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 By Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO, Editor October 3, 2012 - Tip #552 
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Telephone Menus Can Equal Poor Service

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Optometrists often try to emulate large companies to make their practices more impressive to the public. I understand this perfectly and stretching oneself to provide a higher level of service makes perfect sense. But be sure a new technique is actually better before you implement it; many systems in use by large companies fall far short of excellence and telephone menus and some aspects of voice automation is one of them. Have you ever tried to call AT&T, Comcast or even the highly regarded Apple? My experience has usually been disappointing.

Telephone menu systems
Telephone menus in optometric practice can certainly seem like a good idea. It feels like your practice is cutting edge and it provides a way to educate callers about your services. But let's look deeper into the actual caller experience. I will present some typical menu options in a phone system for an optometric practice, followed by what might be the thoughts of a typical caller.
  • Your call may be monitored or recorded for quality assurance and staff training purposes. This line has been heard so many times it is becoming old. I really would rather not have to think about your staff training.
  • Please listen carefully as our menu options have changed. How condescending. As if I can't decide how closely to listen.
  • Many questions can be answered by visiting our website at www.notarealsite.com. I guess they don't really want to talk to me. But I don't think the website will know if my glasses are ready, so I will stick with the telephone.
  • If you know your party's extension you may enter it at any time. Wow, I thought this was my local eye doctor's office. There must be dozens of employees sitting in their cubicles waiting for phone calls. Unfortunately, I do not know any extensions.
  • Please press one for eye emergencies, press two to schedule an appointment, press three to speak to our optical lab staff or to check on the status of eyewear, press five for the contact lens department, press six to speak to an operator. It feels like I've been on the phone for quite a while and have yet to speak to anyone. OK, I want option three.
  • The call is routed to a specific phone in your office based on the selection, but since the size of your staff is limited, the employee in that department is busy or on a break and the call goes to voice mail. Great, I guess there is no one there who can tell me if my glasses are ready.
  • The caller leaves a message and hangs up feeling like his needs were not met very well.
Patient satisfaction
One can make the argument that the public will understand that your practice is busy at times and these automated systems are necessary. Many people will understand, but these small service points add up and make a big difference in the overall impression. A caring person quickly taking care of a customer's wants and needs is always more impressive than an automated system.

If the call had gone to the front desk or to a call center, someone would have answered it. It would be part of the job description and there would be a back-up system in place if the first responder is busy. When the call goes to a department, the chances of going to voice mail increases greatly. Answering the phone should be a priority, but menus and voice mail allow staff to conveniently avoid the task. This route is definitely not convenient for the patient.

People are often in a hurry today. They may be on a cell phone and grabbing a few minutes to call you while at work. The seconds used up by listening to the phone menu can seem like minutes. I can see some callers acting a bit rude to your staff when they finally speak to someone (but the staff member wonders why).

The whole experience is made worse if the patient has to call back a few times in a short time period. Having to listen repeatedly to the menu tree and having trouble connecting with a human is extremely aggravating. The caller's conclusion will likely be that this office is hard to do business with. Many people will think they may have to shop around next time they need eye care.

Patients see beyond the show
While the menu system might seem impressive, patients can easily see beyond the thin veneer. The phone menu might be necessary if your practice was a major hospital, but it isn't. Your patients quickly realize the size and scope of your practice. They see that the fancy menu system should not really be needed in an operation of your size.

I realize I'm generalizing a bit and not all people will have a negative impression of a phone menu system, but filter it through your own experience. Look how deeply I analyzed the caller's point of view and use it as an example on how to dig into other aspects of your practice.

The alternate experience
The patient calls the optometrist's office and a cheerful staff member answers on the first ring and says "Good morning, Main Street Eye Center, Jenny speaking. How may I help you?" The patient presents the reason for the call and Jenny handles it or routes the call to the proper person.

It might seem like old school, but I'm quite sure which system the public likes best.

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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