'Tis the Season for Secret Shopping
By Elizabeth Mansfield
As Sonny and Cher used to sing, "It's the little things."
Why are the little things such a key part of your overall marketing effort? People don't look for reasons to do business with you. They look for reasons not to do business with you. And, they'll do that faster than you read this sentence.
So, every point of contact with our patients, clients and potential employees makes an impression. And first impressions do count.
Each impression—good or bad—helps someone decide in a heartbeat if you're worthy of their time and money. People do business with people they like and trust. First impressions set the tone.
Take a step back
Don't think that first impressions matter?
Use Google or any other search engine and do a search for "secret shopper."
Everything from the U.S. Army to Bertucci's Italian restaurant chain uses "secret shopper" programs to provide feedback to their employees and to improve customer satisfaction.
But, to see for yourself, step out of your owner or employer shoes and into your patients' shoes to conduct your own "secret shopper" test.
Consider your employees when you're "shopping." Your receptionist. What do people hear when calling your office? Someone who is positive and helpful? Or, are they greeted by a tone that says, "You're bothering me. Call someone who cares."?
Your technicians or assistants. Does their attitude say they'd rather not repair or adjust devices? Are they rude? Sarcastic? Does their response make patients wish someone else was providing the care?
Accounts receivable. Do your billing clerks listen, or are they always in an aggressive, "You owe us money" mode? Would you do business with your vendors if they had your bookkeeping staff?
From the top down
Management also leaves an impression. Your employees watch how you treat patients and customers and, in turn, are likely to treat them the same way.
Remember, your practitioners make more of an impression on your patients than anyone in your company. Ask yourself some key questions, such as what are your patients' perceptions of your clinical staff?
Is your staff knowledgeable? Are they on time for appointments? Do they follow up and return calls? Do they dress appropriately?
And keep in mind that you're making an impression when someone sitting in your waiting room watches the interaction between you and your employees or listens to how someone answers the phone.
Many other potential first impressions are within management's control: business cards, letterhead, misspellings and poor grammar in e-mails, postings on the listserv and letters to the editors of O&P trade magazines.
Use your six senses
Don't forget to assess your office, fitting rooms, patient waiting areas and furniture as well.
To test yourself, "secret shop" your own facility one morning before your first patient arrives. Turn on the lights, put on the music, then turn around and walk back outside.
Look around you. Are the windows clean? Do the doors need to be painted? Are the entrances handicap-accessible? Or, are the doors too heavy for someone to open with one hand? Is there a lip that wheelchairs might get caught on or an awkward turn once you're inside?
Now, walk through the front door. What is the first thing you see? A table half filled with old magazines or brochures? The lights are on, but are the rooms still dark? Look up—are the ceiling tiles stained or dusty? Are there burned out bulbs or dead insects in the lights?
Look down, too. Is the carpet clean? Does the overall appearance look old or freshly painted and designed? Does the office look inviting?
Don't forget your other senses as well. What do you smell and hear?
If music is playing, is it too loud or too soft, and is it acceptable to all ages? Do you hear any distracting noises? Can you hear the grinder or the vacuum system?
How does the office smell? Is there an odor of epoxy, resins or burning plastic?
Finally, walk slowly through your facility and try to imagine that you are seeing it for the first time. What needs to be improved?
You also might want to go through in a wheelchair and see everything from wheelchair eye level. You'd be surprised at the things you've overlooked.
Make the time
Since you are wearing many hats in your business, you will only be able to see the details when you make it your focus.
Also, have another person perform the "secret shopping." It's important to get perspectives from different people. And remember, you always have the opportunity to use first impressions to impress.
Elizabeth Mansfield is a marketing consultant with Outsource Marketing Solutions LLC in Hartford, Conn. Contact her at email@example.com.