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Motivating GP receptionists – Attitudes, variety and value

by in GP Practice Management, Reception, Receptionists, Staff

GP receptionistIt is well documented that GP receptionists are your front line. He or she is the first person your patients are met with, they have to deal with 101 questions and keep smiling with the most testing of patients. They also play a vital role in determining the level of patient satisfaction with a practice – as a survey found out last year. That means it’s vital they remain as motivated as possible for as much time as possible.

This topic was raised recently on the Practice Index Forum, when one contributor wrote: “We all know that being a receptionist in a busy GP surgery is not the easiest and it takes a certain type of person to put up with all the patients, especially the difficult ones, but what to do about those receptionists who need a bit of boosting up so they come across as helpful and happy instead of rude and unhelpful? Nope, we can’t offer more money, and yep they’ve had training recently.”

So, what can be done to motivate GP reception staff? Communication, positive feedback, variety within the role and providing the correct tools can all help – and these techniques for the motivation of underperforming staff is something we’ve covered before. Instead, we’re going to take a slightly different look at some other issues and potential problems.

Attitudes

Attitude plays a big part in the motivation of reception staff – but rather than focusing on the receptionists themselves, it may be worth taking a look at the wider practice team.

Commenting on the forum, Robert Campbell said: “What makes it worse is the attitude of some doctors towards reception staff. A receptionist needs to be polite, calm and kind, just like an angel. He or she gives the first impression of the practice and if that does not score five stars the practice has failed. Sadly, some GPs like a dragon and not an angel at the reception and issue all sorts of rules to follow precisely.”

That’s a fair point. HR experts and staff alike would agree that motivation is a top-down process. Processes dictated by the management team have to develop a culture of motivation, avoid stifling human instinct, show trust in an individual and build a team spirit. That starts with a simple thank you and works through into everyday roles. For example, how much variation is there in the receptionist’s role?

Variety

This moves us nicely onto job functions and ensuring receptionists have some variation in their daily work. There’s no doubting that they have a hard job to do, so why not break up the routine and give them responsibility for other jobs? Or why not join them for a while and field a few calls with them – it’ll show you care.

What else would they like to do? What training could help? As one PM told us, engaging your staff and asking them how to improve things is the best way forward.

Value your receptionists

Returning to the top-down approach to motivation, one PM commented via the forum: “Ask what sort of day has it been and you find out which situations [the receptionist] has had. This can identify some trends e.g. a certain patient may always have attitude with every receptionist, so we invite them in and work on what the problem is, if there is one. This all does take time but eventually reaps benefit.

“It also pays to back them up when they are being confronted and can’t manage the situation. They have a code word they message me with and I go downstairs and take the patient to one side. This demonstrates to the receptionist that it’s not all about them.”

Too few, too long?

Another interesting point to consider is whether or not you are asking too much of your receptionists – most importantly – are they spending too long dealing with patients?

There are a number of ways to deal with this. You could share the responsibility and make the whole team cover reception duties, allowing current receptionists to spend more time doing other admin tasks. This team effort has worked for one practice in Cumbria – its PM told us: “We really were pushing our two receptionists to the brink by expecting them to spend most of their days dealing with patients. So, all six within the admin team were put on the phones in half-day chunks. Nobody complained about it and now we have a real team ethos that’s proving valuable elsewhere.”

Another practice told us they went down the route of a job share. “This relieved the pressure as the job was broken down into manageable chunks. It also helped us recruit more easily as the part-time hours appealed to people.”

A bit of lateral thinking can sometimes be beneficial!

Make training fun

The final point we’re going to look at today is training – and the need to make it interesting and fun. Here are three top tips from a telephone training consultant:

  1. Record calls and play them back to the receptionist – there’s usually a big difference between what they think they sound like and the reality. Just the simple act of listening to themselves should help improve matters.
  2. Smile! Smiling when on the phone makes people sound much friendlier – and is proven to make the person smiling feel better. One business I worked with gave every member of staff a small photo frame for their desk – staff were encouraged (and actually made) to add a photo of a happy occasion to the frame and, most importantly, to change it every fortnight. Other companies have used joke books.
  3. When training it can be a good idea to ask staff to recall a great telephone-based experience they’ve received. It doesn’t matter whether they were buying something, booking their car in for a service or even complaining – what made that call remarkable?

While money, gifts and a tin of biscuits can also provide some element of motivation, hopefully the steps above will be longer lasting and more effective!

How do you motivate your receptionists? Please let us know by commenting below or in the forum here

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