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 By Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO, Editor December 4, 2002 - Tip #46 
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Do you have a crab at the front desk?

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Additional Information

If you have visited many medical offices, you probably know there are lots of unpleasant and rude receptionists out there. The important thing is to make sure you don't have any working for you. Some optometrists have a crabby person at the front desk and don't even know it because they are (a) too busy seeing patients and the behavior changes when the doctor is present or (b) the doctor has become complacent and doesn't notice it anymore. Whatever the reason, it is important to know that an unpleasant receptionist can do significant damage to a practice.

Rude behavior by a staff member could be due to

  • an innate personality trait - which will be hard to change.
  • personal problems or stress that is not kept separate from the job.
  • a low level of "job satisfaction".
Job satisfaction refers to all the factors that make your practice a good place to work. This is one area that the practice owner does have control over and it is one way to indirectly affect behavior and attitude. Job satisfaction factors include salary, benefits, office environment, nature of the work, respect from peers and superiors on the job, self-actualization and more. The theory is that the nicer a company is to work for, the more you will value your job and the happier you will be. Look within your practice to see if there are ways you can make it a better place to work.

Here is how I would handle a crab at the front desk.
  • First, observe and listen to your staff when they don't know you're present to see if there is a problem.
  • Realize that you can't live with the problem - it is far too damaging to your practice reputation. Rude behavior cuts off potential referrals and reduces repeat patient visits.
  • Even if you find it difficult to confront or criticize someone - you have to do it. It doesn't have to be that hard anyway - here's how:
  • Meet in private with the individual so you don't embarrass them in front of co-workers. Explain the importance of referrals and repeat patients to the practice, and that your practice philosophy is based on excellent service and high quality care. State that you have observed that the person seems unhappy and ask why. Ask if there is something about the job that troubles him or her? Listen to the response and go from there - but emphasize that a pleasant attitude and friendliness is part of the job and that you must see a positive change. A receptionist must be a goodwill ambassador. An employee who denies that there is a problem will be difficult to change and offers a poor outlook.
  • Continue to observe the employee's attitude and set up additional meetings to give the person feedback. If behavior does not improve, you must become firmer at each meeting and indicate that the employee may be dismissed due to this problem. Takes notes with dates after each meeting.
  • Finally, if enough improvement is not reached, you should let this staff member go. You could ask him or her to resign, which may look better on the record. You may want to pay 2 weeks severance pay and end employment immediately. Don't keep a bad employee for fear of having to pay higher unemployment taxes - it's part of the cost of doing business.
It is never easy to fire a person, but given plenty of fair warning and after an effort to re-train, it is sometimes necessary.

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.

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

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