Becky One went to lunch and apparently kept on going. Becky Two gossiped on her cell phone about her co-workers, while you waited at her desk for her to look up. Becky three was in training for a year and a half. Any time I had to approach the reception desk for any reason, I would repeat my mantra in my head, ‘It’s okay. She doesn’t touch your prescriptions or needles. She doesn’t touch your prescriptions or needles.’
Laughing Is Conceivable, Lori Shandle Fox1
Back in the roaring 1990’s I carried a bag and a Filofax, of course for the pharmaceutical industry. Every day, early in the morning I set out in my Vauxhall Cavalier into the grey mists of East Kent in the UK. My mission was to gain face-to-face meetings with a minimum of four doctors.
The main obstacle in this mission were the clinic receptionists.
Her aim, it was always a her back then was very simple. To separate people into two categories:
- those people with appointments
- those sub-humans without appointments.
As a salesman without an appointment I fitted into the latter category! Thus, I couldn’t see the doctor. But I was no different from any of the patients who also didn’t have appointments. They had to prove their credentials to the receptionist by discussing their ailments in public! The receptionist became some sort of de facto triage nurse in the public reception area of the clinic.
As for getting past receptionists in the UK in the 1990s, how did I do it? Easy: bribery. The boot of my car was filled with samples of medicated shampoo, hand-cream, baby oil and toothpaste. A handful of sachets would normally get me an appointment, just this once!
Patients can choose to go elsewhere
It’s possible to get away with this kind of behaviour when people don’t have a choice. But what happens when patients have choice and become in modern parlance clients? The answer is that they exercise that choice at the point of interaction and choose to go elsewhere.
A clinic may have the best outcomes, the best service and the best facilities. But how can a potential patient know this if they have already passed by and are talking to a competitor?
The problem for many clinics is that the importance of front of house communication is underrated. There are many reasons for this, but essentially, in the west it is probably cultural as my own UK example suggests. In my opinion, it is simply culturally underrated by clinics and the reasons are usually nothing more than excuses.
I spoke with a friend who advises US private hospital groups on customer communication. I wanted to know if it just about being nice on the phone?
The advised, “You have to remember, with regard to a fertility clinic, the caller might be making the most emotive call of their lives, equivalent to a 911 call. You have no idea what courage that call took. It might have taken no courage at all, or maybe it took a lot, maybe weeks or months of working around to it.”
Being an empath
This suggests that one of the primary attributes of a good front-of-house administrator has a high degree of emotional intelligence. They quickly assess the emotional tone of a patient and respond with empathy or at least with adult calm. So being nice on the phone all the time might not cut it here. A well-meaning and happy, but foolish and gushing conversation might be the last thing the patient needs.
It brings us to another aspect mentioned by my consultant friend, “Don’t forget. That specific number was called for a REASON. It was a choice made from some other numbers that were also offered. Same for emails or requests for information on a website. Something about that clinic caught the patient’s attention enough for them to make an enquiry. It could be anything but it’s the first hook.”
The first hook
The first hook in this case is the first insight into the mind of the patient. So, it is important to find out what it is. Even if the reason for the call was something like a recommendation from a friend. It says something about the caller, such as trust and reliability is something that they act on. It is perfectly valid to simply ask this question as part of the conversation. The question is flattering to the patient. It is an indirect compliment to their good taste and good sense.
Front-of-house team members are an essential part of the sales team. They are in a good position to gain prime information on the thinking of the caller. Then formal conversations with the clinic health care professionals take place.
My consultant friend said, “Remember, the front-of-house is the first HUMAN impression the potential patient will get of your clinic. The phone call is the handshake. That impression will be strong.”
This idea of questioning to gain information on the patient is not invasive or threatening to the patient. On the contrary, it is reassuring. This is because callers are often confused about what information they should volunteer and welcome guidance in the form of questioning. The skill in a good front-of-house administrator is:
- keep the questions light
- logically sequenced
- part of the conversation
Remember this is NOT a checklist!
It goes without saying that every call should have follow up actions that re-engage the caller.
The golden rules are:
- Always offer to send further information by email or post
- Arrange a follow up, a telephone call with a nurse or doctor, a formal appointment with a nurse or doctor, or an invitation to visit the clinic.
At the end of the call, a good front-of-house administrator will ask if there is anything else, they would like to know about. There may be questions which could, under some circumstances, be considered trivia, but they will be important to the caller. It is crucial to reassure them that their questions are important and that other patients often ask the same questions.
It’s about results
The idea of good front-of-house service is that the caller should feel that they are standing on the first stepping-stone of a metaphorical river crossing. Rather than standing on the bank and trying to decide, which stone to step on first!
At the end of the call they should be happy and relieved that they have taken the first step. They should now be looking forward to taking the next steps. They should be reassured that they are in good hands for the rest of their journey towards parenthood.
From the healthcare professional point of view, the relationship will also be easier to take forward. The patient should feel relaxed and confident that they have made the right choice of clinic.
- Lorry Shandle Fox. 2012. Laughter is conceivable. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/19520068-laughing-is-conceivable
Neil Madden, Editor
The Fertility Hub