I was presenting at a healthcare conference on the importance of managing your in-clinic experience. In the Q&A session an attendee asked, “How important is hiring versus training? If you have a front-office person who isn’t that friendly, how can you teach her to be nicer?”
It’s a great question, and one that isn’t asked nearly often enough. The front desk is critical to establishing trust in your clinic. New patients really have no idea as to how effective the clinician is. Sure, they can see the diplomas on the wall. But it’s the office – and particularly the friendliness of the front-office personnel – who help the patient decide whether or not to trust their provider.
(There’s an old joke out there. What do they call the student at the bottom of the graduating class at Harvard Medical School? Doctor.)
The front office staff provides that assurance that new patients made the right choice. A brusque person – even if he or she is really good in other parts of the business – destroys this confidence. A clinic’s perceived abilities rise or fall depending on that front-desk person. Which is why they’re sometimes called “Director of First Impressions.”
My answer was clear. You can’t teach people to care. Participants chimed in with stories about their best front-desk people – and their worst. One told me of how he spent a year trying to make an inherited receptionist friendly, until he finally had to let her go. “She would do well on good days. But then she’d have a bad day, and would go right back to being rude. Then she’d tell me, ‘I was just kidding.’ I finally had to separate her from employment, and it was really hard.”
It is hard. But it’s also really important to have customer-facing staff who enjoy facing customers.
Others talked about how receptionists couldn’t bear to leave “her” patients to go to a new office, or front office staff who knew their patients better than the provider did.
You necessarily have to fire people who aren’t friendly. Perhaps you have back-office work that they can do. But you can’t teach friendliness. And trying to do it is only going to annoy you, your employee, and your customers.