Succeeding in Customer Service

Succeeding in Customer Service

 

In your opinion as a practitioner, at what point during a patient’s appointment do your duties stop? Though many may think it’s as soon as they put down the syringe, you are really providing care and earning your fees right up until the patient walks out the door (in addition to any follow-up contact, of course).

Let me explain with an example: I have a dear colleague who is incredibly skilled, with more anatomical knowledge than most in the industry. She impresses me every day with her mastery of aesthetics. Nevertheless, she was with me in-clinic one day and observed me walking my patient out to reception, chatting with her while my front desk staff checked her out and booked her review, and finally handing her a sample pot of face cream. The patient, who had been particularly nervous during her treatment, left feeling completely and utterly cared for. In that extra three minutes I spent with her, she had the opportunity to ask any last-minute questions and have a bit of a friendly, non-aesthetics related chat.

What happened in that moment is that a bit more balance was created between patient and practitioner. Instead of feeling like a patient on a conveyor belt, she felt she was the only patient we had that day (when in fact, she was one of 23!). When she left, my colleague turned to me and said “THAT is why people come here. That’s what people pay you for and that’s why they choose you.” Even though the patient had a safe and successful treatment, she later fed back that she expects my skill and expertise, but is always delighted and comforted by how she is made to feel safe and valued.

What I see a lot of in this industry is that when practitioners move over from the NHS, they have experience in patient care and advocation, but don’t understand how different this is from customer service skills. I see new practitioners struggling to grow their practices because of this, and more experienced practitioners missing out on great reviews and increased growth by incorrectly assuming their front-of-house team should handle all the ‘fluff’. On the contrary, when you leave the NHS to enter aesthetics, you still should have your medical hat on, but you have moved over into a service industry as well.

So, let me give you four ideas for how to improve your customer service.

  1. Consider their wants and needs

To stand out as a practitioner, you have to offer a full-service experience. This means going beyond meeting the patient’s clinical needs – you must consider their other wants and needs as well. For example, are they having a bad day and need to be listened to? Do you need to spend a bit of extra time in the consultation to ensure they feel heard? Do you need to have someone hold their hand to help manage their anxiety about needles? Maybe you need to make extra time for numbing cream even though you know they could manage injections without pain relief.

Let me illustrate the power behind this: a new patient came to see me recently who I seemed to recognise. It transpired that she was a model during a training day many years ago, and I was the nurse who held her hand through her anxiety. She remembered this moment, a small gesture from me but a powerful impact on her.

Consider their wants – do they want a cup of tea or a collagen drink while they’re in the waiting room? Would they like a blanket over them while receiving a microneedling treatment? Do they want to try a sample of a product before they buy it?

All of these examples are ways you could look out for your patients beyond meeting their clinical needs, simply by making the time and effort to do so. Every patient has individual needs – I read their body language, and ask questions such as, ‘What are your concerns? Are you anxious about anything? What would be the one priority I could give you today to settle your mind?’ 

I pause and actively listen to my patient without interruption. This allows me to recognise their requirements and create a tailored, bespoke experience. This effort will pay dividends! Yes, it could result in spending more time on each patient (though I think you can provide this level of extra service whilst being efficient at the same time), but it will pay for itself in patient loyalty, referrals and patients’ trust in you to administer additional services or products. 

Due to this extra care I deliver to my patients, they have continued to return for the last 20 years and have happily gone on to recommend me to friends and extended family. Any well-trained practitioner can meet a patient’s clinical needs. It’s only when you go above and beyond that you really gain a patient’s loyalty.

  1. Address the little touches they don’t even know they want

One thing I’ve found again and again in my 20 years of clinic ownership is that providing the unexpected goes a long way. Popping a little sample into the bag of skincare they just purchased, setting up your clinic system to send them a nice message on their birthday, sending an unexpected bouquet of flowers or annual holiday gift to your most loyal patients – these are the things that will take your clinic the extra mile.

My patients know how busy I am and how full my clinic is, but I still do these extra little things that only take 30 seconds, and the patients then leave the clinic feeling even more valued. As a busy practitioner, I may not feel I have 30 seconds, but I do. We never think we have time, but we need to make time, and it’s imperative for your clinic team to have the same ethos and priorities when it comes to interacting with your patients.

The patient’s experience continues with every interaction and is a shared journey throughout your clinic, irrespective of who they are having contact with. Whether it is yourself or a member of your team, your patients deserve 100% undivided attention. Going forwards this is what your patients appreciate and recognise, and what will result in recommendations and referrals. The biggest compliment I’ve been given in my career is, “I’ve seen your journey and that you’ve really grown, but you haven’t changed. You’re still Julie, and I always get the same Julie when I visit for my treatments.”

So, no matter how busy you get, make an effort to not lose focus, and still prioritise the little things for your patients.

  1. Learn how to say no

I’ve already mentioned how customer service is entirely different to patient care. This is important to understand, because it can be the difference between gaining and losing a patient time and time again. Let’s look at an example for this one: imagine a patient comes to see you seeking a lip augmentation. In this case, it is a female patient seeking more volume. However, in your opinion, her lips are already overfilled and distorted.

Active listening is crucial. Your patients may come armed with an array of research and a particular treatment in mind. Even when you feel this may not be the most appropriate course of treatment, allow them to express their thoughts. Then go on to use empathetic language, mirroring their concern and demonstrating that you have heard and understood them. Do not diminish their thought process, but gently guide them to a more clinically indicated path.

An example of poor customer service would be dismissing the patient. Even though it is in her best interest for you to refuse treatment, you must carefully consider how you convey it. You may think it’s best to say things along the lines of, “Your lips are too full. If I put any more filler in, it would look even more strange. I’m not putting any more product in and, I need to dissolve your filler.” Although clinically this may be the most indicated course of action, if you’re explaining the situation in this way to patients, you’re not offering a five-star service. You’re putting the patient down and making them feel bad about their past choices and appearance.

Instead, try approaching the situation by sitting with the patient. Explore the patient’s ‘before’ photos with her. Educate gingerly about expected proportions but avoid using words like ‘strange’ or ‘normal’. Instead, say something along the lines of, “Your features aren’t in harmony right now, but I know you want them to be, and we can bring harmony and balance to the proportions of your face.” Don’t force your own ideas of how the patient should look on them, but instead, you can ask questions such as, “Shall we take a step back and look at where we started, to where we are now, gain some clarity to enable us to plan how we move forward?”

This requires real delicacy and is a skill I struggled with in the beginning of my practice. However, I learned over the years that it helps to ask questions with the patient at the centre rather than just telling them your thoughts. Another way to think of this is to ask leading questions and get the patient to give you the answers. You don’t want them to feel attacked – you want them to feel listened, supported and in safe hands. Therefore, if you can find a way to say no and protect their best interests, without making them feel like they’ve been rejected or denied, you are on the path to providing excellent customer service.

  1. Listen. Really listen.

Did you know that on average, practitioners only let their patients speak for a median of 11 seconds before interrupting? The simplest (but most important) way to improve your customer service is to listen. Allow your patient to be heard and take the time to communicate effectively with them. What you want is for your patient to say that when they’re with you, it’s like they are the most important person in the world. Start with questions such as, ‘What concerns do you have?’, ‘What would you perhaps like to improve? This is your time’. Listening without interrupting, not appearing distracted and maintaining eye contact are all ways to improve your communication, and thus, your customer service.

The length of time you allocate to your consultations will be very personal. However, having carried out consultations for more than 20 years, I believe that any less than 45-60 minutes would not be beneficial to you or your patient.

Consultation is a mutual investment, one of which I charge for. I am obtaining valuable information and imparting my knowledge, guidance, direction, care and expertise. Consulting effectively is a skill, no less or more than the treatments I offer, therefore I ensure that the patient receives ultimate value during our first interaction.

Boost patient satisfaction

Whether you’re new to
aesthetics or whether you’ve been in the industry a long time, we all stand to be reminded of the importance of customer service – the ‘little’ things, the extras and effective and gentle communication. This is because our customer service skills need to be impeccable in order to find real success in this industry. I’ll leave you with this quote by Mimi Novic: “How you make others feel about themselves says a lot about you.”

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