your mistakes. This simple practice of apologizing for mistakes is no longer “in style.” However, failure to engage in this simple act can cost you patients and relationships with you staff.
A challenge: Consider your interaction with others. Pick one area that you feel can be improved. Focus on changing that one thing over the next month. You will be amazed at the difference this simple change will make.