Thursday, October 29, 2009

Consultants, Consultants, Consultants Everywhere!

These days you are liable to run into consultants everywhere. In fact, I recently visited an office and the office manager's response to my introduction was "Been there, done that." Upon inquiring to her response, she explained they had used a consultant in the past and were not happy.

I do not want to debate whether or not her prior consulting experience was good or bad, but consultants are like others in the workforce. There are good ones and bad ones. A fundamental skill for a good consultant is their ability to listen and to distinguish the salient points of the discovery process. Often times business owners tell a long story of their perceived issue; it is the consultant's role to assist the business owner in separating the true issue from extraneous supportive arguments.

Finding a good consultant for your business is not necessarily the easiest thing to do. Consultants come with diverse backgrounds and experience. Consultants very often specialize in one business area or another, e.g., human resources or financials.

I have used consultant myself. My preference is to find a local consultant; someone who is available when I need them, not when is is convenient for the consultant. Also, beware of the consultant with motives other than you best interest at heart. Look for a true professional consultant without biases. I understand that large corporations have started to offer consulting services. These services are often "free," but we all know there is no "free" lunch. There is always a string attached.

Consider hiring a fee for service consultant. In most cases you will be pleased you did and your bottom line will show it.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I Just Had to Write About It

I had a meeting scheduled today with a client and while waiting, I overheard the receptionist/business manager tell a vendor, "Well, Dr. X can't see you today, he's too busy!" While the physician may be running late in the schedule, it struck me odd that the vendor was the recipient of the front of waiting patients no less. I asked this person, "What gives?" Her response was, "Well, he's just a salesman!" Her response to me makes me wonder two things:

  • Where does customer service begin and end? Is customer service excellence reserved only for paying customers and not for other business contacts with the ability to refer new business to the practice, and
  • Is this the response the physician would expect of his/her receptionist? I suspect not.

Most medical practices provide good customer service, but too often, they overlook the referral opportunities that happen nearly every day. Think about it, vendors and sales people live and work in your community. Why would you ever choose to treat them so curtly and with little respect? Believe it or not, medical salespeople are always asked for a referral by a family member or friend, and believe me, they do make recommendations to these acquaintances.

There are times that salespeople come to your office when you simply do not have time to see them. That is understandable. Extending solid customer service to salespeople and other vendors is not that hard. In fact, it's simple. A smile and kind word, a simple explanation of the day's circumstances is all any vendor needs. Demonstrating the courtesy they deserve is no more than what we would expect. Extending your customer service efforts to paying customers and other business contacts is just good business.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Office Efficiency

This week a client asked me, "Robert, just how do you make an office more efficient?" Well the answer is my favorite answer, "It depends." That sound like a flippant answer, but it is so true.

Every medical practice operates in differently and, thus, recommendations to improve one office's efficiency differ from the next. The most common cause of inefficiency and area to improve is the physician's patient schedule.

First, is the physician's scheduled based on seeing a given number of patients per hour? If so, you probably are not taking into consideration the reason for the patient visit. We all know that a new patient requires a bit more physician time and should therefore be schedule for a longer appointment. A general rule of thumb is have three distinct time slots for the schedule. For now let's call them brief, intermediate and long time slots. By establishing this type of schedule, you can better take advantage of the physician's time while respecting the patient wait time.

There is a catch. Implementing a variable time schedule requires training for your schedulers. It becomes their responsibility to properly triage patients as they schedule the appointment. Some of you may be thinking, "this is impossible," but believe me, with proper development and training; your staff can become quite adept at properly scheduling patients in the proper time slot.

Secondly, I am a big believer in arranging the schedule with two "brief" appoints at the top of each hour in any given clinic session. This is particularly important for the first appointments at the start of the day and first appointments after lunch. Having these brief appoints at these times aides the staff in getting into the swing of that session.

Thirdly, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER schedule two "long" appointments back-to-back. This is usually a recipe of behind in the overall clinic session. Instead, to the extent possible, limit "long" appointments to only one per given clinic hour.

Depending on the physician capacity, your staff's capacity and the physical layout of your office, there are scheduling templates available to assist you in getting started with this strategy. Implementing a variable time slot appointment schedule can go a long way into improving your productivity. This in turn is beneficial to your patients and your bottom line.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Tale of Two Businesses

Last week, two business demonstrated the best and the worst in customer service.

In the first experience, I was leaving a client's office and managed to get about 200 yards down the road before the fan belt on my car went...somewhere. Realizing I had lost the air conditioning and power steering, I made my way to the closest auto repair shop. The mechanic diagnosed the problem as actually being a broken serpentine belt idler pulley. In any case, I was stuck. I was advised that it would only take about 1 hour repair, but they had to order the parts. By now, I am not only counting how much this is going to cost, but also how I was going to reschedule the afternoon's appointments and potential loss of business. Much to my surprise and delight, the repair to my car was completed in a mere 35 minutes.

The second experience was a visit to a physician's office. In this case, I had never met this doctor, but was hoping to simply introduce myself and my services. What occurred next is almost inexplicable to me. The office manager greeted me with such a curt tone it verged on being rude. Now, I have been in sales for many years and can accept rejection, but this was beyond anything I have ever experienced. But, it got me to thinking. Perhaps the person was simply having a bad day; but is that an excuse? I suggest not. Businesses, including medical practices, need to know that your staff IS the public face of your business or practice.

So the question is this, "Which business are you more likely to recommend to friends and family?" The business that under promises and over delivers (the auto shop), or, the practice where the staff demonstrate near-rude behavior?

Now you are thinking, well, in the first case you were a customer spending money. In the second case, you were a vendor selling something. That is true, but does it really matter? Again, I suggest it does not. In the first experience, as a customer, I will recommend that auto repair shop. In the second experience, as the vendor, I will not. Clearly, had the auto repair shop done a poor job that took too long and was too expensive, how could I recommend them to a friend? Likewise, though a vendor, how could you recommend the medical practice?

We all need to remember, that most of us live and work in our communities. Our businesses are forever linked to the people, customers or vendors, which visit our offices. It is important to treat everyone as a potential customer, or, can provide the referral for future customers.