Ask the Right Questions
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Ask the Right Questions
Your staff is a valuable resource that you often overlook.
GARY GERBER, O.D.
At its core, nearly every task requiring management and oversight in an optometric office is an outgrowth of patient-staff interaction. Therefore, the best source of ideas for practice-building usually comes directly from these two resources: patients and staff. Here I discuss how you can get staff to give you valuable input about the goings-on in your practice.
Your staff is unquestionably, continuously "in the heat of battle" with your patients. Yet, many doctors have difficulty getting them to contribute ideas. "They lack creativity," or, "They're just not wired to solve problems," is something our consultants routinely hear. Using three simple questions, however, you can tap into your staffs' daily experiences and use their knowledge to improve your practice's interaction with patients:
What one thing did you do today that took too many steps?
Asking: "Is there anything in the way we do things that needs fixing?" is too broad-based a question. Instead, ask specifically about some task that has too many steps, so you can help guide your staff toward not only discovering a problem, but also a solution. For example, your staff might reply: "Our system of ordering special-order frames is too tedious. Why do we have to manually record what we ordered in that spiral notebook when we've already entered it into the computer? The notebook seems like an unnecessary extra step." Often, the answer to questions like this are, "We use the notebook because that's how we've always done it." Now, by asking staff to focus on any multi-step task, you can start to discover and reconfigure systems in order to streamline them.
What one task did you do today that you feel wasted resources?
Try the above question instead of the more global and difficult to answer, "How can we save money?" Clients using this technique have found ways to save money by using better strategies to order office supplies, decrease utility bills and save on shipping costs. One client even had staff members, of their own volition, rewrite their own schedules and cut their hours. This was because staff felt too many of them worked on Tuesday mornings and not enough on Thursday nights.
Reshuffling the schedule resulted in small, but real payroll savings for the practice. This was admittedly a one-time event, but it speaks to the power of getting staff to focus on a very specific and concrete challenge.
What was one thing, no matter how small, that patients complained about today?
Instead of asking, "What can we do to make our patients happier?" use the above question. You may uncover things that are incredibly easy to fix that you would never have uncovered if you used the broader-based question. Office temperature, sticking and squeaking wheels on examination chairs, a history sheet with too many questions, not accepting a certain type of credit card and having too small a selection of men's plastic eyeglass frames are a few things we've heard during our clients' staff meetings.
Of course, just because one patient complains that your choice of men's frames is limited doesn't mean you should immediately increase your inventory. But, if you keep asking patients the same question and keep getting the same answer … well, you know the rest. OM
DR. GERBER IS THE PRESIDENT OF THE POWER PRACTICE, A COMPANY SPECIALIZING IN MAKING OPTOMETRISTS MORE PROFITABLE. LEARN MORE AT WWW.POWERPRACTICE.COM, OR CALL DR. GERBER AT (800) 867-9303.
Optometric Management, Issue: October 2007