ASK THE COACH
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A Great Receptionist Makes the Difference
By Dr. Ray Angelini
February 6, 2002
Dear Dr. Ray,
I am a professional who is about to start a private practice. I want my new office to be unlike other professional offices, with a strong emphasis on client service and satisfaction. What steps would you recommend to help me achieve my goals?
— D.H. in Saratoga
I commend your desire to make your new office more "client-friendly." My first recommendation would be to hire a great receptionist. In most cases, your client's first contact with your practice occurs when your receptionist answers the phone or greets them when they walk into your office.
Many practices underestimate the value of a good receptionist, and then wonder why they go through a seemingly unending stream of bad receptionists that create a poor first impression. Make it a priority to hire a bright, personable and unflappable person for the job and then compensate them well enough to keep them for a long time.
Besides choosing the right person as a receptionist, you should take the time to train your receptionist well. A good receptionist needs to be more than a greeter. He or she should be easily able to answer most client questions and needs or be able to instantly direct them to someone in the organization that can. This requires that the receptionist be thoroughly familiar with the work that each practice member does and what types of clients each member works with best.
In addition, your receptionist should have ready access to a list of key referrals. No professional practice can do it all, and having a list of referrals communicates to your clients that meeting their needs is the practice's primary concern.
Another key recommendation is to keep voice mail to a minimum. While voice mail has been a communications breakthrough, most people hate it and prefer whenever possible to talk to a real person. Therefore, keep all voice mail brief, but informative, and only use it when your receptionist is unavailable or your office is closed.
Also, it is critical to maintain a clean and comfortable waiting room. A good waiting room requires several things to be effective: Attractive furniture, good lighting, a clean carpet, a few green plants and some attractive and tasteful paintings on the wall.
Provide magazines that are informative and avoid publications that are nonsubstantive in terms of content. Be sure to include brochures in your waiting room as well as some business cards, so clients can both learn more about your practice and refer others if they are pleased with your services.
Finally, and most importantly, follow up with great service. No initial impression lasts forever. Whether your practice maintains a positive impression or not largely depends on the quality of service delivered to each client. Try to anticipate your clients' needs and fulfill them before they are even stated. Return all phone calls within 24 hours and apologize to clients when you are unable to do so.
Think about the professional that serves you best and emulate that service to your clients. Strive to be a service organization that not only serves but serves the best. If you do, your practice will undoubtedly grow and prosper and you will have achieved your goal of putting clients first.