By Patrick Creagh, Patientco Marketingpatient_access

One thing nearly every physical retail store has in common is the checkout process. As the final step in a given episode of shopping, browsing, or returning merchandise/services, the checkout process is universal and it is vital to the overall customer experience.

A positive checkout experience can salvage a frustrating shopping experience. A negative checkout experience can be a dealbreaker, especially for a business that expects return customers (i.e. a grocery store).

For businesses whose checkouts include a financial transaction (that is to say, most businesses), the customer experience is not limited simply to the quality of customer service. Rather, quality customer service is part of a holistic experience that includes process and technology into the equation.

While consumers rarely reflect on their ‘holistic customer experience’ unless they had a particularly outstanding or terrible one, the recent shift to EMV-compliant credit card terminals shined a light on how small changes in technology can alter the overall shopping experience.

The reactions were mixed. To some consumers, the EMV terminals signal a more secure transaction, especially in wake of recent cyberbreaches at major retailers. Others felt that the chip technology was too slow and caused backups at the counter as employees struggled to use the new technology for the first couple weeks.

To be clear, migrating to EMV-compliant terminals is not optional for businesses. Since the October 1, 2015 deadline, businesses face liability for credit card fraud if they are not using updated terminals. However, not all payment processing hardware is created equal, just as checkout processes and levels of customer service vary from business to business. The quality of the technology matters.

Mixing Healthcare with Retail

Most healthcare providers and consumers don’t think of healthcare as a traditional retail business. However, there are more similarities that have recently become more visible, given the recent explosive growth of retail medicine and urgent care clinics. As private businesses, these clinics are unbound by nonprofit regulations which require treatment regardless of ability to pay at the time. Therefore, many of these businesses require immediate payment or proof of eligible insurance coverage before care is given. Locations may be a stand alone building in a large suburb or a subsection of a larger retailer (Target, Walgreens).

In exchange for these stricter financial policies, most urgent care clinics and retail medicine locations offer availability based on demand, often outside of traditional business hours. They also tend to offer a faster, more convenient payment experience, often with online scheduling and bill pay options. Without a third party payer to dictate that patients visit their location, these businesses are incentivized to differentiate themselves from their competition. If a patient experiences poor customer service or an inconvenient payment process during the checkout, he or she will leave with that experience on the mind. Because retail medicine is relatively commoditized, he or she may choose a competitor’s business next time.

Where Traditional Healthcare Can Emulate Retail During Patient Access

While retail medicine and urgent care clinics rely on competitive pricing and customer service to get business, traditional healthcare providers typically have the advantage of third party payers contributing a significant portion of patient’s balance. That said, the average out-of-pocket deductible of a patient has to pay has steadily increased along with the numbers of patients covered under high deductible health plans. Small copays at the doctor’s office are starting to give way to deductible payments in the hundreds of dollars for a single visit, under some plans.

For a patient coming in for a routine physician visit, making a payment of hundreds of dollars is much different than a $20 copay. For the administrator at the counter, requesting that amount is a different conversation, one many are still struggling with. This is where technology can provide a boost to customer service. Having technology that enables you to offer multiple payment methods, financing options, and payment plans along with friendly customer service makes that conversation much smoother for both the patient and the provider. On top of that, the payment process needs to be simple to maintain the positive experience your clinicians have worked so hard to create.

Your First and Final Impressions

For most patients, patient access is the first and final in-person impression of your business. In fact, while your patients’ clinical experience will vary (depending on their reason for coming in), all of your patients will experience your checkout process. Their experience will influence their decision to give or not give you repeat business. Therefore, make your first and final impressions positive ones.

Patientco Essentials is a patient payments platform for accepting, processing, depositing, and posting every patient transaction. To learn more about the features of our payments solution, designed with these challenges in mind, download our free white paper.