Everything in your office says something about your practice.
Every detail communicates a note about how you do business.
Everything your patients see, hear, smell and touch sends
them a message. Is it the message you want to send?
Patients will not analyze every little detail, but they will
(consciously or not) form an impression of you and your business
from the moment they pull into your parking lot.
Everything speaks! Imagine driving up to your practice and getting
out of the car only to see litter and cigarette butts leading
to the entrance. Then you notice an overflowing trash can and
fingerprints all over the glass door. The peeling paint creates a
negative impression before you even enter your foyer. These
things all speak to the quality of the overall business.
It’s a sign of respect to your patients to make sure that your
environment is prepared and ready for them. Think of it as
when you are expecting guests for dinner in your home, what
do you do? You clean the house from top to bottom, set out the
finest dinnerware, light some candles, select the right music
and get yourself ready to entertain. There are many similarities
with your office environment in considering these same elements.
It’s important to your patients that you have a clean
waiting room. It also has a subtler meaning. If a business can not handle these small details, then why should they expect you
are capable of handing the bigger, more important details? I
will never forget going into an obstetrician’s office and noting
the stains in the ceiling tiles, the wilted plants, the outdated
magazines and deciding this was not the person I wanted to
have delivering my babies. I walked out of the office before
even meeting the obstetrician and his staff.
It is important to have everyone on your staff involved in the
upkeep of the physical setting. Getting employees to have an
"everything speaks" mindset is critical to ensuring any negative
messages the environment might be communicating are eliminated.
Employees must take a personal ownership. One of the ways to
do this is to take a walk through of your practice with each employee
and ask each of them to look through the eyes of a patient. Start
in the parking lot, even if it doesn’t belong to your business alone – recognize it is still a reflection of your practice. Ask the employee
what factors enhance the business and what factors detract from
the business. After you have conducted this "service walk" with
each of your employees, bring everyone together as a group and
complete an Everything Speaks Checklist (see template on p. 84).
This is a tool that transforms the concept of everything speaks from
being a philosophy to being an organization-wide practice.
This template can be easily adapted to your practice. The
idea is to identify the different areas within the business: front
desk reception, restrooms, patient offices, hallways, billing area,
etc. Have employees get involved in defining what makes the
items in that area satisfactory, what makes them unsatisfactory,
and if they are deemed unsatisfactory, what is the action that
needs to be taken.
This checklist should be completed every day because it
brings a heightened awareness to all staff the importance of what
the area looks like to patients. It also brings a level of accountability
to the process that wouldn’t be possible if it was done only
every once in a while. To ensure everyone understands that each
member of the staff including management is responsible for the
environment, rotate the duty of conducting the checklist. This
can be a very powerful tool in not only stimulating alertness for
negative impressions, but for also conveying the message that
keeping up the physical setting is part of everyone’s job.
It’s the little things that people remember. Study your patients
and learn as much about their demographics that you can. What
will make them comfortable when they enter your office? This
should impact the colors of your walls, décor and background
music. I know of one dental practice that caters mostly to young children. The owner has decorated each of the patient rooms with
a different theme: the beach, a tree house, and Noah’s arc. There
are so many visuals for the young patient to look at while they are
being treated, they relax and get more comfortable. My dentist
has set up his dental chairs to all face the windows. Each pane has
its own bird feeder directly in front of the window and he keeps
the feeders full. Inevitably, there is always a bird show to watch
and enjoy while getting one’s teeth worked on.
Another aspect of your physical environment that can make
a big impact is your Web site. What does it speak? Your Web site
could be the first place potential patients visit before making
their choice of whether to do business with you or not. How
easy is it to navigate? Are there misspelled
words or misinformation?
Does it look professional or as if it
was slapped together by a teenager
just learning how to do Web sites?
Many new patients will use the
Web site to check you out. Keep it
simple, but use it to convey the
message you want your business to
send. If you are a modern, high technology
practice, your site
should show it; if you are into pain
management, your site should convey
this message. If you are a family
oriented practice, make sure your
site sends this note. Communication
is key to your branding. What
reinforces your credibility is when
your communication matches your
physical environment. It immediately
says, "You can trust me to be who I say I am."
Take a critical look at yourself and your staff. What impression
is formed when a patient sees one of you? Is there a dress
code and if so, does everyone adhere to the code? Every day
when you open the doors to your practice, pretend you are putting
on a show. The curtains rise, the setting appears and actors
come on stage. Your employees are like the actors in a play and
they have a certain role to fulfill. The credibility of your business
lies partly in their hands. Remember, everything your patients
see, hear, smell and touch will make an impression and will
either build up your name, image and reputation or slowly start
to whittle it away. Do your patients see crisp, clean uniforms on
a well-scrubbed hygienist? Make-up, earrings, fingernail polish,
rings, tattoos, beards, and mustaches – all of these elements send
a message. When I worked at Walt Disney World, it was important
to present a friendly, fresh, non-intimidating image; therefore,
minimal make-up, no more than one earring per ear, light
fingernail polish and one ring per hand. No visible tattoos,
beards or mustaches were allowed.
What do your patients hear? Do staff know not to speak
poorly of other patients, to not complain about management or
other office staff, to not discuss personal activities when they are
in the presence of other patients?
Smell is another element in your physical environment that
will impact the patient experience. Have you ever walked into a
restaurant and smelled something unpleasant, turned and
walked out the door without ever sitting down? The same thing
can happen because of the smells in your practice. Toothpaste
comes in many different flavors these days, but what about your
office? Is it a clinical sterile scent
you want or more of a chocolate
chip cookie scent? Today there are
smellitzers that can help create the
smell you want and studies to show
what scents are most comfortable
and non-obtrusive to people.
And finally, don’t forget touch.
As a patient, I don’t want to sit in
sticky plastic chairs and I certainly
don’t want to sit in any chair that is
wet! I want the armrests to feel clean
and I want to see utensils that all are
obviously being sterilized before
touching my mouth. I expect the
doctor’s hands and the hygienist’s
hands to appear washed and clean.
It makes an impression as to how I
am touched. Is it rough and quick
with a "let’s-get-this-over-with" attitude
or is it gentle, careful and "I’ll try not to make this so unpleasant
for you" attitude?
Your physical environment is extremely critical to the success
of your business. It is often the differentiator in how a patient
chooses where they will take their business. Everyone has their
own factors that make them feel most comfortable with their
choice of environment. The key is to identify the message you
want your practice to send and then make certain your setting
reinforces it through sight, sound, smell and touch because everything