Great greetings: Master keys to making a good first impression

November 1, 2008

First impressions have a strong influence on our perceptions and, ultimately, our loyalty to a service, a company or a physician.

Key Points

First impressions have a strong influence on our perceptions and, ultimately, our loyalty to a service, a company or a physician.

Dermatology practices do better than most specialties at avoiding these basic service failures, but growing your practice and retaining patients in these troubled economic times will require you to deliver above-average service, and to do so consistently.

From the initial phone call to the scheduling of a procedure, patients make judgments about your practice. These interactions can be called "moments of truth." Focus on your patients' moments of truth so you can enhance service levels and make the best first impression.

Hire the right staff. Historically, practices have focused on finding employees with the most relevant experience. Although it's nice to know that your new employee previously worked at a dermatology practice or is trained on your practice management system, that's all worthless if she doesn't know how to smile!

Hire for "fit." Practices with a culture that promotes service rely on people who believe in and can deliver high-quality service.

Emphasize professionalism. Use training and examples to reinforce the importance of professionalism to your staff, as well as to other providers.

Choose uniforms that reflect a positive and professional image; ensure that your Web site, brochures and written materials convey the same.

Keep your facility uncluttered. Seeing work areas piled high with papers, files, messages, and other clutter tells patients that you're slow and disorganized.

Professionalism means more than just creating a positive impression; it's truly having a sense of the responsibility to be the patients' advocate on even the smallest details, such as getting the right form filled out or making them feel welcome in the practice.

Telephone etiquette

Answer the phone. Most dermatologists recognize the value of a well-maintained building, an appealing reception area and an accommodating reception staff.

However, the patient's first moment of truth often occurs over the telephone, when they schedule an appointment. Patients want a personalized experience from their dermatologist. Meet that expectation starting with the first contact, by assigning a receptionist, not a computer, to answer all incoming calls.

Establish accommodating telephone hours and, by all means, don't turn your phones off at lunch. Institute and comply with a response time for replying to patients' telephone and e-mail inquiries.

If you target a two-hour response, make sure patients understand that while you may not always have the answer within two hours, you or a member of your staff will call them with an update. Not only will it demonstrate your attentiveness, it will likely halt a repeat call from the patient, which only means more work for your practice.

Online presence

Upgrade your online presence. Many patients locate their dermatologists by searching the Internet, so make sure your Web site creates the best impression. Invest in a Web site that works well and doesn't look amateur.

In addition to functioning for marketing purposes, consider offering a Web portal to patients so they can schedule appointments, find patient education, make payments, or e-mail your business office with questions about billing statements.