Patient Communication

By Victoria Smith / 01 Nov 2015

Victoria Smith discusses how effective communication with your patients can boost trade and your clinic’s reputation

Communication is an essential tool in achieving productivity and maintaining strong working relationships at all levels of an aesthetic practice. Communication goes beyond the spoken word; it includes visual aids, greeting patients and much more. Without effective communication there can be no mutual understanding between the patient and practitioner. When a patient first enters a clinic, they will instantly form an opinion of their surroundings; is the reception and waiting room area warm and welcoming? Is the receptionist inviting and knowledgeable of clinic protocol and treatments available? Is every member of the team dressed appropriately and do they conduct themselves professionally? Even the colours of the walls can affect your mood, so it is vital to make sure every last detail of your clinic and service skills of employees has been considered. Colours like blue are said to increase productivity,whereas lilac promotes a feeling of calm.It is worth remembering that there is no second chance to make a first impression, so providing exceptional levels of communication and care from the very beginning is essential.
Word-of-mouth is the original social media tool. It involves people physically interacting and exchanging information, which in turn can benefit a clinic’s reputation. Word-of-mouth can also create a positive or negative effect on a clinic’s trade. Consumers will often believe recommendations from friends and family over all forms of advertising, marketing or PR. In recent years, businesses have been more focused on collecting rather than connecting.

Getting to know your patient on a personal level is vital for building rapport, even if they’ve only been to your clinic once

An example of this is trying to increase social media presence by collecting followers, using incentives and competitions when, in fact, having fewer genuine fans that love the brand (not the freebies), is so much more valuable.

Avoid routine conversation

It is crucial that all staff members are personable and engaging with patients entering their clinic. From the front of house staff, to the nurses and practitioners, everyone needs to exude enthusiasm and positive energy. A prime opportunity to get to know your patient base is in the waiting room. This is the first opportunity you have to build rapport with your clients. The practitioner could be running late one morning, so other clinic staff may have enough time to go beyond small talk and delve into more impactful topics, such as what the patient does as a career, making them feel genuinely valued. Patients will often require repeat treatments, so making them feel comfortable is fundamental to building a good relationship and ensuring they keep coming back.
During the initial consultation it is expected that the receptionist asks routine questions and obtains contact details, however a powerful spin on this routine procedure would be showing genuine interest in their lives outside of the clinic environment. Open-ended questions will always encourage conversation. Have they had a busy day? Have they travelled far to get to the clinic? Answers to these questions will help front-of-house staff build an accurate picture of the patient, which they can then pass on to practitioners to continue the conversation and avoid repetition. For practitioners, another way to avoid routine conversation is to take detailed notes during the consultation, logging all of a patient’s concerns and what they want to achieve. In a busy clinic environment, you will invariably be faced with a large number of individuals on a daily basis; therefore detailed notes logged into your system will help to ensure each patient feels valued.

Building rapport

The most valuable clinic commodity: trust. Trust is more important than ever in aesthetic businesses today, specifically when it comes to patients, employees, and all stakeholders in the clinic. Trust can be described as reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.

It is crucial that all staff members are personable and engaging with patients entering their clinic

Trust is imperative when it comes to building rapport at all levels. Developing trust isn’t easy; it takes time, dedication, and most importantly, humility. This is especially important in a clinic environment as you are treating someone’s face or body and patients can feel very vulnerable during treatment. They are putting total trust in all involved in the clinic to ensure their treatment is safe and they leave unharmed. Building rapport and offering guidance and knowledge will help to build trust, and leave patients feeling at ease in your care. It may seem obvious, but listening intently to your patient can be very beneficial. If they feel they have your undivided attention, you will be able to build a stronger relationship than if they think you are too preoccupied to engage with them. The moment a patient enters the treatment room, a relationship should have already been formed, giving them the chance to fully relax, ask any burning questions and allow you to perform to the best of your ability.

Individualisation

Offering bespoke treatments will keep the clinic one step ahead of the competition, and gives practitioners the opportunity to tailor treatments to the individual, providing a service which is unique to them. This kind of service goes beyond the treatment menu, and offers a personalised experience. This strategy also applies to any homecare products you stock; practitioners should aim to create a programme specific to the patient’s treatment in order to maximise desired results and to encourage the patient to come back for more personalised service. Introducing unique ways to engage with your patient base is a key component to remain or to develop your clinic as a market leader. The waiting room is an ideal place to subtly promote the clinic’s wide array of services. This could be in the form of a visual aid, such as a waiting room television showing patient testimonials. Many patients trust testimonials, and there is no better way to figure out if a treatment is going to be appropriate for you than to get another patient’s candid opinion.

Keeping in contact with patients

Getting to know your patient on a personal level is vital for building rapport, even if they’ve only been to your clinic once. If you are able to build a good rapport from the first meeting, keeping in touch will be a lot easier. Always follow up with the patient after an appointment to show an element of care, but also to make sure the procedure went to plan, and to address any concerns the patient may have. Social media is taking over as a main form of communication for businesses, and some clinics have created a service where patients are now able to book appointments through this medium, as well as using platforms such as Twitter to champion or to complain about their experiences. Social media creates instant attention and delivers immediate feedback, allowing it to potentially make or break a reputation. Communicate in a way the patient prefers; some will like text alerts, others phone calls and some email updates. During telephone conversations or initial consultations, it could be beneficial to take notes and add to patient files for future reference.
Patient communication comes in many forms, from the initial phone booking to the treatment follow-up phone call, there are several ways to reach out to patients in order to collate feedback, and to make sure their experience was a positive one. This also gives staff members the chance to resolve any issues or answer concerns and queries. A follow-up call can be extremely effective, especially if a patient feels too uncomfortable to mention any concerns specifically to the practitioner in the treatment room. Offering the patient the opportunity to air anxieties or give feedback about their experience over the phone is beneficial in helping the business grow and address what is and is not working. Sending text reminder messages to patients 24 hours prior to their appointment, giving them an option to cancel without having to pick up the phone, is also an effective way of reducing no-shows and keeping on top of the diary ahead of appointments.
Social media, word-of-mouth, testimonials, treatment offers and literature such as treatment leaflets and brochures all work together to increase a patient base. However, none of these avenues would be effective if it weren’t for human interaction and exceptional in-clinic service. A successful way of promoting a clinic’s key messages is through a social media campaign, whereby the end goal is for people to book in for consultations and treatments. Giving it a hook and a campaign title that sounds more appealing really works to grab consumer attention. An example could be to create a Twitter campaign based around the winter months, possibly promoting skin rejuvenation treatments to prepare for the ‘office Christmas party’.

Conclusion

In today’s society, we are fast becoming disconnected from personal conversations in many ways. The convenience and efficiency of our high tech, yet impersonal ways of communication has left many of us yearning for human contact and interaction. The aesthetic industry is one of the few industries left that lends itself to meeting this need. This gives practitioners a very special advantage that no machine, technology or product can replace. It provides you with the opportunity to offer a personal service that goes far beyond the ability to treat your patient’s needs, and gives you the power to positively impact their clinic experiences more profoundly.

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