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The ROI of Soft Skills Training in Healthcare Customer Care

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It’s no secret that, for organizations to be successful, a healthy focus on the bottom line is critical. That goes for healthcare and life sciences organizations as well. Because of this, many organizations focus on ”hard skills” when training their patient support, customer care, or contact center employees. Hard skills are those teachable skills that are often easier to quantify, such as product details, service offerings, or the technology they use to enter an order. Hard skills certainly have their place, after all understanding the products and services is paramount to helping drive greater revenue.

But while hard skills may reign supreme in training now, what if I told you there was a secret, even more powerful weapon that your support teams can access to bring the patient experience to new heights? The secret: Training your staff in ”soft skills.”

Soft skills tap right into emotion but don’t take my word for it. Consider this quote from the “Harvard Business Review”: “Our research across hundreds of brands in dozens of categories shows that the most effective way to maximize customer value is to move beyond mere customer satisfaction and connect with customers at an emotional level – tapping into their fundamental motivations and fulfilling their deep, often unspoken emotional needs” (emphasis mine).

How does one connect with customers on an emotional level? Why, soft skills, of course.

What are soft skills?

They help build relationships, forge connections, and create pleasant experiences that keep folks coming back for more. They also help create a sense of empathy, that intangible but very important ability to deeply understand and share in the feelings of another person — even if we’ve never been through an experience that produces such feelings firsthand.

Soft skills help folks interact effectively with others and are the cornerstone of forging connections in a customer-centric atmosphere.

Soft skills produce a return on investment

Let’s get back to the bottom line: Can soft skills really make the kind of impact that can be seen on a P&L statement? Absolutely! Investment in customer-centric practices can have a positive effect on customer experience and business success.

For example, a 2018 study by M&C Saatchi (PDF) found that the empathy deficit in business costs the average brand between $287 million and $1.08 billion in lost revenue every year.

The study looked at people’s real-life experience of brands and how closely they matched marketing promises and found that 18% of consumers stopped using a brand over a period of 12 months because of the gap between marketing and experience, and 32% believe that the gap is widening. M&C Saatchi’s work underscores the key role that experience plays in brand loyalty and customer retention, and companies that train empathetic customer-facing practices can effectively lessen the gap.

In addition, a Boston University, Harvard University, and Ross School of Business (U of Michigan) study found that training in self-awareness and soft skills, like interpersonal communication and problem-solving, produces a 256% return on investment, based on an average rate of 12% higher team productivity and retention.

Finally, consider that, during the height of the 2020 pandemic, Edelman’s Trust Barometer report found that 83% of people want “compassionate connection … that communicates empathy and support with the struggles they face”.

This connection that Mr. Edelman speaks of helps drive brand loyalty and create customers for life.

How to weave soft skills training through your customer-facing teams

So how can we develop a focus on soft skills in our customer-facing teams? Dig back into your training curriculum and determine where a dose of empathy can help move the needle. For example:

  • Train staff members on the journey that your audiences take, including the challenges, fears, and risks they face relating to your product or service.
  • Provide time for staff members to reflect on how the patient’s journey has relevance to the employee’s own journey or the journey of a family member or friend.
  • Work on communication and listening skills to help your staff members practice active listening to understand what the patient needs (and why), be able to articulate needs back to patients, and confidently reassure patients that they can and will help.
  • Draw a clear line between the mission of your company and its impact on patients. Show, don’t tell, how your products and services make the difference and how your customer care folks are a critical link in that chain.

While hard skills are an important element of customer care’s toolkit, soft skills can make the patient’s experience with your organization feel supportive, memorable, and even delightful. Soft skills impact the patient experience in many ways, but for the organization, it produces a solid return on investment that transcends the balance sheet.

Our Digital Healthcare Strategy team helps healthcare and life sciences organizations better understand their audiences and create memorable experiences that inspire brand loyalty. Contact us today for more information.

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Marlana Voerster

Marlana Voerster is a Senior Healthcare Strategist at Perficient, where she works with providers and MedTech, pharma, and digital health organizations to build brand loyalty and enhance the patient experience through customer-centric digital experiences.

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