Optometric Management Tip # 473   -   Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Personal Experiences Yield Practice Improvements

I often find myself thinking about practice management even in my personal life.  There is much to learn (good and bad) by observing the operations of other non-eye care businesses.  A recent outing with my family led me to revisit and improve an important aspect of my practice.

Lunch in Napa Valley
I was on a day trip with my family to Napa Valley recently.  We were going to do some wine tasting and enjoy the scenic drive.  We stopped for lunch at a roadside diner that we had heard great things about.  I call it a diner because it has that decor and serves great burgers (along with wine, of course) but it is fairly expensive and upscale.  And it is obviously very successful; the line to place your order ran out the door.  You retrieve your food when your number is called.  I ordered a burger but requested no special sauce.  When the food was ready and distributed to everyone at our table, I realized that my burger was slathered with special sauce.  I decided to return the burger and get it the way I wanted it.

I took my plate back to the order counter and, surprisingly, the young man who took care of me had a bit of an attitude about my request for a remake.  He made me feel somewhat that the problem was my fault and he mentioned that the kitchen was extremely busy and there were many orders ahead of me, but he said he would take care of it and bring the new burger out to me.  I found myself thinking that one of the many burgers being processed should be diverted to me, but I decided to not try to micromanage the restaurant business and I returned to my seat.

I was not too upset about the error at first but I could tell my family was upset for me.  Having me not eat with everyone kind of spoiled the jovial mood.  But we made light of it and joked about the Bay Area being a hotbed of consumer reviews on websites like Yelp! and that we may have to write one about this experience.  The wait for my burger was taking longer than I expected and I was getting impatient when a manager stopped by our table to ask how we were enjoying our food.  I could tell that he was unaware of my plight.  Well, since he asked, I let him know that things were not going very well.

Service recovery
The manager listened intently to me relay my story and I could tell by his demeanor that this guy was no amateur.  When I was done, he immediately apologized very sincerely.  I felt like he really cared and I sensed myself easing up.  The manager said he would refund the cost of my meal and he would go into the kitchen and bring the correct burger to me right away.  He returned with the burger very quickly (it was delicious, by the way) and he placed a small tray on the table with the cash equivalent of my meal.  He apologized again to all of us and he presented a $50 gift card with the hope that we would return and give them a chance to do it right next time.

At this point we were all smiling as we finished our meal and we were talking about what a great place this is.  No one was planning to write a negative review on Yelp!.  I'm sure we'll be back to spend the gift card (along with twice that amount in other food and beverages).

What happened?
The take-home for our practice comes from thinking about how well this was handled and what the restaurant did.  Even though they made an error on my product and followed that up with an employee who did not handle a complaint well, there was a final customer satisfaction check in the form of a manager asking about our experience.  This final step made all the difference and converted a potential reputation damaging experience into a positive one that actually built customer loyalty.  What is that worth?

What can we do better in practice?
I'm proud to say that we have a very high emphasis on customer service in my practice, but this made me think.

Gift cards
I ordered a supply of plastic gift cards with my practice name and logo and imprinted with a $50 value (just Google “gift card printing” for sources).  I think a gift card has more cachet than a paper gift certificate or other form of credit.  Our office manager uses the cards as needed for a make-up gesture and we sell the cards in any quantity desired to patients to give to others as gifts.  We also purchase large quantities of Starbucks gift cards of $5 value.  Our manager uses the $5 cards as a make-up gesture for smaller issues and as a thank you gesture.  I think it is money well spent.

Best wishes for continued success,

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