A Tale of Two Offices

ReceptionistsThe past year has been one in which I’ve had to spend an abnormally high amount of time in doctor’s offices. After avoiding the commitment for years, I even selected a primary care physician; it is something that healthcare insurers and providers are exceedingly fond of asking about.  Until recently, I had no real context to compare the behavior of the people who greet you at the front desk, ensure that you have paid what you owe and schedule your inevitable next appointment. Now that I have reluctantly been given that context I began considering how communication skills at the front desk could influence the perception one has about their medical provider.

The primary care physician I selected is a pleasant, robust woman, perhaps in her late thirties or early forties. She is one of the doctors who share a practice with my wife’s primary doctor and I became comfortable right away. During my initial visit, I found her to be extremely thorough and refreshingly direct without being condescending or rude. Unfortunately, I found the staff at the front desk not quite as inviting. Upon my first visit, I noticed there were three to four employees at the front desk and the same number of people waiting in the lobby to be seen. It was early and not very busy. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I had such an odd emotional reaction to that front desk staff.

After my visit with the doctor and I was about to schedule that inevitable follow up, I waited while another patient scheduled hers. I notice the interaction between the two and it felt….cold. I mentally chalked it up to some unpleasantness from the other patient that I had not witnessed so when it was my turn, I made a point of smiling, I even made some random humorous comment, which should have elicited some response, but I got nothing…..crickets….just a look that implored me to get on with it please. At the time, I didn’t give the incident anymore thought because frankly, I was more focused on my health.

In between medical doctor visits, I needed to make an appointment with a dentist, because one of my wisdom teeth became impacted. I decided to try a new dentist and after an initial exam, that dentist had to refer me to a specialist, it was in that specialist’s office that I found the most striking difference in how patients could treated at the front desk. It is a smaller office, with only two people at the front desk on a regular basis, after one visit I was on a first name basis with both. Even if it hadn’t been a situation in which they had time to chat with me, I still believe they would have greeted me with a welcoming smile and sincere warmth. I left with a feeling of confidence in their professionalism, even though the procedure I was going to undertake would be painful and unpleasant.

My second visit to my primary’s office only confirmed my suspicions from before; it’s not that anyone was rude, it was just cold, indifferent and mechanical and as much as I like my doctor, I am considering changing. From what I know, some doctors manage their offices themselves and others hire someone else to do it for them. In either case, this was a glaring example how the face of a business is not in the boardroom or the backroom. The face of any organization, no matter what size, is in those who greet the customer every day and no matter how great you are or how great your product is, your customers will eventually tire of poor relations with your upfront staff. If you put the right “face” on your business, your customers will better tolerate a little pain on occasion.

~ Richard


About Richard
I have spent my entire life learning to be a better communicator in in all facets of my life. I have learned as much from my failures as I have from success; laughing, crying and loving along the way. After earning a B.S. in Communications I decided to share what I have learned while continuing my own personal growth. I believe that the better we are to each other, the richer our lives will become.

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