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 By Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO, Editor December 5, 2007 - Tip #306 
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A Self-Assessment Quiz for Patient Satisfaction

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Last week's tip introduced the importance of "customer" service in building a successful professional practice. I've often noticed that the biggest obstacle in practice management is not the concept, but the implementation. Typically, eye care practitioners are simply too busy to design and organize a plan for change. The practice owner may agree with an idea, but it just never happens. In this tip I'll discuss changing your office culture. In future tips I'll get you started with some implementation steps to improve patient satisfaction.

Soul searching

Excellent customer service must be at the core of your office culture in order for it to be sustainable. Office culture begins with the practice owners, doctors and managers. These individuals bring natural leadership to the organization and the way they think and act will drive the culture and behavior of staff members. If the doctor projects an aura that is perceived as aloof and arrogant (even if that image is unintentional or untrue), then employees will feel that the practice needs come first and that rude behavior is acceptable.

If the doctor/owner is obsessed with excellent customer service and patient satisfaction, then staff members will routinely want to deliver those traits (at least the good ones will). The emphasis on patient satisfaction must be extreme; the practice leaders must display a certain passion for it. Consider other companies that have demonstrated legendary customer service as examples to emulate: Ritz-Carlton hotels, Disney theme parks, Nordstrom's department stores, Lexus automobile dealerships and many more.

Here is a quiz for practice leaders. Take it and see where you stand as an advocate for great customer service. Each statement is either true or false. Count the number of times that you honestly feel the statement is true for you.
  • I am happy to see patients for a no charge recheck if they have complaints about eyeglasses that I prescribed (assume your staff feels unsure about resolving the problem).
  • I have never seriously entertained the idea of charging a fee for no shows.
  • I am obsessed with making sure there is always a staff member at the front desk.
  • I hate it if my office runs late for appointments or if people have to wait very long for service.
  • It is extremely rare for me to dismiss a patient from the practice and ask them to not return (perhaps one person over several years).
  • If a patient asked for a refund and would not agree to any other attempt to satisfy his or her complaint, I would grant it. See my comment under Disclaimers below.
  • If a patient makes a request that I feel is unreasonable, I talk calmly with him and find a way to satisfy him (or a staff member may do it).
  • I often discuss patient satisfaction at staff meetings and train staff to be polite and friendly at all times.
  • I don't look for ways to bill medical insurance plans as a way to increase practice revenue.
  • I have said (and will say) the words "I'm sorry" to a patient and I train my staff that it's desirable to say it when warranted.
  • Ten true statements. You are a management and marketing genius. You really get it and you probably have a highly successful practice already, or you will have in the near future if you continue with your philosophy.
  • Seven, eight or nine true statements. You are a very good leader for your practice, but there are still a few ways you can improve in the area of customer service. There may be times that the frustrations of dealing with the public can get the best of you.
  • Four, five or six true statements. You are struggling with the concepts of excellent customer service and you don't really see the benefits that would accrue to you as a business stakeholder. Those benefits are huge and I recommend that you reevaluate your business philosophy. Read the book Customer Satisfaction is Worthless; Customer Loyalty is Priceless by Jeffrey Gitomer. Once you change your approach to business, your practice will change for the better.
  • Three or fewer true statements. Perhaps you are in a mode of practice that does not depend upon the free enterprise system or is in some way different than the typical business model. That could be fine, not everyone has to practice in a system that depends upon patients returning for care in the future and referring others. There are markets where the fees are so low that there is no need (or capability) for great service. There are markets that are akin to a monopoly and patient satisfaction is irrelevant. But if you are in the three or fewer true statement group and have a traditional independent eye care practice in a free market economy, I think you are missing some basic tenants of good business practice. Daily life in the office could be more pleasant and revenue production could be much higher.

A quiz like this can't possibly take into consideration all the variables that enter into practice policies in the real world, so please don't take the examples or scoring too literally. There are always exceptions and unusual circumstances. The quiz is intended to demonstrate the general principals of excellent service and to encourage practitioners to look within, not to insist that we all handle the details exactly the same way. It is not scientific in any way.

I realize that refunding fees is controversial in a health care profession and many colleagues would disagree with such a policy. I believe that doing so is a smart move in the long run when no other effort is acceptable to remedy a problem, but I won't argue with those who feel it crosses a line. There is room for differences in our approach as long as the principles of great service are met.

Changing the culture in a practice may take some time, depending on how imbedded the current culture is, but it can change faster than one would think once the owners demonstrate a true commitment. A good place to start the new philosophy is at a staff meeting to discuss customer service and patient satisfaction. Get input from your staff on the topic. Tune in next week for more ideas on this vital aspect of practice building.

Best wishes for continued success,

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

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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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