A number of physician practices across the county are still reeling in shock over the double-barrel hit the present economy has delivered them. Bad economic times in the past have hurt pension and 401(k) accounts—sometimes severely. But the recent recession, in experts’ collective memory, was the first to seriously curtail operational revenue.
Too many practice leaders, faced with such a challenge for the first time, have “circled the wagons” and hunkered down to endure the assault. But a “take cover” approach yields draconian cutting of staff costs, curtailing advertising, cutting back on “those little extras” that keep patients and referral sources happy, and potentially restricting productivity, quality, and excellent service—NOT the best way to protect a dwindling revenue stream!
Here are some suggestions to provide some great strategies for every service-oriented company in America. That includes medical practices—in fact “service” is your only product. But before reviewing the strategies, consider questions like these:
- Is protecting your (the physicians’) income in the short term your highest priority? What effect will your cost-cutting measures have on your practice three, six, and 12 months from now?
- Can you afford to concede new revenue sources—even those requiring capital investment—to your competition?
- If cost-cutting results in providing inferior customer service to already-reluctant patients and referrers, won’t that push them further away? You can probably think of similar question that pertain directly to your situation. The overall theme? Look at the big picture—especially when dealing with a temporary setback. And believe it or not, the present economic valley is temporary.
- Invest in workforce training. If you have decided to reduce staff (or not replace departing staff), make sure that the remaining employees have the training and tools they need to keep customer service at the highest levels.
- Spoil the survivors. Workers who feel insecure and neglected do not provide top-notch service. If they suspect your loyalty to them, how can they demonstrate loyalty to you? Avoid cutting benefits. Invent some new perks for them like flex schedules, a surprise “lunch on us,” or a meaningful performance recognition program.
- Invest in cost-effective technology. It might surprise you to see how little it would cost to up-grade your phone system to improve response times to callers and manage messages. Think of ways to add customer-service features to your Web site. How about putting self-service computer kiosks in the waiting area so patients can input their own registration and history answers?
- Baby your best customers. This is no time to take your loyal referrers for granted. Impress referring physicians with a personal visit by your doctors, bringing a token of your appreciation. Have you been thinking about improving your follow-up reports? Now’s the time to do it. And what about your “star” patients? Do you ever tell them thanks for recommending you to their family and friends? How about giving them a little something extra, like a gift with your logo on it? Can you think of any VIP services you can offer to select patients? Think creatively.