Your patients interact with your employees early and often. Make sure you hire the right people

Your receptionist wakes up one weekday morning, gets ready for work, and starts her car, only to hear a loud noise coming from the engine.

She shuts off the car and goes inside her house to call her husband. There is no dial tone on the phone, because her husband forgot to pay the phone bill. Then, while trying to figure out what to do next, she pets her dog and feels a rather large lump behind his ear.

With a morning that begins like that, you still expect her to greet each patient on the phone and in person with the demeanor of someone who has just won the lottery.

Is that possible, or is it an unrealistic expectation?

For the health of your practice, people with a “glass-half-full” attitude can bring you thousands of dollars in case conversions and referrals.

Why? Because—all other elements of two practices being equal, and sometimes when they are not so equal—your prospective patient will choose the practice that seems to care the most, the one whose staff appears to be truly interested in her well-being.

In his book One Customer, Divisible,1 Michael W. Lowenstein writes, “The quality of the relationship is what motivates customers to buy repeatedly over long periods of time. When the relationship is good, a special bond of loyalty develops between buyer and seller.”

In your world, your “customer” is your prospective or current patient. You are the seller, and she is the buyer.

What you need to do today may be a sea change for you and your practice. It may mean the adoption of some new procedures and attitudes, the benefits of which will be felt for years.

Each patient should be viewed not as a breast augmentation or rhinoplasty, but as five breast augmentations or five rhinoplasties. For if your patient is serviced correctly from the start, she will not only self-refer back into your practice for more procedures but will send her friends and family members to you, over and over again.

All because you seem like you care.

Your Staff Matters
Your staff plays a key role in developing your devoted fans. In a typical practice, the new patient will see three people on your staff before she sees you. That’s three chances to make or break a 10-procedure deal before you’ve even had a chance to say hello.

That’s a lot of power to give to people who often have no stake in the outcome other than being able to continue to work for you.

It may surprise you to know that very often what your staff is looking for from you is not more money or more benefits (although benefits are creeping up on the priority list), but more recognition and more job satisfaction.

Put another way, they want to hear from you that they are doing a good job and that they are making a difference in the success of the practice. Telling them either or both does not cost you a cent.

So where are these people? Where are these people who will work tirelessly and who demand as their reward only that you tell them that they are wonderful?

I’m sorry to have to tell you that that staff member does not exist. You can, however, start to build your practice with people who place a lower demand on the cost-driven benefits of working for you and who require a higher level of job satisfaction through verbal and other cues.

Robert Schieffer, author of Ten Key Customer Insights,2 has a classification guide for employee desires:

• The “work-oriented” employee places a higher value on work-environment factors and is willing to sacrifice many work-life elements.

• The “home-and-family” employee places a higher value on a stable work environment and places lesser value on compensation and cutting-edge work.

• The “reward-oriented” employee places a high value on compensation.

• The “work-to-live” employee wants it all—both high compensation and low levels of work and travel.

Using these classifications, you can assign positions in your practice that match the employee’s desires, and you can hire new people based on the requirements of a particular position.

Choose the Right Types
So who does what? Obviously, someone who values compensation—that is, the “reward-oriented” employee—should be in a position where he or she is able to drive revenue. For you, that may mean the position of an “image consultant,” someone who is largely responsible for converting prospective patients and who is incentivized to do so.

For your front office, the warm, friendly approach of someone who is “home-and-family”-oriented will let your prospective patient know that you are there to serve her and that improving your patient’s appearance through your skills is the most important thing you have to do that day.

There is an old saying: “Hire slow, fire fast.” It means that you should take the time to hire the right people. But if the person you hire is not the person you thought you interviewed, you should prepare to terminate the relationship immediately.

You cannot overstate the value of your staff or separate their behavior from the success of your practice. When your staff is in sync with your mission, there is no end to the rewards.

Steve Smith is vice president of marketing for Practice Builders, Santa Ana, Calif.

1. Lowenstein MW. One Customer, Divisible: Linking Customer Insight to Loyalty and Advocacy Behavior. Mason, Ohio: Texere/ Thomson; 2005.

2. Schieffer R. Ten Key Customer Insights—Unlocking the Mind of the Market. Mason, Ohio: Texere/Thomson; 2005.