Business development director Victor Fieldgrass discusses the importance of front-of-house staff and advises how to optimise teams for selling in aesthetic businesses
The old adage, ‘you never get a second chance to make a first impression’ should be the mantra of all front-of-house staff. The first point of contact with new patients will invariably be by way of phone contact, yet, for many clinical practices, training on the use of the phone often comprises going through the manual, learning what buttons to press to transfer calls, rather than how to deal with the basis of the patient call and how to turn a call into a consultation. This article explains why clinic owners and practice managers need to consider their approach to front-of-house staff management if they wish to optimise in the competitive world of medical aesthetics, and how they can use their front-of-house staff to turn queries into consultations.
Similarly to the reception staff working in the NHS, front-of-house staff in aesthetic clinics will have administrative competence, such as phone answering, booking appointments, record keeping and accurate filing of patient records, regulatory compliance, knowledge in patient privacy and Care Quality Commission compliance.
However, a good front-of-house staff member working in an aesthetic clinic should also possess certain qualities, such as good communication skills, a background in customer service, as well as familiarity with the products and procedures available at the clinic. Multi-tasking skills are a must and the staff member needs to be able to cope under pressure, which can only be accomplished if they know their job thoroughly. If they are struggling, it presents very unprofessionally to the patient, and also places extra stress when other tasks are waiting to be performed.
As well as this, engaging the patient and being courteous are important qualities in front-of-house team members, as is showing an interest in the patient so they feel the clinic cares about them personally; going that one step further can improve patient retention. For these reasons, the skills of front-of-house staff go beyond that of the regular receptionist, who may simply have a meet and greet function or a telephonist who is not customer facing.
In order to have a successful front-of-house environment, you need to pay close attention to how the staff interact with customers both over the phone and in person, as well as their ability to do administration work. However, one thing that is sometimes not considered is for front-of-house staff to take responsibility for selling, which is a lot more important in private practice and can be seen as a low priority in training. This is not surprising, when many practice managers would not consider the receptionist to have a sales role.
Private medical practitioners and aesthetic clinics are operating in a competitive business environment, and a business owner who fails to understand that will feel the impact on their profitability. It is quite common for practitioners to complain of wasting money on marketing campaigns, when a simple analysis of the results of the campaign may indicate that the failure was not in generating the ads, but rather in converting the leads to consultations. The expectation was that the prospective patient phoning in response to an advert or an internet search would simply book an appointment without questioning the front-of-house staff, who had been ill-prepared to handle anything beyond booking the consultation into the system. In order for an aesthetic business to profit from marketing campaigns, all clinic staff must be well equipped to handle the enquiries, and, to do this, staff must make the connection between the front-of-house responsibilities and business generation.
The aesthetic clinic that realises the importance of its front-of-house team in client acquisition and retention will understand that training needs to be an ongoing part of that team’s development, and not simply viewed as a chore for new recruits.
The amount and type of training provided to front-of-house staff will vary according to the precise role that the staff member has in a particular clinic. Where front-of-house is also responsible for retail sales of, for example, skincare products, the staff need to be well versed in the products, have personal experience of using the products, and have specific training in how to sell the products. Often the product distributors will be able to provide training support. Where the clinic only expects their front-of-house to book appointments for the physician, the training is easier, since the only thing to be ‘sold’ is the consultation.
It is not within the receptionist’s skill set, nor job specification, to make any recommendation regarding the procedure that the patient is requesting nor should they propose a medical solution to the patient’s issues. The only ‘solution’ that the receptionist has available to offer is booking a consultation to see the practitioner. To ensure that your front-of-house staff are equipped to turn leads into consultations, sales training is vital.
In order to ‘sell’ the consultation successfully, a receptionist at a medical clinic does not need to be medically qualified, but they do need to have the ability to understand the services being offered in considerable detail. Those with no medical training can project a professional approach if they have a thorough knowledge of the non-medical side of the procedure, for example, the length of the procedure, post-operative issues, aftercare and follow up regime. Their training may involve observing procedures, and even, if indicated, having the procedures themselves so that they have a full understanding of the patient journey to confidently describe the purpose of the consultation and the process that the patient will go through from the moment they arrive through to when they attend a follow up appointment after the procedure. The objective of the training is NOT for the receptionist to recommend the procedure, but they need to be able to talk confidently and provide non-medical information that the prospective patient may require before booking the consultation. The patient who is comfortable that they are talking to an experienced professional is much more likely to book a consultation.
In my experience, when it comes to selling, as well as clinic knowledge and the correct manner, it is also important to note that personal appearance, personal hygiene and smiling are all obvious aspects of presenting well and helping with the ‘selling’ aspect. The staff must also be trained in presenting the clinic itself; too often clinic waiting rooms display outdated magazines, an untidy waiting room with dirty cups, and receptionists on their mobile phones; even evidence of a desk-side lunch are not uncommon occurrences.
As stated above, the phone is generally the first point of contact between the patient and the clinic after they may have seen your clinic’s services online. Showing the receptionist how to book and ‘sell’ a consultation goes far beyond the mechanics of the appointment booking system. For new or less experienced front-of-house staff, teaching them to follow a carefully-crafted script is the one way to ensure that incoming calls are handled professionally, competently, and stay compliant within the regulatory framework and the clinic’s local rules. An experienced receptionist may well be able to handle calls efficiently, but a less experienced call handler, without a well rehearsed script, can create a very poor impression of the clinic, and a failure to book the patient in for the consultation.
The training starts with showing the staff member how to engage with the patient, by asking questions and finding out more about their condition and the reasons why they wish to have the consultation. The staff member is then able to describe the benefit of the consultation in a way that relates to the personal issues raised by the client/patient. The inquirer may want to know how many sessions they are likely to need, how long the procedure may take and if there are any contraindications that would prevent them from having the treatment. The inquirer will sometimes list a whole series of previous ailments to see if that poses a problem. The difficulty with answering these questions is that the receptionist ends up delivering a mini-consultation, which they are not qualified to conduct, and which, even for the practitioner, should not be conducted over the phone. Part of the training for front-of-house is to explain how to re-direct the question. The receptionist cannot keep repeating the mantra, “You’ll have to ask the doctor”, but should be trained to respond with, for example, “The procedure normally takes less than half an hour, but it will vary on a case by case basis, and the doctor will be able to give you a precise answer once they have reviewed your medical history.” Both answers ultimately refer to the doctor, but the second response leaves the enquirer with the feeling that their question has been answered.
Often, a patient who is interested in a cosmetic procedure will ask staff the price of the procedure before considering booking a consultation. The receptionist should not be surprised if the potential patient fails to book after the price is quoted, as the enquirer may simply be ‘price shopping’. How to respond to the ‘price question’ is the subject of a whole training module, but as an example, the patient who is price shopping for botulinum toxin, may think that they are looking for the cheapest clinic. In my experience, a well-trained front-of-house staffer who can engage with the enquirer, find out whether they have any concerns about the procedure and explain the benefits of being treated by a well-qualified physician, is more likely to book the consultation than someone who responds, “£175 for one area and £225 for two areas.”
Selling is mostly about engagement. We buy from people we like. When the patient is in the clinic, it provides an ideal opportunity to sell. But too often, junior or inexperienced staff look at selling as a transaction where money changes hands. For example, “I must remember to offer the patient a skincare product to buy.” There is no harm in that, as long as it is a natural consequence of the patient’s interaction with the physician, but if the patient walks out of a consultation for a breast augmentation, and the receptionist chips in with, “Why don’t you try our new skincare line,” it will just come across as pushy and will make the patient feel uncomfortable. Now compare this with the receptionist who engages with the patient before the consultation, the patient mentions that they will shortly be going on a beach vacation. After the consultation, the receptionist wishes the patient a nice holiday, and follows up with, “Do you want to pick up some SPF before you go?” All good sales must be a win-win. Selling is an art. The artfulness is being able to sell, without the buyer noticing that you are actually selling.
The competitive environment of private medical practice and the wide choice of aesthetic clinics available to the consumer means that the receptionist has to focus on ensuring that new patients phoning in end up booking an appointment rather than ‘taking their business’ elsewhere. Training your front-of-house staff in managing these initial patient enquiries and encouraging them to turn these queries into consultations as well as selling products in-clinic is key to providing the business with an adequate return on investment.