Optometric Management Tip # 192   -   Wednesday, September 21, 2005
A Sensitive Subject: Refunds

For many eye care professionals, the idea of giving a refund to a patient isÖ well, you pick the word. Insulting, offensive, unfair, demeaning, upsetting, annoyingÖ whatever the word, it can ruin your day. No business owner likes to take back a product or learn that a customer is unhappy with a service, and doctors are even more sensitive about this, because they are professionals, not retailers.

Weíve all been thereÖ dealing with a very unreasonable patient who is making a demand that is completely unrealistic, when the problem was not the fault of the doctor or staff. These situations can defy all logic, which makes them very upsetting. Typically a staff member receives the complaint first, and then may take it to an office manager, who may take it to a doctor. In the process, everyone feels the stress. While these cases often have to be decided on a case-by-case basis, itís important to review how your office typically handles them. It may be smart to hold a staff training session and develop new policies when the topic is purely hypothetical and a refund request is not staring you in the face.

The way a practice deals with refund requests is often very telling about its patient service philosophy overall, and that philosophy is the key to success and high revenue production. Realize that the revenue you generate is dependent upon customers (patients) and the more of them you have and the more loyal they are, the more revenue youíll gain. Contrary to how most practices handle a request for a refund; my advice is to not fight it at all. This goes against the grain for many doctors, but trust me, letting the customer win is a very smart business strategy. You may think that you can simply keep the group of patients that are reasonable and let the others go, but sadly, there are too many to let go, and those that you do let go can do incredible damage to your reputation.

Realize that the only personís opinion that really counts in business is that of the customer. No one elseís opinion comes close. So if you hold your ground and refuse a request for a refund, or tell a patient that you can only provide so many free remakes on a pair of glasses, the short term financial savings is greatly overcome by the high cost of an unhappy customer. Maybe you feel like itís not the money, but rather that you are doing whatís right. Perhaps you are simply sticking up for yourself and showing the patient that they canít get away with unfair demands. To that I say, unless the patient agrees, you did not achieve your goal. And the patient never agrees.

In fact, what is really aggravating is when you decide to give in and let the patient have the refund, or whatever, and he is still angry! It certainly seems to me that when you go beyond reason to give patients what they want, they ought to appreciate it. When they donít, you should learn how far apart you really were. From the patientís point of view, even the refund did not make you square!

Doctors must act like businesses. Forget that you are somehow immune from societyís retail standards because youíre a doctor. The public doesnít think that way and they will hold you to the standards of any other business when a problem arises. Given that, how do you expect a business to behave? How do great businesses behave? Strive to match that. It doesnít matter that the glasses are custom made, or that the professional time was delivered and canít be taken back. Just guarantee satisfaction.

Here are a few practical factors to consider:
Best wishes for continued success,

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