Assessing Your Clinic using Service Design

By Jack Garnham / 25 Aug 2020

Business consultant Jack Garnham discusses the use of service design methodologies to identify improvements in aesthetic businesses

The goal of any aesthetics business is to ensure that all your patients receive an excellent and safe experience, whilst your employees work efficiently and have a positive experience doing their job. However, issues often arise when businesses attempt to marry these ambitions whilst also trying to increase sales. For instance, methods designed to promote employee efficiency, such as adhering to strict schedules, may compromise patient safety. One way to overcome these difficulties is to employ service design thinking and methodologies, which aim to coherently structure the people, processes, and tools of the business as a means of optimising the quality of the interaction and experience between practitioners and their patients.1

As positive patient interactions and experiences are the foremost objective of a successful aesthetics business, service design is of significant relevance to key stakeholders operating in this sector. Therefore, the focus of this article is on how business owners, practitioners, and clinic managers can employ service design to ensure excellent patient and employee experiences, whilst also maximising your commercial return.

What is service design?

Service design is an emerging field focused on designing well thought through user experiences and interactions by restructuring services and their associated systems, tools, and processes.1 Within an aesthetic business, the user is the patient, and their experiences and decisions when interacting with the clinic will be determined by service design. For instance, when a patient first arrives, the decisions they make will be influenced by a myriad of factors, including how they enter the building, who greets them, how they check-in, and where they wait. Meanwhile, staff are also making decisions, such as checking the patient in and communicating their arrival to other staff, who in turn may then guide the patient to a waiting area and offer them drinks and snacks. Each of these decisions is influenced by the service design, which ultimately determines the overall experience of both the patient and employee.

Service design may be considered a diagnostic tool for aesthetic businesses to optimise patient and employee experiences by providing clarity on key business processes. This is a necessity in the aesthetics sector, which is underscored by numerous patient-practitioner touchpoints – including phone/face-to-face/email communications, booking systems, consultations, treatments and follow-up appointments – producing a myriad of patient journeys. Thus, service design provides an opportunity for businesses to look inwardly and determine what ‘treatment’ their business may need to improve the experiences they’re offering, thereby ensuring they attract and retain more customers.

The purpose of this process is to explicitly establish the best practices for designing services that meet the needs of both patients and staff within the competencies/ capabilities of the business. Rather than being a simple abstract exercise, this activity encourages stakeholders to design an optimised service offering that ensures excellent user interaction, similar to how designers and architects plan and construct physical, tangible products, such as cars, houses, and clothes. It is also worth noting that service design may be applied to both improve an existing service offering or to create an entirely new service altogether, thus making it relevant to both established businesses and fledgling start-ups.

Applying service design to clinics

The most common and practicable way that service design can be applied to an aesthetic business is by following the end-to-end patient journey, enabling all stakeholders to understand and improve both patient and employee experiences at each relevant touchpoint. This may be achieved through a combination of market research, patient interviews/questionnaires, mystery shopper activities, on-site observations, collaborative group workshops, and one-to-one staff interviews.2 By evaluating their patient journey, aesthetic businesses are endowed with a collaboratively produced and explicit step-by-step visualisation, such as a patient experience map, which communicates all the key touchpoints and associated processes to both internal and external stakeholders.3

Such patient experience maps use flow diagrams to communicate the framework governing key processes, including:

  • Onboarding patients
  • Booking management
  • Patient payments
  • Consultations/appointments/treatment
  • Reviews and feedback
  • Procurement and supply chain management
  • Hiring and onboarding new staff

Aside from addressing these processes, this activity often uncovers and highlights further areas within the business that need addressing, including changes to internal and external communications, organisational structure, roles and responsibilities, and product management.

The collective combination of aforementioned tasks (e.g. interviews, workshops, observations etc.) allow businesses, or their business consultant if they are working with one, to produce an optimised patient experience map (see Figure 1 as an example). If working with a business consultant on this, it’s important that it is done collaboratively; the key to a successful patient experience map is the ‘buy-in’ from all internal stakeholders, not only in terms of providing the consultant with full access to your clinic, but also in terms of feeling comfortable. Clinics will need to honestly and openly discuss which areas of their work they consider to be challenges and where they feel improvements are required.

Once the optimised patient experience map has been produced, aesthetic businesses may then evaluate the proposed process improvements to produce a prioritised roadmap of actionable next steps. Going forward, businesses should view this patient experience map as a ‘living document’ that should be continuously reviewed to identify ways to improve their service offering.

From my experience of evaluating aesthetic businesses using service design, I’ve found that patient communications have frequently been a common process that’s needed improvement. With one clinic, we produced a list of 77 proposed improvements, covering all of the key processes outlined in the bullet points above; interestingly though, once we grouped these improvements into themes, we found that 42 of them concerned their patient communications, with the remainder relating to the adoption of new technology, adjustments in the booking management system and improved marketing, amongst others.

Many of the improvements relating to patient communications concerned how effectively the patient customer relationship management (CRM) system was being used. Previously, the staff in the clinic had expressed concerns regarding the robustness of the CRM system to effectively send the appropriate patient communications at the right times. For instance, one of the proposed improvements was to ensure that the CRM system recorded those patients that requested a quote during a consultation to ensure that they were appropriately followed up within the desired time period.

Other improvements concerned automating the CRM system to ensure that patients received the appropriate communications at agreed times and through the appropriate communication channels. For instance, providing consultation and treatment reminders via both text messages and emails, as well as ensuring that patients were called when appointments had to be cancelled, in case they hadn’t received or seen the text message or email. Collectively, these proposed improvements not only reduced the time and burden on staff who were having to send emails manually, but also ensured that communications were standardised throughout the patient journey, thereby helping to manage and maintain patient expectations across the whole clinical experience.

A useful diagnostic tool

Service design thinking is a useful diagnostic tool for evaluating the shape of an aesthetic business, providing an opportunity for honest reflection to help identify ways to improve the experiences of both patients and staff. Such projects can provide businesses with a visual patient experience map outlining the optimised processes concerning each touchpoint within the end-to-end patient journey.

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