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Customer Service Week offers forum to engage with patients

Good relations between doctors and patients key to successful treatment. PHOTO |  FOTOSEARCH
Good relations between doctors and patients key to successful treatment. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH 

Last week marked Customer Service Week across many organisations and business enterprises.

Social media and the Internet was abuzz with “customer appreciation” messages from many such organisations. A few entities held events outside the office to interact with their customers on a personal level.

The general aim of the week is to find out how to make “the product” better for the clients. For many the activities may have been mere formalities in a busy corporate calendar, while for others there was genuine desire to build a better relationship with clients.

Most times, however, while there may be a genuine wish to improve on this relationship a business has with its clients, reconciling the customers’ wants and the economic realities of enterprises during this harsh economic time poses a problem.

A notable observation from the week was that the traditional healthcare industry mindset has not adopted mainstream corporate models on customer engagements.

However, this is slowly changing. One of the previous obstacles hampering this was the prohibition of advertising by the Medical Practitioners Board.

Customer engagement was seen as a possible avenue for doctors to attempt gaining more patients through soliciting clients.

For a while only big hospitals advertised or even had marketing departments and strategies.

Doctors relied on word of mouth for customers. With the marketing caveat now lifted and modest advertising allowed, some few medical practitioners have taken up customer engagement tactics from sales people.

One such approach has seen some hospitals call clients whose revisit frequencies have reduced. The tricky part though is how one does this. Do patients want to be called by hospitals and doctors clinics on such lines as “customer surveys?” Shifting times means these approaches have to be informed by socio-cultural and demographic characteristic of the patients.

Generally hospital clients are lumped into either cash or corporate-based on payment modality. For the former, cost seems to be a bigger decision making criterion on determining revisit frequency and choice of clinic.

The group with medical insurance seems to place quality of service as a priority. Such corporate clients tend to be tech-savvy and social media is gaining traction as a means of expressing their pleasure or dissatisfaction with services we offer.

For standalone general practices, transitioning from an erstwhile clinic mindset to a business oriented one to keep abreast, we need to embrace new strategies to stay alive. As a fact not many health practitioners are engaging in customer feedback initiatives.

The outpatient waiting bay and wards must create channels for patients to express their feelings easily and openly. As many consider shifting customer feedback online, we need to remember that social media is a double edged sword.

But just how do patients who are now our “customers” feel about this?

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