Optometric Management Tip # 190   -   Wednesday, September 07, 2005
What’s in a Name?

Those of you who read this newsletter every week know that the content is not rocket science [well, maybe a few of them come close :) ]. My management tips are often just common sense observations and solutions that I see in my practice or in consultation with other doctors. I have the luxury of time to make those observations and to test new concepts. I see patients in my practice only one day per week, and I only do that to keep in touch with the “customer” and to keep up with clinical optometry. I spend the other days studying practice management and working as CEO of my group practice.

This week’s tip is one of those observations that will not come as a huge surprise to you, but if it makes you focus on something that is important and perhaps forgotten, I’ve done my job. The tip is the power of using a person’s name. It turns out that remembering a patient’s name when it’s not expected, and using that name in conversation, can have a big effect on building your practice.

I’m fortunate to have an optician employed in my practice who is a master at interpersonal skills. People love Robert. Patients actually write me letters praising him, and he is frequently mentioned by name in our ongoing patient survey postcards. He is a fantastic salesperson, by the way, selling multiple pairs, high-end frames and premium lens options.

Robert does many things to instill confidence and win trust, but one of the most important things he does is remember people’s names and use them. The nature of our optical department (like most) is people drop in without an appointment. They need an adjustment or repair, or they want to buy something, or they’re picking up a pair of glasses. Robert greets the patient in a friendly and respectful way, and he uses the person’s name! Seems pretty simple, doesn’t it? When he does that, the patient feels important and highly valued, and that is the beginning of building a strong, loyal relationship.

I have a group of receptionists that also frequently call people by name, although that occurred more by training than by nature. I once asked my staff if they often know a patient’s name upon sight. The answer was an unequivocal “yes”. Several of my receptionists happen to just be good with names and after seeing a patient and preparing their paper and computer files, they know the name whenever they see the person, even a year later. I then asked my staff if they often used a person’s name in a greeting. Here I got blank stares. I already knew the answer anyway. My staff, like lots of people today, did not often say a person’s name – even when they knew it!

This lead to an excellent discussion about the value of saying people’s names, and the obstacles that prevented my staff from doing it. The reasons were not very logical and they were easily overcome – but we had to talk about the issue before it could be changed. Some staff refrained from using names because they were afraid of being too personal, or making a social error. Some said they did not know if they should use Mr., Miss, Mrs. or Ms. – or just use the first name. Some said they weren’t sure how to pronounce some names. Some said they just never thought about it.

Once we acknowledged these potential stumbling points, we simply adopted office rules to get past them. For example: always use the Mr. or Mrs. title if the patient is older than you, unless the patient requests otherwise, or unless the relationship has become friendly. The correct title was asked for in our new patient questionnaire, so that’s where we look for it. We decided where to write name preferences and nicknames in the chart. We all know how to write a name phonetically so we can pronounce it correctly in the future. We are not too shy to ask a new patient how to pronounce his name – once. And we all try to remember names, and use them in our greeting. The exact rules you adopt for your office is not nearly as important as getting the issue out in the open and adopting something.

Doctors have the luxury of usually having the chart in front of them when they greet a patient, and they also have the day’s appointment list handy, so it should be pretty easy to greet patients by name in your office (not so in the supermarket - right?). But do you use your patient’s names very often? If not, why not? This name initiative is not just for staff. Be aware, of course, that you can overdo it and sound phony, but you can’t build a relationship without using a person’s name.

Best wishes for continued success,

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