Loyalty Leader Quick Tips

Patient Loyalty Starts with Physicians

November 20, 2017

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Several years ago, the vice president of a large healthcare system called me and said, “We’re interested in hiring you to provide customer service training for the staff at all of our clinics.”

A week later, I met with members of the executive team to discuss the company’s training objectives. They described their goal of building patient loyalty in their outpatient clinics. They were ready to invest in a major training initiative to improve the customer service and communication skills of their clinical staff. I was excited about the prospect of acquiring a lucrative training contract with this prestigious firm.

Then I asked the forbidden question, “Will the physicians be required to attend?”

The group let out a collective gasp and the CEO quickly responded, “Oh, no. This is just for the nurses and support staff. The physicians would never agree to attend customer service training. They’re too busy.”

I replied, “But the training will only be effective if it’s a top-down initiative. Many physicians are weak in their customer service skills and it’s important for them to set the tone for building patient loyalty. They need to know how to treat their staff as their primary customers.”

The team was surprised when I told them I would need to decline the training contract unless the physicians were required to participate. I explained that I was concerned that employee morale would plummet if physicians were not held accountable for delivering the same quality of customer service required by the rest of the staff.

They said they would need to run it past their physician advisory committee for approval. They called back a week later and said that the physicians would be willing to go through my training if I could provide them with a shorter version of the workshop. I agreed, and, a few weeks later, the company offered me the training contract. I would be responsible for training all the clinical staff including the physicians.

Due to their hectic schedules, most of the workshops for the physicians were held during evening hours. To my delight and the amazement of the CEO, the majority of these individuals attended with an enthusiastic attitude and embraced the learning. They called it “Deb Schmidt’s Charm School.”

Many of the physicians admitted that they had not considered the impact of internal customer service on their own staff. They also did not realize how much their behavior toward their co-workers was a model for how the rest of the staff behaved toward the patients.

Consider the following:

  • Workplace attitudes are significantly affected by the way employees are treated by their bosses. Physicians need to recognize that their employees are their primary customers. Employees deserve and expect the same caring service that is given to the patients.
  • If employees are unhappy, you are probably losing patients as a result. On average, American companies lose half of their employees every four years and half of their customers every five years. This suggests that employee attrition may have a significant impact on patient loyalty.
  • One of the most important aspects of improving patient retention is a total commitment by the physicians to building patient loyalty. This commitment must be demonstrated daily at all levels of the organization for the employees to clearly observe.
  • Patient loyalty is the responsibility of everyone within the organization. In order to create a loyalty-focused culture, customer service training needs to start at the top.
  • Patient loyalty is earned by consistently exceeding patient and employee expectations through outstanding service. This level of service can be achieved only when physicians are held accountable for their internal customer service skills–in other words, for how they deal with their employees and co-workers.

I was buying a cup of coffee at Starbucks the other day when a gentleman approached me with a big smile and said, “I don’t know if you remember me. I was one of the physicians who attended your customer service training a few years back. I just wanted to let you know, I’m still smiling every day!”


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