Optometric Management Tip # 548   -   Wednesday, September 05, 2012
Getting Rid of the Complainers

How does your office handle the patient who is not easy to get along with? What do you do with the person who has a complaint that is truly unreasonable? In many practices today, the doctor or a staff member will explain the facts to the patient and if he persists with an unreasonable demand, the doctor or staff person will suggest or imply that he go elsewhere for future eye care. The reasoning is that the practice is better off without these unreasonable patients. If we let this type of patient take advantage of us, they will keep doing so and they will send more people like them.

If this sounds a bit like your practice, please hear me out and consider a different approach. If you are interested in generating maximum revenue and profitability, I think the let's-get-rid-of-them approach is misguided.

What is unreasonable?
Before we dig deeper into the management strategy behind patient management, realize that my premise above is based on the patient being unreasonable. That is critical to our discussion because by definition we might justify strong actions if a person is unreasonable. But the question becomes who judges what is unreasonable? Typically you would base that on your opinion and judgment, but what if you based it on the patient's opinion? I'm fairly certain that the complaining patient does not think he is being unreasonable at all! To him, something was not handled well by your office. This is the key to understanding the customer service mentality; look at everything you do from the patient's point of view.

As you try to try to reassess these challenging issues in your practice, ask yourself whose opinion matters more: yours or the patient's? The answer may lie in how busy your practice is. If your practice is booked solid for weeks in advance, customer service may not be all that important (at least not at the moment). If you need more patient demand, and most practices do, then the patient's opinion is far more important.

Why would you want that type?
Getting rid of the complaining type of patient is a bad idea because there are too many of them! We work with the public and at some point in time anyone could be that type! You have probably even been that type when you had a run-in with a retailer, a restaurant or a service business over some misunderstanding. There are some very good, normal people who can become that type. It is a huge mistake to think we can do away with people who ask too much of us or become unhappy with something we do. The smarter approach is to become better at dealing with those issues and to let the patient (customer) win. I believe this is the better business approach if you want to generate maximum profit.

An argument could be made that the actual number of people who are dismissed from your practice is fairly small, but the bigger concern is that your office culture will become negative when the doctor or key staff members feel this way. It becomes harder and harder to know where to draw the line. When a patient makes a special request, the protect-the-practice mode takes over and the answer is "no, we don't work that way." When a complaint is lodged, a staff member explains why the problem is not our fault. Most patients don't take it any further and therefore are not actually dismissed, but they sense the attitude. They realize they do not have any recourse. What should concern all of us is what these patients do next. Some will just quietly go to another eye care provider next time. They certainly will not refer their friends and co-workers to your practice.

When this negative culture (protecting the practice against so-called abuse) is spread over all your patients over a long period of time, the result is a practice that does not grow as fast as others. Word of mouth referrals are less frequent and more patients migrate elsewhere than practices which really get the customer service concept.

We are pushovers
My practice is known as one of the nicest places around to do business with; we are total pushovers! We let the patient win and I'm happy about that all the way to the bank. To the local population that is hard to get along with, I say come see us; take advantage of us; welcome!
Best wishes for continued success,

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