Optometric Management Tip # 370   -   Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Not busy enough? Look within.

Insufficient patient demand is an ongoing problem that plagues most eye care providers. There are exceptions; we all know of a few practices that are incredibly busy, but the vast majority are not. Many practice owners have rationalized this sad state of affairs by adopting a convenient philosophy that the current patient flow is desirable. Doctors may profess that they don't want to be any busier or they don't want to hire more staff, but I would respectfully challenge that. Greater patient demand creates a wonderful chain of events in a practice with the most profound result being great income levels.

Oddly, owners of practices that aren't very busy don't often look at their own procedures and policies as the probable reason. Maybe it's too uncomfortable or too personal. There are usually all kinds of outside factors that get the blame for mediocre production. There is actually a very direct connection between your office operations and how busy you are! If you need more patient demand, don't look to advertising or promotional efforts; look to how you do business.

A restaurant analogy

The basics of good business become clearer if we remove ourselves from our own practices and even from eye care for a moment. Let's consider your own experience when dining out at restaurants. As consumers, we all tend to evaluate the performance of a business as we patronize it. Here are a few dining experiences you may have had to which you can relate:

The eye care counterparts

I think it's pretty easy to see how your practice relates to the restaurant analogy. The food is akin to the eyewear and contact lenses you dispense, as well as the clinical treatment of eye disease. Customer service and décor relate to the same factors in your office.

Notice that the perception of food quality can be heavily influenced by the other factors and by the reputation of the restaurant. The same goes for how eyeglasses are judged by your patients. A hamburger served with excellent presentation and well garnished on nice china with white linen tablecloths is simply perceived better than the same burger served alone on a paper plate at a stand-up counter. The former could be priced at $20 and the latter at $5 and both could be quite popular.

So how does a great restaurant become popular?

It's often surprising how quickly a great restaurant can become busy. I mean really busy! It's a testament to the power of word of mouth. When we come across a truly great restaurant we want to go back and take a friend. We can't wait to tell others. The business success is directly related to the quality of the product and service. I guess this is so obvious we could insert a “duh!” here, but there are a huge number of restaurants and eye care practices that apparently have not discovered the relationship.

Word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool there is in business and it works fairly quickly. Make sure it is working for you.

Best wishes for continued success,

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