The secrets to transforming your practice’s approach to customer feedback… forever

Guest Blogger Stainthorpe

The beneficial effects of customer feedback to any practice are indisputable. Good feedback has a great effect on morale and helps owners sleep at night knowing their patients will be returning. Bad feedback is an invaluable way to spot and fix problems.

But it’s hard to know where to start. For something so simple (ask your patients a question, get an answer, act on the answer if needed), a lot of people try to make it complicated. Here’s the minimum you need to know to be successful – it isn’t much, and you can put it into practice today!

When is the right time to ask for feedback?

The most common mistake any business makes when starting a customer feedback program is picking the wrong time to ask for feedback. Quarterly surveys? Annual surveys? Random samples? There’s only one right answer to this question, and it’s simple:

 

Ask every patient how they found your service immediately after you treat them, every time you treat them.

 

If you only carry out periodic surveys, you run the risk of discovering problems months after they occurred, and being unable to fix them. This is a very easy way to lose patients!

 

Don’t try to carry out random samples – you have the luxury of operating a business small enough to care about every customer, so make sure you make the most of that luxury. And make sure you do so close to the moment of treatment – asking a week later is no good:

 

  • If the feedback is good, the patient is at ‘peak happiness’ – they’re pleased with the service you gave, AND it’s in their recent memory. This is a great time to offer them additional services that you may provide.
  • If the feedback is bad, you may be unable to fix any issues raised. Same problem as ‘annual surveys’
  • The patient will be less engaged with you as the memory of their treatment has faded. This leads to lower response rates which may cause you to miss out on valuable feedback.

So, don’t wait. Ask each patient for feedback as soon as possible after any appointment.

What’s the best way to ask for feedback?

As you might guess from the previous section, collecting feedback at all is more important than the way you collect it. However, these tips will make your life easier:

  • A paper-based system can work fine for gathering feedback, but it has big drawbacks for the administrative side of things. It’s all too easy for pieces of paper to get lost or ignored, which can have massively harmful effects when you receive negative feedback: The only thing worse than not being asked for feedback is being asked, complaining, and being ignored!
  • Because of the drawbacks of paper, we recommend using customer feedback software, to make sure that not only do you collect feedback, you act on it. With a software-based solution, you can be flexible in how you ask patients, but we have seen two approaches work well:
    • In-practice: A couple of iPads in reception, each with your customer survey ready to be filled in. Your reception staff can encourage patients to leave feedback as they check out. This is great for a lower volume of patients, or if you haven’t worked to capture your patients’ email addresses yet. Just remember to buy iPad stands and holders which you can easily clean!
    • Via email: If you have the email address of the majority of your patients, and your practice management software can send out automated emails, then simply set it up to send a link to your survey to each customer after every appointment. Even if your practice management software can’t do this, it should take a member of your team no more than 15 minutes at the end of a day to gather the emails of all the patients for that day and send them a polite email asking for feedback.

What should you ask?

It’s most important to ask questions that patients care about answering. There’s a time and place for market research and this is not it. Just ask simple questions such as “How satisfied were you with the treatment you received”, and “how well did we explain things to you”? These take no time to answer and give you valuable pointers on where your strengths and weaknesses are.

There’s no need to over-complicate things. It’s tempting to break things down into sections, sub-sections and sub-sub-sections, but when you do that, you tend to align the survey more with your needs than your patients’. Stick to a handful of simple questions, and provide a text area for people to discuss any concerns (or give praise) at greater length.

To keep things fresh for you and your team, make sure you rotate the questions when they stop adding value to your business. You’ll have some key measures which you don’t want to tamper with, such as “How would you rate the quality of our treatment”, but you can shift focus between secondary topics such as “How would you rate our reception area” or “how suitable are our range of payment options” as soon as most feedback for a topic becomes positive and you stop finding items to improve.

Now that you’re an expert…

Don’t delay. You can start collecting (and acting on) feedback today and maybe save a patient who was considering leaving you, or find out something you didn’t know about your practice. It’s quick and simple, and will permanently transform your practice for the better.

 

Author’s Bio

Chris Stainthorpe is a member of the team behind CustomerSure – software that makes it very quick and very easy to gather and act on customer feedback. We also publish hints, tips and business improvement advice on our blog at www.customersure.com/blog/. Chris would love to talk to you about how your practice currently manages feedback and help you figure out how to improve it. Let him know what you’re up to at: chris.stainthorpe@customersure.com

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Please note that I can no longer answer questions from the public regarding their personal dental care. I am unable to properly diagnose or recommend treatment over the Internet. If you are looking for a dentist, please visit the "Find A Dentist" feature on healthysmiles.org