Optometric Management Tip # 255   -   Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Are you making follow-up phone calls?

Iím sure youíve heard of the practice of calling patients one or two weeks after they receive new glasses or contacts to see how theyíre doing. Most eye care professionals have heard of this and even tried it for awhile, but I have found that the procedure is often dropped. Iím here to recommend that you revive it.

Do you really want to stir up complaints?

The answer to this question is yes... you really do want to hear the complaints. Itís far less costly to learn about problems and correct them than it is to let the problems drift. The cost of uncorrected problems is fairly invisible, so many practitioners prefer to not know, but realize that the true cost exists in terms of loss of repeat business, lack of referrals of others, and general ill will and damage to oneís reputation. The cost of not knowing is great.

The follow-up phone call does not cause patients to have complaints; it only makes your office aware of complaints and problems that already exist. Every office that dispenses eyewear has some complaints. If you donít ask how people are doing, a large percentage may let the problems go unreported. Certainly some patients will return to your office to let you know about a problem, but for every one of those there may be dozens who donít bother to come back. This group procrastinates about the problem; they try to deal with it; they want to avoid a confrontation; and eventually so much time passes that they donít feel they can complain any longer. In the end, they resent having paid hundreds of dollars for glasses that ďwere never right.Ē While these patients donít bother to tell you about it, they generally tell many other people in their social circle.

These glasses were never right

You may have seen a few of these patients in your exam chair. After obtaining new glasses from your office a year or two ago, they are now back for an exam again and they report that the glasses ďwere never right.Ē These patients donít necessarily expect you to do anything about the problem; they seem to just want to report it. I know this is aggravating to hear and you want to say, ďWhy didnít you let me know?Ē The patient does have some responsibility to bring a complaint to your attention in a timely manner, but my point is that these patients exist in every practice and most of them do not reappear in your exam chair at all; most just go somewhere else for eye care.

It may seem that calling every patient who receives glasses is going above and beyond the call of duty, but that is exactly what I want to achieve in my practice. I want patients to know that we care and we want everything to be right. Iíd rather initiate the call, find out if there are any problems, and proactively do whatever it takes to remedy the situation.

Follow-up call procedure

Placing the telephone call is a great secondary job for staff members. There are times when any office slows down and I like each employee to have a side job assignment to perform when time permits. I assign the follow-up phone calls to one of our most friendly assistants. You can track the patients who should be called in a variety of ways, depending on your practice management software or record keeping system.

This technique is also advised for a change in contact lenses, but unlike eyeglasses, contact lens patients are often scheduled for a follow-up visit in the office and that may make the phone call unnecessary.

The assistant says something like this: ďGood morning, Mrs. Smith. This is Denise from Gailmard Eye Center. The doctor asked me to call to see how you are enjoying your new eyewear.Ē If all is well, great, but if there is any problem, the assistant advises the patient to return to the office so it can be corrected. In either case, you have made a positive impression on every patient by showing how much you care.

I like the assistant to make a few brief notes after each call, such as: doing great, left message on machine, thanked us for calling, or having a problem with ____. You could compile a list of names and phone numbers in a notebook for this purpose, or you could write on the back of the optical order forms before they are returned to the files, or use a notes section in your electronic records program. A rewarding side benefit is that you quickly realize that the vast majority of patients are very pleased with the services and products they received, which makes working with the occasional unhappy person a little easier!

Was the technique dropped?

I find the follow-up phone call is frequently dropped and forgotten about because the procedure is delegated to staff and whenever the office becomes busy, it can easily be postponed. Once itís postponed itís often lost for good. The phone call is not vital to practice operations, so itís the first thing to go. The technique is important enough that management should make sure it happens.

Best wishes for continued success,

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