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How Not to Talk to People: 3 Lessons Learned from My Bank

I’m in a rush and all I want to do is deposit some checks.  I run into one of my bank branches to do a simple task that should only take five minutes, depending on the line.  But almost every time I walk in, a banker walks up to me and says, “Hello, I can save you some time!  Instead of waiting on line I can help you over here at my desk.”

This does not save you time. All the banker wants to do is review my account and sell me more services.  I used to avoid these encounters like the plague and I still do if I’m in  rush.  But if I have some time to spare, I sit down with the banker.  Not because I want to review my account but because I’m curious to hear their sales pitch.

By the way, the opening line used by those bankers is classic “Bait and Switch.”  For a discussion about this and other nasty sales tricks check out this post here.

Anyway, after sitting down with a few bankers, here’s what I’ve learned:

(1) You may be talking down to the patient and not aware of it

One time a banker sat me down and immediately scolded me for still having a college checking account.

“How old are you?  Well you’re not in college anymore, right?  You’re too old to have a college checking account.”

Thanks for that. Now I feel like I have to go clean my room and start my homework.

She was right; I had never updated my account.  I did get a more “adult” account, but not from her.  I was so turned off by her scolding, condescending attitude that I refused to give her the business even though she was right.

Lesson: Be genuinely compassionate when speaking with your patients.  Don’t just coldly read off a list of things they need to do and walk out of the room.  Which leads me to…

(2) Discuss their conditions first, not the treatments

Another time I sat down with a banker who made some polite small talk about the baseball game the night before.  Okay, off to a good start.  But next, without any transition, he told me I needed to get a new credit card.  With no questions or feedback from me, he laid out a brochure detailing all the great rewards I could get if I signed up today.

I had the distinct impression that every person who sat down with him was offered the same credit card.  No thanks.

Now if he had asked me about my credit and spending needs, listened, and then presented the credit card as a means to address my needs, I might have signed up.

Lesson: If it’s your first encounter with a patient and you have treatment to do, don’t just start listing treatment.

“You need two fillings, a root canal and a crown.”

Listing dental treatment without any background makes our services sound like products, like a credit card.  The patient may feel that you are more interested in making your car payment than providing health care.

Well, it IS a really nice car...

Here’s a better approach:

(i) Inform the patient about their conditions and disease, not about the treatment they need.

(ii) If the patient seems overwhelmed or anxious about their conditions, show them genuine compassion.  Reassure them with confidence everything will be okay and that you treat these conditions all the time.

(iii) Now that the patient understands their dilemma, present the treatment options as solutions to their problems.

(3) Never judge a book by the cover

I quickly figured out why I was always approached by bankers no matter what branch I was in.  And they seemed to single me out more than other people.  It was because I was wearing scrubs.

Bankers see scrubs and think “Jackpot!”  That really bothers me.  Just because I’m a doctor doesn’t mean I have tons of money to invest.  Heck, it doesn’t even mean I have tons of money in the first place.

Lesson: Never hold back from presenting an “expensive” treatment plan to someone because you don’t think they can afford it.  Never never never.

I have seen wealthy patients request me to do the least expensive option and I have seen financially-troubled patients accept the most expensive option.  It’s a question of what the patient values, not how much money they have in the bank.  And a banker should know that.


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