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 By Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO, Editor June 2, 2004 - Tip #124 
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What's in a name? Actually, quite a lot.

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This week's tip is a powerful one, if I do say so myself, even though it sounds quite simple. Building personal relationships is one of the best ways to develop patient loyalty and to set your practice apart from the competition, but you can't build a relationship without using a person's name!

Personal experience
I'm very fortunate to have an optician in my practice who routinely demonstrates the power of using people's names. This optician is not only very experienced and highly skilled in the technical aspects of dispensing, but he's a great salesman. Our patients love him, and they often comment about him in person to me, and on our evaluation survey cards.

In trying to observe the attributes that make this professional so successful, I must admit that it's not any single thing, but a combination of talents. And yet one very noticeable technique that he uses, which I'm convinced has a huge effect on his relationships and even his sales, is that he remembers people's names and he uses their names when he sees them again.

This simple gesture demonstrates more than anything else that he cares about the person -- that the patient is important to our practice. I think we'd all agree that remembering people's names is not necessarily an easy task; and doctors and staff members may just write off the concept as too difficult or impossible, with the excuse that "I'm horrible at that". But it's so powerful that it is worth working on, especially for staff members who are on the front lines, where people walk in unannounced.

Training and awareness
The use of patients' names can be improved dramatically if you simply talk about it at staff meetings. Amazingly, you will find that your receptionists, opticians and technicians often already know a patient's name on sight. When they see the patient walk in the office door, they know who it is. That may be aided by having seen the appointment list for the day (we should be expecting them), or the eyeglass order three days ago, but many staff members simply know returning patients because they are good at things like that. The sad truth is that even though they already know the name - they often don't use it! To me, knowing the name is the hard part, and if you do know it - at least use it! I'm not sure why some staff members are reluctant to use patient's names, but it's not too hard to overcome.

Fear of embarrassment?
Most likely, people may avoid the use of names if they are afraid they will make a social faux paus of some kind. That is really not a sufficient reason to avoid the use of names. The risk of embarrassment is really very low once you start using names. You just get better at it and it becomes natural, and people generally understand and appreciate the attempt even if the name is not stated perfectly (at least one time). It is wise to discuss and practice the use of names in staff training sessions, however. I've never been impressed when a store clerk stares closely at my Visa card after a purchase, and then half-heartedly and meekly says "thank you... Mr., uh... Dr., er ... Gil-marro". We need to do it well.

We have set up some rules about when to use Mr., Mrs., or Ms. and when to use first names, since this is often a stumbling block to using the name. We use the title if the person is older than the staff member, and we use first names if they are our age or younger. We also make notes in the chart, about name or title preferences, nicknames and phonetic spelling to aid pronunciation.

Doctors, too
We doctors have a big advantage with remembering patient's names, because we usually have the chart in front of us when we walk in to greet an established patient. It doesn't help me in the grocery store, but I manage to get by there somehow. Doctors should look at their own habits with name use; it's not just a staff thing. How many times do you do a full eye exam without ever using the person's name once? Or saying it once upon introduction, only to never use it again? People love the sound of their own name. Use it (but don't over-use it), and you'll build relationships.

Best wishes for continued success,

Read Past Tips Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week

A Proud Supporter of

Send questions and comments to neil@gailmard.com.

Dr. Gailmard offers consulting services to eye care professionals through Prima Eye Group; information is available at www.primaeyegroup.com.
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