The healthcare industry is slowly starting to move online, and internet start-up ZocDoc is there to make that happen.The premise is simple enough–allowing patients and doctors to choose and manage appointments online. But behind the seamless web interface, ZocDoc is trying to broker a whole new standard for interaction between patients and doctors.
We’d heard some crazy stories about the length ZocDoc goes to make sure their users are happy: from calling doctors ahead of snowstorms to make sure their offices would still be open to sending patients Amazon gift cards when doctors cancelled their appointments.
So we spoke with Anna Elwood, Director of Operations (the company’s code for Customer Service) and Allison Braley, their head of Public Relations, to figure out the lengths the company will go to to keep their customers happy.
What’s your philosophy on interacting with customers?
Anna Elwood: We have a couple of service values as a team–we’ve developed them over time from stats that we’ve looked into–but ultimately we want to make sure that nothing replaces the human touch. Though we are a technology company, we have a huge heart behind us. We’re really looking to change the face of healthcare, and we’re really passionate about it. Although an individual may be interacting with their computer, we want them to feel the heart behind the company. When that means that we reach out over the phone, there’s no better way to really make a difference in that patient’s experience.
OK, so what happens when the process doesn’t go smoothly?
Elwood: More often than not, the service is seamless. You book an appointment, you get the appointment that you want, you go to the appointment, and you write, hopefully, a stellar review on your doctor. But sometimes something might go wrong; your doctor reschedules you by 15 minutes, 20 minutes, or even by a day or something. We actually keep track of this.
Our service is designed so that the patients have the power in their hands to choose an appointment and go to that appointment, and when that doesn’t happen then we will call that patient. We’ll say, “I noticed that this was changed by the practice, and I wanted to get some feedback on what happened so that we make it better for future patients,” because ultimately that’s what we’re looking for. We also want to repair the relationship if there was a problem, so we’ll often send them an Amazon gift card to make up for the inconvenience at least in a small way. Really our intent is to get feedback so we can fix it.
So I actually heard you guys track weather to make sure customers get to their appointments? Is that right?
Elwood: If you were to visit our office, you would see that we have all these screens above where our operations associates sit. One of these screens actually has a weather map that tracks earthquake activity, that tracks snow, rain–whatever might prevent an appointment from happening seamlessly, so that we can reach out to practices and say, “Are you sure you’re going to be open tomorrow? Are you sure you’re going to be open the next couple of days?” so that we can prevent problems before they happen.
We believe really strongly in being proactive about this sort of thing, rather than being reactive, so weather is obviously a big player.
The other thing about our screens–and I think one of the most enjoyable things to see–is our Twitter feed. We’re a technology company and social media is a huge opportunity to reach out to users or patients that love us, and also users or patients that may have had a small mishap, where they might send us a message or mention us. We can easily track those and follow up right away, either through Twitter or checking back on their data and giving them a quick call.I guess you’d consider patients to be your “customer base,” but how do you interact with doctors? Clearly, you want them to sign up and use Zoc Doc as well…
Elwood: Absolutely–if we didn’t have the doctors we wouldn’t have the patients!
It’s the same kind of values and point of view with our doctors. We believe really strongly in creating an excellent customer experience for them, and their experience is–as you can probably imagine–a lot more extensive than, say, a patient’s. We have an entire on-boarding process, where we consult with them on what their office workflow is like, so we can customise our service to theirs. We can get an idea of what they’re looking for when getting a patient into the office, and we can ameliorate their profile from a marketing perspective.
We have an entire photography operation, so we can send them complimentary professional photographers so we can get some really accurate and helpful shots of, not only the doctor but the office staff and the interior and exterior of the office, all in the aim of having the patients really know the look of the office, the feel of the office. It’s kind of a 360 experience of their doctor before they even arrive, so we’re heavily involved in the doctor’s success on the service as well.
It sounds like you’re taking on a lot of responsibility for the doctors here, too. How do you make sure that a patient’s poor experience with a doctor doesn’t reflect poorly on ZocDoc itself?Allison Braley: When we go in and sign up the doctors, we don’t just sign up any old doctors–we want to sign up the doctors patients want the most. We want typically primary care doctors, which are some of the hardest doctors to get appointments with in the U.S., dermatologists, OB-GYN’s. Then once we have enough doctors spread throughout a metropolitan area in those specialties who accept a wide variety of insurances–because that’s also key to our patients–then we start working our way down the list of additional specialties we know people want.
So on some level, you’re giving patients a curated list of the first doctors they’re going to want to look at.
Braley: We actually qualify all the doctors, too, and that’s something that Anna’s team works on extensively as well. We don’t just take your word for it that you have the certifications you claim to, we go in and independently check up on those things before we allow a doctor into our service. One of our founders is fond of saying that we could probably sign up plastic surgeons right away in some of these markets and that’s just not something we do first, even though it could possibly make us more money. Our biggest core value is patients first and in all of our core decisions we put our patients first because we do believe that our patients will reward us with their loyalty.
OK, so how does internal technology reflect your attention to customers?
Elwood: One of our other service values is “there’s no time like the present.” You can solve a problem and someone might be satisfied with that, but the way you’re really going to give them a magical experience–a wow experience–is if you can do that in a timely and speedy manner. We’re building a service that really takes that to heart. For example, we’re dedicated to answering our phone calls within 8 seconds or the first ring, and we’re implementing new call centre software that will allow us to do that even more effectively.
Braley: One of my favourite service stories lately was that we had somebody post something lately about a mediocre experience with ZocDoc: “My doctor couldn’t see me right away.” Within two minutes he had posted, “Clory [a customer service representative] is legit!” after that and glowed about our service because one of our operations team members reached out to this patient so quickly, so proactively and solved the problem so completely that it turned the person from one who said, “ZocDoc’s just OK,” to someone who said, “Oh my god, ZocDoc is the best thing ever.”
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