Practice Management: An Inside View

Mystery shopping is a valuable tool for enhancing sales and improving patient satisfaction. Here’s what it entails.

An Inside View

One of the most effective ways to truly understand how patients and prospective patients see your practice is through the eyes of a mystery shopper: someone who will measure and evaluate the overall customer experience at a practice. The ideal mystery shopper is an individual who not only understands how a practice is supposed to work, but also how a typical patient will see the practice during the intake and treatment process. The most valuable feedback will come from a shopper who represents the kind of person you would like to have as a patient.

We have been providing mystery shopping services for many years; in that time we have learned quite a bit about how to use these professionals most effectively, and where cosmetic and medical aesthetic practices are falling short.

In this article, we will offer guidance on how to work with mystery shoppers and highlight some of the most common problems encountered at aesthetic practices.

What Mystery Shoppers Evaluate

  • Practice website: Does it invite new patients to call for an appointment?
  • Receptionist: Does the initial phone call result in the caller scheduling an appointment?
  • Location and signage: Is the office easy to find and welcoming to a first-time prospect?
  • Front desk staff: Does staff make the patient feel welcome and important?
  • Registration forms: Are the forms branded, simple to complete and nonrepetitive?
  • The consult: Does the patient feel comfortable, and does the consult lead to a procedure booking?
  • The sales close: Does the patient feel comfortable, and was the physician and/or staff member effective in dealing with objections and securing a booking?
  • The consult follow-up: Does the practice follow up with prospective patients, and is this done in a manner that makes the shopper want to return?
  • Overall impressions: Is the shopper impressed with the overall customer experience?
  • What Mystery Shoppers Find

    While most physicians hope to hear that they and their staff are doing everything right, there are always areas that could improve—and usually, there are areas that demand immediate action. Following are some of the issues we have identified while conducting hundreds of mystery shops.

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    Reception Staff: Following the initial phone call and appointment booking, the front desk receptionist should know the prospective patient’s name, identify her when she arrives and make her feel welcome. Typical problems include:

    • Ignoring the patient or failing to greet her enthusiastically;
    • Not offering a light refreshment, such as coffee or bottled water;
    • Carrying on personal discussions with other staff within earshot of the patient;
    • Not answering questions or deferring those questions to the doctor or other staff members.

    Intake Forms: A surprising number of practice intake forms are neither patient-friendly nor effective as marketing tools. To save time, these forms should be emailed in advance or downloaded from the website. Problems to look out for include:

    • Poor quality because they are copies of copies instead of original documents;
    • Poor branding, meaning they don’t contain the practice’s name or logo on each page (or even each document);
    • Poorly thought-out questions, including pointless or intrusive questions that do not encourage patient confidence. For example, we have seen questions about marital status and religious preference—patients concerned about privacy will not find this encouraging;
    • Redundancy: With the multiplicity of forms, many of the same questions are asked numerous times, and that’s sure to annoy patients.

    Patient Education Materials: While waiting to see the doctor, educational content—either in print or on video—is often offered to both entertain the waiting patient and answer questions that will speed the consult. Typical problems with these materials include:

    • Poor execution: They don’t look professional or they include only generic information from manufacturers with no practice brand or logo;
    • Off focus: They don’t offer information that is pertinent to the prospective patient;
    • Too technical: Instead of focusing on the desired end result, they focus on the technology and the procedure, which can be intimidating—especially for squeamish patients.

    Office Consult: This is where the rubber meets the road. Following the consult, prospective patients either book a treatment or set out to find a more appropriate physician. Typical problems identified in physician consults include:

    • Poor listening skills: The doctor doesn’t listen to the patient, establish rapport or appear to care about the patient’s needs;
    • Feeling rushed: The patient feels that the doctor may be juggling too many appointments in too little time and is rushing the consult;
    • Not asking about concerns: The doctor doesn’t ask about the patient’s concerns or desired end result. Instead, the physician imposes his or her expectations based on an eyeball evaluation;
    • Too technical: The doctor’s explanations are too clinical, and the patient doesn’t really understand what she is being told.

    Sales Close: After a consult, the doctor typically turns the patient over to the practice coordinator or another designated staff member who will discuss financing and scheduling, and answer final questions before booking the procedure. Common problems with the close include:

    • Too aggressive: The patient feels that the staff member just wants to close the booking rather than accommodate her individual needs and concerns;
    • Lack of empathy and sensitivity: This is “old hat” to the closer and not a (possibly frightened) individual’s first experience with plastic surgery.

    These are some of the most common shortcomings uncovered at medical aesthetic practices, and they are easy to address through advanced staff training or a simple redesign of forms or office decor. By seeing yourself as your prospective patients see you, you will be able to make the changes needed to make patients feel more confident in your skills and more likely to sign on the dotted line.

    Cheryl Whitman is the CEO of Beautiful Forever, a national aesthetic business consulting firm that helps physicians develop new profit centers for practice growth. Contact her at cheryl@beautifulforever.com.

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