An Inside View

Mystery shopping is a valuable tool for enhancing sales and improving patient

satisfaction. Here’s what it entails.

One of the most effective ways to truly understand how patients and prospective patients see your practice is through the eyes of a mystery shopper: someone who will measure and evaluate the overall customer experience at a practice. The ideal mystery shopper is an individual who not only understands how a practice is supposed to work, but also how a typical patient will see the practice during the intake and treatment process. The most valuable feed-back will come from a shopper who represents the kind of person you would like to have as a patient.

We have been providing mystery shopping services for many years; in that time we have learned quite a bit about how to use these professionals most effectively, and where cosmetic and medical aesthetic practices are falling short.

In this article, we will offer guidance on how to work with mystery shoppers and highlight some of the most common problems encountered at aesthetic practices.


Initially, the mystery shopper will call in, ask questions of the person who takes the call and then make an appointment. From this experience, she will be able to

evaluate the front-line phone intake system. Next, she will actually come in and experience a preliminary assessment, including a consult with the physician.

To facilitate the feedback process, the mystery shopper works from a detailed checklist that covers every aspect of the visit, starting with the initial phone call and consult, and through treatment and follow-up.

To get a comprehensive view of your practice, I recom-mend including the following key areas for evaluation:

  • Practice website: Does it invite new patients to call for an appointment?
  • Receptionist: Does the initial phone call result in the caller scheduling an appointment?
  • Location and signage: Is the offi ce easy to fi nd and welcoming to a fi rst-time prospect?
  • Front desk staff: Does staff make the patient feel welcome and important?
  • Registration forms: Are the forms branded, simple to complete and nonrepetitive?
  • The consult: Does the patient feel comfortable, and does the consult lead to a procedure booking?
  • The sales close: Does the patient feel comfortable, and was the physician and/or staff member effective in dealing with objections and securing a booking?
  • The consult follow-up: Does the practice follow up with prospective patients, and is this done in a manner that makes the shopper want to return?
  • Overall impressions: Is the shopper impressed with the overall customer experience?


While most physicians hope to hear that they and their staff are doing everything right, there are always areas that could improve—and usually, there are areas that demand immediate action. Following are some of the issues we have identifi ed while conducting hundreds of mystery shops.

Reception Staff: Following the initial phone call andappointment booking, the front desk receptionist should know the prospective patient’s name, identify her when she arrives and make her feel welcome. Typical problems include:

  • Ignoring the patient or failing to greet her enthusiastically;
  • Not offering a light refreshment, such as coffee or bottled water;
  • Carrying on personal discussions with other staff within earshot of the patient;
  • Not answering questions or deferring those questions to the doctor or other staff members.

Following the consult, prospective patients either book a treatment or set out to fi nd a more appropriate physician.

Intake Forms: A surprising number of practice intakeforms are neither patient-friendly nor effective as market-ing tools. To save time, these forms should be emailed in advance or downloaded from the website. Problems to look out for include:

  • Poor quality because they are copies of copies instead of original documents;
  • Poor branding, meaning they don’t contain the practice’s name or logo on each page (or even each document);
  • Poorly thought-out questions, including pointless or intrusive questions that do not encourage patient con-fi dence. For example, we have seen questions about marital status and religious preference—patients con-cerned about privacy will not fi nd this encouraging;
  • Redundancy: With the multiplicity of forms, many of the same questions are asked numerous times, and

that’s sure to annoy patients.

Patient Education Materials: While waiting to seethe doctor, educational content—either in print or on video—is often offered to both entertain the waiting patient and answer questions that will speed the consult.

Typical problems with these materials include:

  • Poor execution: They don’t look professional or they include only generic information from manufacturers with no practice brand or logo;
  • Off focus: They don’t offer information that is perti-nent to the prospective patient;
  • Too technical: Instead of focusing on the desired end result, they focus on the technology and the procedure, which can be intimidating—especially for squeamish patients.

Offi ce Consult: This is where the rubber meets theroad. Following the consult, prospective patients either book a treatment or set out to fi nd a more appropriate physician. Typical problems identifi ed in physician consults include:

  • Poor listening skills: The doctor doesn’t listen to the patient, establish rapport or appear to care about the patient’s needs;
  • Feeling rushed: The patient feels that the doctor may be juggling too many appointments in too little time and is rushing the consult;
  • Not asking about concerns: The doctor doesn’t ask about the patient’s concerns or desired end result. Instead, the physician imposes his or her expectations based on an eyeball evaluation;
  • Too technical: The doctor’s explanations are too clinical, and the patient doesn’t really understand what

she is being told.

Sales Close: After a consult, the doctor typically turnsthe patient over to the practice coordinator or another designated staff member who will discuss fi nancing and scheduling, and answer fi nal questions before booking the procedure. Common problems with the close include:

  • Too aggressive: The patient feels that the staff member just wants to close the booking rather than accommodate her individual needs and concerns;
  • Lack of empathy and sensitivity: This is “old hat” to the

closer and not a (possibly frightened) individual’s fi rst experience with plastic surgery.

These are some of the most common shortcomings uncovered at medical aesthetic practices, and they are easy to address through advanced staff training or a simple rede-sign of forms or offi ce decor. By seeing yourself as your prospective patients see you, you will be able to make the changes needed to make patients feel more confi dent in your skills and more likely to sign on the dotted line.

Cheryl Whitman is the CEO of Beautiful Forever, anational aesthetic business consulting fi rm that helps physicians develop new profi t centers for practice growth. Contact her at

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