How to Improve Your Patient Experience by Secret Shopping
They say “TV rots your brain,” but I’m here to tell you that’s a lie (well, sometimes).
Take the CBS show Undercover Boss. It’s the one where an executive poses as an employee in their own firm. The goal is to find out what’s working in the business and what’s not.
And it never fails. In EVERY episode, the business owner or executive is shocked at what they discover. Maybe it’s the hard-working employee whose efforts go unnoticed. Or the receptionist who’s always rude and repels customers.
By the end of their experience, the boss learns something valuable that will change their business for the better.
Now, you might not be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. But you ARE a business owner with patients and most likely, a support team. So, it’s worth asking the question, “What are my patients really experiencing?” Once you know the answer, you can begin to improve your patient experience.
So, buckle up, my friend. It’s time for some undercover work.
What Does It Mean to Secret Shop Your Practice?
Going undercover is sometimes called “secret shopping” or “mystery shopping.” It happens in brick-and-mortar businesses all the time, like retail shops or restaurants.
But it’s a little different than how they do it in Undercover Boss. Secret shopping is when you hire someone to act like a new patient, fill out the forms, go in for an appointment, interact with your team, and actually pay for it when finished. Then, once they leave, they give you the full scoop on their experience (and you refund their money).
During the time the secret shopper is in your practice, they’re noticing things like:
- What was the follow-up like when they inquired to be a possible new patient?
- Were there forms to complete? How were they delivered?
- Was the person responding knowledgeable and helpful?
- How were they greeted for their first appointment?
- What was the check-in process like?
- How long did they have to wait to be called back? If the wait was long, were they notified as to why?
- Was the office clean? Were there any odors or unclean areas?
- What did they love about their patient experience?
- What could have been better?
Because you’re the head honcho at your practice, you won’t be able to walk in and do this yourself. You’re going to need some help. Keep reading to find out how to set up your own “secret shopping” experience!
How to Set Up Your “Secret Shopping” Program
Fortunately, setting this up is simple to do and a ton of fun. Just keep these 4 steps in mind:
1. Keep it a secret.
Secret shopping only works if you, well, keep it a secret. So, don’t tell your staff that you’re bringing in a secret shopper.
Instead, find a willing friend, or a friend of a friend. Fresh eyes are the best eyes. So, try to choose someone who has never been to your clinic before. Let them know you’ll be refunding the charge for the appointment.
Also, on the day of the big ‘shop,’ pretend like you don’t know this friend. (Make sure they pretend, too! #awkward). If your secret shopper friend seems like a bad actor or you prefer total anonymity, have someone you trust find a willing participant.
2. Let your secret shopper know what to do.
The more guidance you give your secret shopper, the better quality feedback you’ll get. Let them know what to look for so they’re not flying blind.
If you’re concerned about a specific area (like customer service or your new-lead follow-up process), ask them to pay special attention to that area. Better yet, create a list of questions that affect the patient experience. (Use the list above as a starting point.) Send it to them ahead of time so they can review it and be ready.
3. Get detailed.
Your secret shopper will give you amaaaazing insights. Be sure you ask them to pay attention to and write down as many details as possible. Consider asking them to take note of things like:
- If the office was busy
- The conditions of the waiting room
- How long it took for them to be helped (and if it felt too long)
- The attitude and helpfulness of your staff
- The names of the staff members they spoke with
- How they would rate their overall patient experience
If you REALLY want to get laser-focused, thumb through some of your patient reviews. Jot down any recurring themes, especially from the “bad” reviews, and create some questions around those.
4. Find a time to debrief.
Once your secret shopper has finished, give them a couple of days to compile all their notes and thoughts. Then, set up some time to meet and go through their experience.
Now, before you do this, I must warn you…
The goal of secret shopping is to find out what your patients are really experiencing so you can make it better. This might mean you hear some hard truths. It might be a bit uncomfortable. And that’s OK.
Know that the hard truths lead to growth. As uncomfortable as it may be to hear, this information will help you run a smoother practice and improve your patient experience.
What to Do With What You Learn
What you learn from your secret shopper will be eye-opening. So, before you sit down with your team and share the results, it might help to set some ground rules:
Remind your team this isn’t some “gotcha!” moment. It’s not about brow-beating your staff or placing blame. It’s about taking the feedback, keeping it positive, and improving your practice. Remember, you all work together as a team.
Involve your team in finding the right solutions. Your team will have a much greater stake in the success of your practice if you involve them.
If your secret shopper reveals that check-in was clunky, involve your receptionist. Ask her to help brainstorm ideas to make it more efficient. This helps keep your staff empowered – something especially important when working through sensitive feedback.
Emphasize that this is all about improving the patient experience. At the end of the day, the goal is to offer an exceptional patient experience. So remind your team that this isn’t about who did what wrong – it’s about helping your patients feel at home and welcome.
Secret Shop Your Practice
When you secret shop, you’re collecting data at that exact point in time. You’ll learn what’s working and what needs a little TLC. Then, you can make a plan to improve the areas that need the most attention.
As your practice grows, you’ll have new opportunities that pop up. That’s why having one secret shopping experience isn’t enough for long-term success. Plan to have them a couple of times a year so you can…
- Check on the areas you previously identified.
- Determine if there are any new areas that need work.
Secret shopping is a powerful way to improve your overall practice and your patient experience. Make a plan to organize a secret shop for your practice. And remember to have fun with it!