A waiting room suitable for a visit from the Queen and an arsenal of energy-based technologies capable of rejuvenating the entire planet won’t keep an aesthetic practice afloat if the staff and providers don’t take the time to define their practice culture and provide patients with great experiences.
There is no better time to take stock of your business than the start of a new year. And the only way to guarantee success is by devoting time to creating a culture of success – fueled by a professional, competent and cohesive team.
An investment of time
According to practice management consultant, Terri Ross, practice owners and leaders need to be fully invested in the business. “They can’t just work in it; they need to work on it,” she expressed.
Robyn Siperstein, MD, a dermatologist in Boynton Beach and Boca Raton, Fla., says it takes a lot of time and hard work to make an aesthetic practice run like a well-oiled machine, and she agrees that it starts and ends with having the right team in place.
Dr. Siperstein’s practice includes ten board certified dermatologists and a board certified facial plastic surgeon, three physician assistants, three aestheticians/laser techs, one Coolsculpting technician and one cosmetic consultant. That’s not to mention an additional 50 support staff, from front desk personnel and medical assistants to billing staff.
“We are hyper-focused on providing each of our patients with highly personalized experiences that exceed all expectations. This requires a sig- nificant investment of time, energy and money dedicated solely to training,” Dr. Siperstein stated.
Dr. Siperstein has built a culture of success with a disciplined approach to ensure consistently great patient experiences. The entire team is equipped with detailed checklists and protocols that they must adhere to when completing tasks and procedures, she says.
The quality of the team is vital for practice success, said Brian S. Biesman, MD, assistant clinical professor of Ophthalmology, Dermatology and Otolaryngology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and past president of the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery.
Dr. Biesman also runs a private practice in Nashville, Tenn., which includes four providers and ten team members. “Without the staff being a good representative of what I’m about and what our practice philosophy is, I can’t begin to make any progress and move forward,” he noted.
Building a culture of success means defining a practice’s philosophy and making sure that everyone on the team is on the same page, Dr. Biesman pointed out.
For example, Dr. Biesman’s philosophy is to steer clear of selling services and products. “We want our patients to feel comfortable and not pressured. This is a medical environment and we are here to help them make the best decisions for their health overall,” he said. “We are not here to upsell them. So, everyone on the team has to be on the same page that this is the philosophy they like and agree with.”
An alternative medical practice mentality
Potential patients have choices in aesthetic practices. And often, having a competent provider isn’t enough. Potential patients often contact several offices and choose the practices with which they’ve had the best experiences, Ms. Ross indicated. And, it takes a team, from the front desk to the back office, to create the right experience.
Jay A. Shorr, managing partner of Shorr Solutions called attention to the culture of service at high-end brands like Bloomingdales, the Four Seasons and Ritz Carlton. “The approach is evident in the simplest of interactions.
“For example, a physician’s staff member might respond to a patient who says ‘thank you,’ with ‘no problem,’” Mr. Shorr noted. “Conversely, an employee at a high-end brand is trained to say, ‘my pleasure.’
“After all, is it not truly your pleasure to do something for a person?” Mr. Shorr posed.
“In a practice that applies a culture of success, staff understand that patients need to ‘hear a smile,’ even if they are on the phone, or are communicating online and don’t see the staff member smiling,” Mr. Shorr noted.
That is why practices should be open- minded when hiring non-medical staff. Work experience in the hospitality industry or high-end restaurants might not seem ideal, but those candidates generally have the customer-is-first mentality that is so important in today’s culture of success.
Hiring right is key because the people a practice hires generally reflect the clientele the practice will attract, according to Mr. Shorr.
More hiring best practices
At Dr. Biesman’s office each member of the team participates in the interview process and can weigh in on whether they think candidates are good fits for the practice.
“This gives my staff a voice, but also gives them some ownership. If something is not going well, rather than it being my problem or a manager’s problem, it is our problem,” he said. “We work together as a unit.”
Dr. Siperstein’s quickly growing practice is perpetually in hiring mode. She too thinks it is wise to get the staff involved in the hiring process.
“While we are often successful at identifying candidates who might be a great fit for our practice through conventional methods, we have found that enlisting our current staff members to help us find our future staff members is often a better strategy,” she advised.
“A few years back, we implemented a staff referral program that incentivizes our current staff members to recommend other like-minded individuals to apply for open positions with us,” Dr. Siperstein continued. “If their referral is hired, our staff members receive $100 finder’s fee. This approach has yielded some amazingly talented and experienced new-hires, and simultaneously decreases attrition since these individuals are pre-screened by the staff member who referred them.”
Nonetheless, Dr. Siperstein also noted that while the referral program has worked, it has also backfired. She cautioned that practices hiring staff should tread carefully when hiring family members or close friends of current staff.
Dr. Siperstein’s team also leverages online job sites to search for qualified candidates and hosts meet-and-greet job fairs at the offices a few times a year, where staff can pre-screen interested candidates in-person.
“We always ‘screen for aptitude and hire for attitude,’ meaning that we will not always hire candidates who only look good on paper,” Dr. Siperstein stated.
To ensure they hire candidates who assimilate into the practice culture, Dr. Siperstein and staff have designed situation-based interview questions around the practice’s core values. The questions allow those doing the interviewing to get inside the candidates’ heads, to see if they could genuinely embrace the practice’s service culture and values.
“For instance, we pose a scenario where a wheelchair-bound elderly patient arrives by ambulette with either no appointment scheduled for that day or has been dropped off at the wrong office. We ask the candidate how they would handle this type of situation,” Dr. Siperstein shared.
“Some candidates have said they would tell patients arriving on the wrong day or time that they need to come back when they’re scheduled, and the practice cannot accommodate walk-ins,” Dr.Siperstein continued. “Some candidates have also said that if patients are dropped off at the wrong office, they’d tell the patients they’re in the wrong place without offering further assistance.
“We know that a candidate providing answers like these will not be a good fit for us, as we always try to find a way to say yes. This is the can-do attitude we are always looking for in prospective employees, and demonstrates the genuine type of empathy, compassion and desire to serve that are aligned with our practice culture,” Dr. Siperstein expressed.
In Ms. Ross’s opinion, many providers and practices do not take the time to invest in their teams or train them adequately. As someone who teaches fundamentals of the patient experience, she says it starts with the initial phone call. Hiring someone who is pretty, bubbly and willing to work is not how your practice will achieve success.
Ms. Ross recommends that employers should do personality tests. Employers should also consider having potential candidates come in and shadow for the day, so they can see them in action, how they work and how they interact.
Instead of Craig’s List, use a more professional source like LinkedIn or Indeed, or a recruiter that has a database in the aesthetic industry, Ms. Ross asserted.
Once the person is onboard, the practice manager should sit down with the new employee and communicate what their training and onboarding process is and test them throughout the process. Practices are in the retail business, so the level of patient engagement and ability to connect, while building trust and rapport by providing value, is what makes the difference, Ms. Ross added.
“I think people that want a thriving practice have to show that they are invested in their team. When someone is onboarding, sit down with that person and really talk about the culture of the company, what the practice is, the value proposition, what their expectations are, what the new employee is accountable and responsible for,” Ms. Ross underscored.
Avoid known pitfalls
“There’s no perfect formula for hiring the right people and keeping them. But there are things that often do not work. One potential hiring mistake is to cut corners by hiring candidates at lower than average salaries,” Dr. Siperstein pointed out. “That doesn’t end up saving the practice money; rather, it results in a revolving door of staff who are always looking for a better salary.
“Obviously, there needs to be a balance between underpaying and over- paying staff, but we have found more success in bringing staff onboard at an introductory pay rate with a commitment to raising their pay following an initial 90-day review,” Dr. Siperstein explained. “This has proven to be an effective strategy to get staff members to show us their A-game right out of the gate and also builds trust and credibility by honoring the commitments we make to our staff members.”
It is important when making hiring deci- sions to take your gut into consideration, Dr. Biesman emphasized. “Even if you’d like very much for someone to work out, if your gut tells you it is not a good call, then it is not a good idea,” he declared.
Office drama: A no-no
Office drama undermines a culture of success.
Dr. Siperstein’s practice has a no-tolerance policy for office drama, but she and the staff understand that keeping peace and harmony between departments in a fast-paced, high-volume and growing practice requires constant attention.
“To avoid falling into a situation where departments are working in individual silos, we try to find creative ways to break down barriers and enhance inter-departmental communication, cooperation and collaboration,” she shared.
The practice does that with quarterly team-building events that foster stronger relationships between departments and encourage staff members from each work group to better understand what a day-in-the-life looks like for their team- mates in other departments.
“Teamwork is one of our core values. We know that any disharmony can have negative consequences on staff morale, which can ultimately impact how our staff members treat our patients,” Dr. Siperstein acknowledged.
Retaining good staff
Dr. Biesman makes it a point to show his staff that he appreciates what they do. “My goal is to create a situation where someone will never leave to find a ‘better job.’ I don’t think I’ve actually had someone who we wanted to keep leave for a better opportunity,” he shared.
But it is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Different people are motivated by different things. Some are motivated primarily by money, while others might want the opportunity to grow professionally by getting involved in industry consulting, writing papers or going back to school, Dr. Biesman noted.
“We have a questionnaire that staff fill out as part of their review process. I try to figure out what’s most important to them, and we’ll do our best to accommodate that,” he stated.
Dr. Biesman feels it is important for the practice leader to be a leader and not the staff’s best friend. Still, long-time staff do become like family. So, he and his wife invite staff members to their home a few times each year. He also takes an interest in helping them grow professionally and personally. The office closes, for example, on team- building days when speakers come in to talk about topics aimed at enhancing people’s lives.
Dr. Siperstein offers a “staff appreciation benefit,” where every quarter the practice offers staff members a choice of a complimentary service. It is a nice perk for staff and helps them better educate patients about popular procedures. Other benefit types are also important, Dr. Siperstein added.
“We also offer three different levels of health insurance to cater to the varying needs of our diverse staff and even long-term disability options. We offer flex-scheduling for working moms and staff members pursuing their educational goals and, most importantly, a path towards career advancement opportunities with our practice for those who make their long-term goals known to us,” Dr. Siperstein noted.
Building a culture of success is worth it, Dr. Biesman remarked. “Having a really strong staff and healthy environment takes the stress off of me. There is less for me to worry about.”
But it is a never-ending process.
Dr. Siperstein says her practice culture has been built on a humble foundation.
“While we are not perfect, we always strive for excellence in everything we do and try to learn from our mistakes,” she expressed. “We are committed to promoting a culture of continuous improvement and believe that by never allowing complacency to set in, we will keep our entire team committed to achieving.”