Exploring Your Staff's Best Attributes
BY JANE J. BEEMAN, COA, NCLC-AC, FCLSA, PRSA
What are the most important attributes of your best staff personnel? A small group of successful practitioners recently discussed this question. Their responses may surprise you.
Communication Skills are #1
Your staff spends the most time interacting with patients, and knowing what to say and how to say it ranked as the most valuable staff attribute. In these days of advanced technology, many office position descriptions contain long lists of technical skills: "Requires experience in computer posting, electronic insurance billing and online recall programs" or "must be able to perform autorefraction, topographical and glaucoma screening tests." But responding practitioners explained that staff can learn technical skills through training, which is why good communication skills are their number-one foundation block for hiring and promoting staff.
Often overlooked are telephone communication skills. Words often take on different meanings when they are cut off from visual input. When we talk with a friend or family member on the telephone, we can easily visualize their responses and adjust our word choices to achieve the intended impact. Talking with patients on the phone requires using words and phrases that solicit the needed information without personalizing the conversation or making assumptions about patient needs or desires.
For front office staff, the first responsibility is to direct patients to the most appropriate person to answer their questions. Often staff members find themselves involved in lengthy conversations about diagnosis and correction methods that are simply not appropriate and with new HIPPA guidelines, may not be legal. Staff members should instead quickly refer the call to other office personnel or the doctor.
Some staff members assume that every caller who asks about the cost of contact lenses is "price shopping" and will not be making an appointment. In truth, most consumers who call about lenses are interested in discussing them with a doctor but are unsure how to find a "contact lenses expert" in the area. After staff members provide a range of fit fees and box prices, they should always follow with, "Would you like to make an appointment with our doctor to discuss this further?"
Appearance Makes a Statement
The responding practitioners ranked professional appearance as the second most important staff attribute. Clean, conservative business-casual attire puts patients at ease. Regardless of age, staff members should save trendy fashions, hairstyles and makeup applications for after work hours.
Patients pay close attention to hand and nail hygiene. Staff members should keep their nails well manicured and let patients see them wash their hands before proceeding with any testing.
Practitioners also look for a good foundation of skills and experience when hiring new staff.
For existing staff, responding practitioners cited "continual learning" as the key to success. Some offices hold regular planning sessions with staff to outline skill areas to improve, but most practitioners wait for staff members to identify training opportunities they wish to pursue.
The past director of professional services for Bausch & Lomb, Jane is now in clinical practice in Rochester, NY, and is a frequent guest speaker at leading academic and professional programs around the world.