Steve Eagon is the Director of In-Clinic success at Unitron. In his role, he works directly with clinics to directly help them improve their patient experience. Steve and Jim have co-presented at multiple conferences, so we asked him to explain his approach towards building an improved patient experience.
As someone who is very patient-focused in the hearing care industry, what do you see as the most import focus points in building more patient-focused experiences in hearing care?
Hearing care professionals have a ton of knowledge at their fingertips—they have a great deal of education and experience in the field, and know a lot about hearing care. This is a great thing—except when it leads them to overcomplicate matters when they communicate to the patient about their hearing care.
This is a common symptom of the biggest customer experience issue in the hearing care profession today: hearing care professionals do what they think is best without looking through the patients’ eyes to really see their point of view. They’re projecting their own values onto the patient—you hear a lot of “I think the patient this” and “I was always taught that,” a lot of “I” statements. But you can’t truly help the patient until you’ve stepped outside that mindset, and started seeing things through the lens of the patient.
It sounds like you run into this a lot.
I do—definitely more than I’d like to. But in a lot of cases it’s just a matter of educating hearing care professionals about the customer’s perspective, and how to really understand it. Most people don’t even realize they’re making a lot of “I” statements or overcomplicating the process.
Just recently I was talking to a hearing care professional, and I asked to her to lay out the process a patient has to go through to get a hearing aid. She casually listed off an incredibly long and complex list of steps—that she knew and understood perfectly. I wrote out what she was saying, and then read it back to her, asking her to react as if she was a patient. She was shocked at how complicated it was—because she understood it so well, she had just assumed the customer would, too.
I’ve found this method of drawing attention to overcomplicated processes is just as effective as it is simple—just listing out steps and then stepping back to look at them through the lens of the customer is remarkably eye-opening.
It seems like you have a good idea of how to open people’s eyes to the need for change in how they interact with their customers. How do you start implementing that change?
A lot of it is about understanding what’s going to motivate someone to change their behavior—that motivation is going to be different for a business-focused professional than a true care-giver than it’s going to be for a student directly out of school, and so on and so forth. Once I’ve facilitated their willingness to change, a lot of people are worried about doing it right, which is a big part of where I and our company come in—we’re there to provide guidance, support and reassurance. And a big part of that is making people understand their end goal—it’s not just that what they’re doing now isn’t working, but understanding what they’re aiming for that does work. A lot of professionals think it’s just about creating rapport with the patient, and they think they’ve done that already—and they might have. But really understanding the patient and their needs is about more than a very surface-level relationship. Really understanding the customer is about a deeper emotional connection, and understanding the impact that all clinical processes have on them.
Is there a scale or metric you use to measure the customer’s experience? How do you know if you’ve been successful?
There are really four things I look for when working with hearing professionals: Making things easy, making that emotional connection, giving customers back control, and giving a positive experience. Those are the four points that I think best capture what we’re trying to accomplish with a customer-focused patient experience. Really step back and think about whether or not you’re meeting these principles—and this is true of any area, not just hearing care. When focus and discipline are applied to the patient experience, the results are seen in traditional KPIs and greater word-of-mouth referrals.
You’ve given great advice of how to open people’s eyes to patient experience issues, and how to implement change in this area. What’s an example of a change that’s been made that had impact?
One of the most impactful things we’ve done is change the very first part of a patient’s experience. Usually patients get handed a form to fill out in the waiting room, which is usually long and complicated, but doesn’t begin to touch on what’s important, emotionally, to patients. So we changed it to a simple question the hearing professional asks the patient directly: “Mr. Jones, to get started, please tell me 2-3 situations that are important in your life where you would like to hear better?” Then the professional just shuts up and listens. It changes the entire interaction with the patient: it’s framed in a positive way, and it really gets to the heart of what’s important to that person. I’ve observed people have difficulty asking a good focused question to get started with their patient intake. They spend too much time fishing around from that intake checklist and then look for something they feel might be important.
What’s your advice to someone who wants to improve the patient experience?
Stop listening to reply, and listen to understand. Instead of going on very technical explanations, ask follow-up questions. Hear the customers’ needs, and modify your behavior accordingly—the first priority shouldn’t be “how can I fix this,” your first priority should be understanding what they need fixed, because only then will you really understand and be able to present a truly personal solution.