I had a routine exam at my physician's office last week. Whenever I visit a doctor, I find myself doing a mini-practice management analysis. It's quite educational... usually about what not to do in my practice. Customer service is severely lacking in most small businesses, but in health care it can be close to non-existent. Unfortunately, it is really pretty easy for any doctor's office to become complacent and not realize service has slipped.
The positive side of this sad state of affairs is that your practice can stand out as stellar if you do a reasonably good job with patient satisfaction. Excellent customer service can be a very strong competitive advantage and it doesn't cost anything! Great service can truly result in many referrals of new patients, very quickly.
Here is a review of my recent patient experience. See if any of these situations can happen in your office:
- I arrived a few minutes early and the office door was locked. I realize office hours started at 9am and I was five minutes early, but this got me off to a bad start. Really? I have to go back to my car and wait? Then someone else entered ahead of me, so my wait was longer. I learned to not arrive early next time. I may as well be a little late.
- When I went to check in, there was no one at the front desk. There was a staff member further inside the business office, but she did not look up from her work or acknowledge me. I felt like an interruption to tasks that were more important.
- I saw a small notebook on the counter and I had to write my name and time of appointment. I really didn't like this, but I had no choice. I'm sure this is helpful to the staff, but I found myself thinking that good service is supposed to be about the customer, not the staff.
- There was a sliding glass door at the front window. I think this small window with a glass barrier speaks volumes about how the practice feels about patient communication. The message I get is that staff does not want to be bothered.
- I sat down in the waiting room which was rather worn and shabby. There was an older TV mounted very high in a corner, but it was playing an annoying channel and the volume was rather loud.
- I had a long wait, even though I was one of the first patients of the day. Clearly, the doctor was not present and I assumed there was no real effort to arrive when the patients do.
- As I sat in the waiting room, I noticed many signs and notices taped to the walls around the front desk. I was not sure if I was supposed to read these or not. I had no idea how old the signs were, but it did not appear that I needed to read them. The ones I could read from my seat were all negative, admonishing actions that had offended the office in the past.
- I was finally called in to the exam area, but before I rejoiced I realized I was not done waiting! I could hear the staff talking through the paper thin walls.
- When the doctor finally arrived, the professional service was fine. The doctor is a personal friend so we chatted a while and the usual clinical services were performed.
- My check out process may have not been routine because of my friendship status, but I got the feeling that there is typically no explanation or receipt given. The office would bill my insurance and let me know if there was any unpaid balance.
As I left the office, I noticed that the waiting room was packed with people. Some were actually standing. I was struck by a major difference between primary care medicine and optometry, which actually explains why customer service was lacking. This medical office has more patients than it can handle. It would still be nice if the staff and the practice cared about patients' needs, but from a business standpoint, it really was not necessary.
Optometry generally does not enjoy that strong patient demand. That is just the hand we were dealt. We have to create our own demand. We have to earn it with great customer service, advanced technology and excellent products.
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week
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Dr. Gailmard offers consulting services to eye care professionals through Prima Eye Group; information is available at www.primaeyegroup.com.
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