The Seven-Second Difference

Making the Most of Every Patient Phone Call

Fuel Medical’s Professional Development team annually conducts training workshops at ENT and audiology practices around the U.S. Although we discuss issues that encompass the entire practice, such as workplace culture and leadership skills, frequently, the takeaway from many workshops is that small changes make a big difference. The lessons taught in workshops also apply to patient phone calls. This Ask Fuel First question asks: How can a small change affect the patient experience?

Raving Fans

There’s a difference between a patient who is satisfied with their experience at an ENT or audiology practice and a raving fan. The first will likely return for follow-up appointments, while the latter tells their friends, family and anyone else who will listen about their experience at the practice. But what makes a patient a raving fan? Many people struggle to answer that question because they often don’t think about it. Still, we know that exceptional service creates raving fans, whether that service is from someone at the front office, in the billing department or working with patients through tests or consultations.

Today’s Challenge

Most employees at ENT and audiology practices are doing a good job; it’s evident in our many professional development workshops nationwide. Unfortunately, doing a good job no longer reaps good rewards. That’s the reality that we’re facing today.

Let us explain.

Good Isn’t Good Enough

If your goal is to create raving fans of your practice, build an organization that people don’t want to leave or be that leader everyone wants to work with, being good isn’t good enough. Patients are now consumers of their care and expect the experience to be good. If you really want people to notice, you must take it up a notch. And the good news is that it doesn’t take much. You might be surprised just how little it takes. This is what we refer to as the seven-second difference.

It just takes seven seconds to make a difference in a patient’s experience, and once they’ve noticed the difference, they’re four times more likely to return. The three takeaways from this are 1) the margin of difference between good and excellent is minimal, 2) effort versus reward is disproportionate in today’s climate of consumerism and 3) the seven-second difference applies to everyone.

A Little More Effort

Jim Fedio, Director of Professional Development at Fuel Medical, talked about sitting in an ENT practice’s waiting room and overhearing an interesting conversation.

It was kind of rare to sit down and hear a group of front office and medical assistant staff talking about how much they love their jobs and how much they love the people they work with. It wasn’t just what they said but more about the atmosphere. You can tell that they really loved working together.

J. Fedio, personal conversation 10/9/23

You might be surprised that this type of situation is not shared. The staff at this particular practice all came from different places of employment where the atmosphere was the opposite. When Jim asked the staff what their secret was, they said it was due to a minor change made several months earlier. At the end of every day, the providers started saying “thank you” to each employee before they left. Sometimes, a provider would excuse themselves while working with a patient to run out to the parking lot and thank an employee for their hard work that day. That tiny bit of effort made all the difference to those working at the practice. Knowing they were appreciated made this an excellent workplace, and it only took seven seconds.

Effort vs. Reward

In July 1969, Americans watched on television as Neil Armstrong took his first step on the moon. His words, “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind” (NASA, 2019), are still quoted by many to this day. Neil Armstrong has become a household name, but most people cannot tell who was with him that day. A few might remember that Buzz Aldrin was the second person to walk on the moon, but almost no one remembers Michael Collins manning Apollo 11. The same goes for professional sports. Everyone can tell you who won the gold medal in the Olympics, but the names of the second- and third-place winners are usually forgotten in the aftermath. The point of this story is that people pay attention to those at the top.

This is the same in the workplace. Patients expect a good appointment, so they don’t consider it memorable when that happens. However, when they have an exceptional experience, they take notice. Even if a practice puts a lot of effort into providing good services, they’ll likely only get good returns. They must strive for excellence to create raving fans of the practice.

It Takes a Village

No matter your role in the practice, you can apply the seven-second difference. Managers, front office staff, accountants, medical assistants and audiologists can all make a patient’s experience exceptional. It just takes seven seconds worth of effort. For example, if you work at the front office, take a few seconds to greet patients as they arrive. Look at them and smile so they know you’re happy to see them. If they’re a returning patient, call them by name (if you recognize them) or ask them something personal, such as asking how their child’s soccer team is doing (you’ll know this because someone has made a short note on the patient’s chart). If you’re an audiologist, take a few seconds to ask the patient if they have any questions about the treatment you just prescribed. And then silently wait until they respond. This isn’t a time to type your notes or look away; focusing on the patient is an example of moving them from a good experience to an exceptional one. Each team member will have different opportunities with patients to show that they care.

Contact your regional team if you’d like to learn more about ways to make a difference in your patients and staff’s experience. We have a variety of training workshops that might be beneficial for your practice.

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