Optometric Management Tip # 120   -   Wednesday, May 05, 2004
Have You Talked With Your Staff About Service Recovery?

Service recovery is the business term for fixing a wrong. In todayís economy, the consumer is all too familiar with businesses that make a mistake, or products that fail to live up to expectations. In fact, as customers, weíve gotten to the point that we just accept that, sooner or later, something will go wrong with some of our purchases. What we are really looking hard at, and judging, is what happens next. How well does the company support us when we are not satisfied? This is becoming the true measure of a great business in the publicís eyes.

Many companies of all types, from national discount stores (Target) to upscale retailers (Nordstromís) to well-known Internet vendors (Amazon.com) have learned this lesson well and are thriving because the consumer can trust them. The consumer knows he may not like the product when he gets it home, but even if he doesnít, he wonít be stuck with it. So he buys easily and with confidence. Far more new sales occur because of the friendly policies than refunds.

Letís look hard at our eye care practices in the same light. Unfortunately, most optometrists are really not all that consumer-friendly. Sure, we can say that itís different because we are professionals delivering a service and we donít even want to appear to look like those retail businesses. We can say that our products are custom-made so our hands are tied. But we may be only hurting ourselves with that approach in an attempt to preserve an aura that no one really cares about. If we run our practices like a business, we see that the same retail principles really do apply to us. This is easy to see when we look at an optical purchase through a patientís eyes.

For simplicity, letís leave professional services out of our analysis. Letís just say that fees charged for services are for professional expertise and time spent, and therefore, not refundable. In fact, even in the product aspect of our field, rarely does good service recovery have to involve refunds. When a patient buys glasses today, they see it as a very expensive purchase, where itís impossible to know the end result in advance. Eyewear is purchased largely on faith. Will the patient see as clearly as she hopes? Will the no-line bifocal be as easy to use as he wishes? Will her friends like the frame style? Will the darkening tint work well enough when driving? Will the glasses be comfortable on his ears? Will the non-glare lens need to be cleaned too often?

It turns out that the vast majority of optical consumers are very happy with their purchases from our offices. But what about the small percentage of people who are not happy? In many practices, staff members handle complaints. This is a huge responsibility and one that deserves much time and attention by the owner and manager. Often, the doctor sees complaints of a visual nature, while an optician may manage other complaints. It may be a receptionist who first gets the phone call or greets the walk-in with a complaint, and must decide what to do with it.

Talk with your staff members about the service recovery process and analyze how complaints are currently handled in your office. Many optometrists have very good service policies and work hard to prevent patient dissatisfaction, but they often keep those policies a secret. The buyer has no way of knowing how good the practice is to deal with, and knowing this in advance could make a big difference in purchasing decisions. Consider posting your satisfaction policies or guarantees in your optical and on the back of your receipts. Iíd make the policies liberal, but even if you choose not to be as consumer-friendly, stating the policies in advance makes them fair and prevents hard feelings and confrontations.

Excellent service recovery goes a long way in building a great practice reputation. Word gets around the community, good or bad. In fact, you can go one better than simply resolving complaints by having a friendly staff member phone all patients a few days after dispensing to ask how they are enjoying their new eyewear?

Best wishes for continued success,

Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Chief Optometric Editor, Optometric Management