Customer loyalty is regarded as a high priority—if not the ultimate priority—in industries where consumers have lots of choices. For example, in a company that sells luxury items, customers can easily choose not to purchase any, and in an industry where there’s lots of brand competition, customers can easily switch brands. In these niches, such as retail and B2B services, companies develop their customer service programs robustly—but many healthcare organizations don’t treat customer service or customer loyalty the same way.
Why? Because patients who need medical treatment don’t have much of a choice—they need treatment, and their options may be limited by their insurance programs, geographic locations, or access to resources. Despite this, customer loyalty is extremely important in healthcare organizations, and shouldn’t be underestimated in its power to improve organizations.
The Power of Customer Loyalty in Healthcare
These are just a few of the reasons why customer loyalty is so important in the healthcare field:
Most patients do have a choice. Despite some patients being limited by factors beyond their control, most patients do have a choice in their healthcare providers—and they’ll gladly drive out of town to find a better experience, if necessary.
Better customer experiences make everyone’s job easier. Customer satisfaction and loyalty leads to happier, more accommodating patients. This makes bad news easier to deliver, mix-ups and errors easier to understand, and a smoother experience for your organization overall.
Higher loyalty means more referrals. When a patient has a good experience, he/she is going to talk about it. That means more word-of-mouth referrals, which means more patients and a bigger impact on the community.
How to Improve Customer Loyalty
So with these benefits in mind, how can healthcare organizations work to provide a better overall customer experience?
Increase your commitment to privacy. For many patients, privacy is a major concern. Many healthcare topics, such as dealing with STDs or experiencing incontinence, are embarrassing, and if patients feel that embarrassment exacerbated, they may not return for treatment in the future. Handling these delicate medical topics, or even standard ones, with a greater degree of understanding and privacy will make your patients feel more comfortable and more respected in your organization. How can you achieve this? Be as patient and welcoming as possible with these topics, sympathize with your patients, and make sure your patients know about your commitment to your organization’s privacy policies.
Expedite the speed of service whenever possible. Some patients need faster treatment than others, and there’s only so much you can do to expedite your speed of service without compromising the quality of that service—for example, you only have so many staff members, and so many hours in the day. However, for the individual patient in a waiting room with uncertainty about his/her medical condition, these variables aren’t an immediate consideration. People want answers, and service, as quickly as possible, and if you work even slightly harder to provide this elevated speed of acknowledgment, your patients will be appreciative.
Develop and execute a social media strategy. Most of your patients will be using social media on a regular basis, and all-around, it’s a fantastic outlet for showing your personal side. Post regularly on social media, and encourage your patients to engage with your brand in some meaningful way. This is going to make your healthcare organization’s brand seem more personal, it’s going to help engage your customers in more places, it’s going to give you a chance to address patient complains proactively, and it may even help you get to know your patients better. Show off what you’re doing to improve patient care, and get your staff involved on a personal level.
Provide more information to your patients. Information and transparency can make any patient interaction more pleasant. If a patient feels like information is being withheld from them, they may become distrustful. If they feel confused by what they’ve been told, they may leave feeling neglected, or worse—they may not follow recommendations properly. Remember that most people aren’t medical experts, and won’t understand the technical or biological complexities of the situation—but that doesn’t mean they aren’t invested in knowing what’s going on with their bodies and minds. Work on your information delivery to improve service here.
Facilitate personal experiences. Across the board, patients want more personal experiences—that means they want to feel heard and seen as individuals, and they want to engage with other individuals on a personal level when discussing their problems. This is hard to accomplish, especially for large organizations with lots of staff members and countless appointments per day. However, it’s an ideal to strive for, and can make a positive difference in at least a portion of your patients’ lives. Look your patients in the eyes when talking to them, listen to what they have to say, and make sure everyone on your staff knows about the importance of these personal touches.
Customer loyalty should be a major consideration for all healthcare organizations—and it isn’t going away anytime soon. Developments in technology have depersonalized some elements of healthcare, and will likely continue to do so, but the most successful healthcare organizations of the future will be the ones that still prioritize the human patient experience.
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