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 By Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO, Editor July 23, 2008 - Tip #338 
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Back to Basics: Prevention of Common Service Problems

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Let's face it, eye care practitioners (ECPs) are busy seeing patients and don't always have the time to observe the day to day activities of the office. Office managers are also likely to become consumed with an increasing work load to the point of not noticing the little details. But the little details are exactly what differentiate the average practice from the multi-million dollar one. You could be delivering the best clinical care in the world but if basic customer service factors are not met, your practice will wallow in mediocrity.

It's important to make time to watch and listen to what happens in areas of the office that are not typically in the doctor's domain. Do this covertly at first, so you can really take an accurate pulse of your practice. Pay attention to your staff on the telephone, at the front desk, in pretest areas, in the dispensary and in behind-the-scenes areas, like the optical lab.

Managing problem employees

Unfortunately, overcoming problems can be challenging because it usually means you need to have a frank discussion with an employee about attitude and behavior. That confrontation can be so unpleasant that it drives some ECPs and managers to simply avoid the issue. Some doctors would rather turn a blind eye to the problems and rationalize that all is well or that it really doesn't matter. The little details actually have a significant impact on patient satisfaction and loyalty. Don't let a stubborn employee ruin your potential to build a great practice.

Start by holding a staff meeting to analyze and discuss the following frequent customer service problems. Focus on how important excellent service is to the growth of the practice. Recognize that some of the issues listed below are larger than simple employee behavior and may require changes only the ECP can make.

If there are one or two specific employees in your practice who have bad attitudes, meet with them privately and let them know that it's time for a behavior change. Start with a positive approach but continue to monitor behavior and let offenders know that lack of cooperation with the new customer service culture will result in dismissal. Follow through with that after several attempts at remediation and warnings.

Frequent Service Problems

Here are some commonly seen service breaks in eye care practices. How can they be prevented in your practice?

  • Rushed and rude behavior by staff over the phone. This is a big one and there are many degrees of poor phone manners, so it can be hard to define. We want friendliness and a caring attitude, just as you would expect a person to speak to a family member.
  • Poor initial greeting at the front desk. It should be warm and welcoming and use the patient's name before he says it, if at all possible.
  • No one at the front desk. There are valid reasons why staff members must leave the front desk, but I like to watch this factor because it's objective and measurable. Find ways to be sure there is always someone at the front desk to greet people walking in. Discuss multitasking such as making eye contact and gesturing to a person approaching the desk while on the phone.
  • The long wait in the reception area or the inner office. Doctors and staff must work together to keep wait times to less than 10 minutes.
  • The out-of-date office. Is it time to remodel?
  • The dirty office. Do you have a professional cleaning service and are they doing a good job in the corners of rooms?
  • Embarrassment over fees or insurance. Ask front desk employees about how patients react to your procedures about billing vision plans or medical insurance. Billing is not just between you and the third party. Patients will leave your practice over this issue if they are unhappy.
  • The broken promise; order not ready. Review the delivery times that staff members tell patients for contact lenses and eyeglasses. Develop a system that helps employees keep track of the status of all orders.
  • Not calling patients promptly. It's crucial to call the patient right away if a problem occurs with an order that could prevent you from making the promise date. Watch closely for products that are backordered. Patients are very understanding when you make the call - not so much if they make the call. Also, be sure to call promptly when orders are ready to pick up.
  • Using poor terminology in front of patients. Discuss the right way to say things in the office; refer to Tip #290 for a list of words and phrases.
  • The rude staff member. Some employees will take out their personal frustrations on patients by being crabby.
  • Odors, chronic coughing, worn clothing. Issues like this require tact and sensitivity, but they must be corrected.
  • Problem attempted but not solved. Review the lens remake changes that opticians make when trouble shooting Rx problems. Avoid shooting from the hip when staff is not really sure what the cause of the problem is. It's better to get the doctor or a senior optician involved.
  • The arrogant doctor. I find most doctors aren't really arrogant, but they can be perceived that way if they have a serious demeanor. Work on your own interpersonal skills. Smiling makes a world of difference.

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.

Please Note: The views expressed in Management Tip of the Week do not necessarily reflect those of the sponsor.

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