How do you welcome them?

We’ve all been there.

You mosey (at least I do) into a doctor’s office for the first time and the experience is practically identical to almost every other first visit to almost every other doctor’s office.

You get handed a clipboard of paper forms to fill out, as if they don’t know you from Adam. Yet you have an appointment, so they already know your name and at least some (if not all) of your contact info.

The forms usually require that you repeat yourself, filling out the same contact, insurance and referral info over and over again because the office’s intake process that hasn’t been examined for efficiency, functionality or intelligence. In many cases, the forms are copies of copies of copies as if no one has a clue where the original is.

The process almost always seems to make you feel as if your time is worth nothing – and in fact, as if theirs isn’t worth all that much either.

Intake Process?

That’s what they call what happens to you when you enter a doctor’s office – you go through their “intake process”. Maybe if they called it “New Patient Welcome”, it might become a more patient-friendly, efficient, intelligent process that becomes a(nother) competitive edge for them.

It isn’t just about the doctors though.

You’ll find a similar situation when being “welcomed” to many service businesses. In those cases, the business hasn’t gone to the trouble to transform their “first impression process” from the lowest common denominator to “welcoming, efficient (cheaper, more accurate, time-saving) and intelligent”.

As a result, new customers experience the same process as a customer who has been coming there for 20 years. Not necessarily a positive thing.

What really stands out is the process at a business that has studied what they do, why they do it and made (often minor) changes to streamline the process.

You may have seen some of those. Some offices, usually those of orthodontists or chiropractors, offer a completely different front office patient experience. The reason is that the “practice management” industry is better at getting into their offices than those of other specialties. The best practice management firms excel in making the processes of medical/dental practices more welcoming, efficient, intelligent and yes, profitable.

Most doctors and dentists (and their office managers) could learn a thing or twenty simply by making a friend of a local chiro or orthodontist and sitting in their office, observing what happens when a new patient comes in.

Yes, I said a doctor’s office could learn from a chiropractor’s office. Get over the AMA vs. chiro religious argument for a moment, please.

Don’t be the LCD

Most intakes are at the lowest common denominator. If you are going to stand out, you have to do things differently better and *constantly* be on the lookout for ways to improve. Not just the care/service you deliver, but how you deliver it.

While I realize that there are some legal hoops to leap through (HIPAA, for example), when I am referred from one doctor to the next and the originating doctor’s office actually makes an appointment for me, we’ve already crossed a line.

Upon referral, there is zero good reason (including HIPAA, unless you’re lazy) that I should have to sit down and fill out forms that contain contact, emergency, insurance and holy cow, which doctor’s office referred me (remember, they made the appointment for me). Likewise, I shouldn’t have to write that info multiple times on different pieces of paper.

That leaves me open to making mistakes, introducing errors from my horrid penmanship, while creating unnecessary work of your staff, since they’ll have to interpret my hieroglyphics and enter the info into the office computer (once again introducing opportunity for errors).

I’m not talking about putting the Fed’s Universal Health Care Data Chip in my head. I’m talking about streamlining processes and creating efficiency – and yes, within the bounds of the law.

Waste

As you might have guessed, I had this joyous experience recently.

After the initial paperwork lovefest, I was pleased to see a tablet pc used to get a “reservation” started for day surgery (nothing serious, relax folks), but disappointed to find that the doctor had been nailed for $30K for the tablet system. Despite that price tag, it still didn’t communicate directly with the hospital that was so close to his office, I could peg the day surgery front door with a baseball from his parking lot.

Doc sounded confident that process of integrating with hospital systems was underway and I hope he’s right. At the time, it seemed like a waste to fill out a form on a tablet pc and then print it out and walk it across the street where someone else will likely scan it and/or re-type the info yet another time.

Can you say increased health care costs? Yes, I thought you could.

Be Welcoming

While few probably have sympathy for the medical industry because of the “class warfare training” we get from the media, this isn’t just about the medical business.

Can you remember the last time you walked through your business’ intake process and experienced what your patients (clients) deal with? Even if you change oil in 19 minutes or less, you still have an intake process.

I’ve found businesses doing things because of the ways things had to happen back in the days of mimeograph machines, or because of the limitations of 1990s-era fax quality.

Why are we even talking about such things? Neither should be a barrier to improving processes today.

How To Fix It

Your goals: Get your work done efficiently and intelligently. Send me home in a frame of mind that has me unable to stop talking to my friends and family about something as mundane (yet “Wow”) as a doctor’s office visit.

Are you dead weight in a “Man Overboard” Economy?

What gets thrown overboard before a ship sinks?

What gets thrown out of a plane that is struggling to stay in the air, or that appears to have less fuel than it needs to reach land?

Answer: Dead weight. IE: Everything that isn’t absolutely necessary.

If you’re an employee, what are you doing to make sure you are invaluable to the success of your boat (ie: your employer)?

If you own a business, what are you doing to make sure that the products and services you provide are invaluable, must-have items for your clients and prospects?

You can either be the one that stays onboard, or the one who doesn’t.

The choice is ultimately yours. Yes, YOURS.

Update: Transparent Economics

Here’s some suggested reading in a follow up to my post “Transparent Economics“:

A NY Times article about steps airlines are taking to make planes more efficient. Smart stuff. Kudos to them for looking at everything, but not just cutting for the sake of cutting.

Quoting from the article:

â??Our fleet is over 500 airplanes,â? said Beth Harbin, a Southwest spokeswoman. â??If you can make a difference on one airplane on one flight, and multiply that by 500, in this day and age that is significant.”

These are the same kinds of steps you should be taking as well. Looking at everything strategically, not just going after things with a machete.

Zemanta Pixie

Green is about saving money – and your business

Earlier this year, Safeway “went green” with their entire fleet of trucks.

Way back in January, this seemed like a good idea with a decent ROI (return on investment).

The Rack
photo credit: mattieb

Given the increase in fuel prices in the last 2 weeks – I suspect they are thrilled with the decision now, a mere 60 days or so later.

Over a decade ago, when 3M implemented some green projects – for what they would admit was experimental or even political reasons – they were surprised to find that the waste eliminated from their manufacturing processes actually resulted in a net cost savings. I mean, it does make sense.

Think back to your grandparents. They “made do”. They were recycling before there was a word for it, because they had to.

With the change in fuel prices and no end in sight for those changes, think a bit about how your business may change and how (as I spoke of earlier this week) your customers’ behavior may change.

You can see hints of it in the quarterly results coming out of some businesses. You can probably see other hints in your own behavior. For example, Amazon just announced – in the middle of what the media says is a recession – earnings that are up 30 percent.

Not all of that is people shopping online instead of driving to their local bookstore, but you know the thought process is there.

Yesterday, I was meeting with a client who has 1000 local customers (a lot for our rural area). He wanted to work on getting more business from the 80% who buy infrequently. His business delivers “stuff” to his clients and drives right past the businesses of occasional purchasers of his goods.

Imagine the results his outside sales force will have when they combine the occasional purchaser address list with the regular delivery route in some mapping software, and have it light up the businesses that don’t even require an extra 1/4 mile of driving by the delivery crew. That gives the outside sales force a finite list of people to talk to – where they can offer free delivery AND save them time since they won’t have to go out to another business to buy consumer-grade products at the same or higher price.

That is the kind of “green thinking” that will not only improve your bottom line, but protect you from the impact of next year’s fuel prices and altered customer behavior.

So…how can you “green up” your business?