Article Date: 11/1/2010

When Back Office Skills Come to Fore
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When Back Office Skills Come to Fore

Prepare for the times when back office staff need front office finesse.

Gary Gerber, O.D.

Most of us have heard, read or experienced the importance of good front office staff. For example, I'd be hard pressed to find a doctor who would disagree with the statement: "Your receptionist is a critical part of your team since she sets the stage for all that follows. If she is warm and inviting, your customer service battle is already half won."

Similarly, we've heard patients will leave a practice because of a particular staff member. Nothing new here. But can "back-office" personnel affect customer service outcomes? Does the personality of your insurance biller or lab optician really matter? And, do occasions exist when a back-office person really should be working up front?

A personality issue

Let's take the case of the person who files your insurance. (In this case, let's assume that's her only task.) Many of us have that position relegated to a back room, office cubicle. We say: "Your job is to make sure our insurance billing is done correctly and timely." From there, we usually discount the importance of personality.

However, many times this person will need to use a velvet steam roller approach when attempting to collect money. Many of us are not comfortable contacting patients and alerting them that their insurance provider denied payment of a bill or that the provider won't pay the bill in full. Handling these types of calls successfully takes communication finesse. Therefore, the ability to accurately post payments and use a spreadsheet isn't the only skill required of this position.

The way this person relates to other staff people is equally important. She should be a friendly communicator and have the same team-building spirit as the rest of your staff. Why? Because invariably, the amalgam and overlap of office-staff-member responsibilities will directly affect how patients perceive their experience in your practice.

Take the case of a patient who orders a pair of progressive lenses, has a non-adapt problem and is requesting a "re-deposit" of visioncare benefits so he can go elsewhere. In this case, you, the frame seller, frame dispenser, optician and insurance person might need to interact with this patient to ensure he either stays with the practice, or, at least, leaves happy. With a "that's not my job" attitude, a positive outcome is highly unlikely. But with a "while this rarely happens, I still need to step up to the plate, work with the rest of the staff and make the patient happy" posture, the outcome is likely to be positive.

Finding the match

Assess your staff personalities (and consider testing them) to make sure they're aligned with the positions in which they work. In the above example, you'd want your insurance coordinator to be detail-oriented — and persuasive. Your receptionist should exude warmth and congeniality. Your technicians should be able to multitask and show compassion.

The most successful practices we've consulted with realize the power of aligning the right personality with the right job.

For example, a quiet, shy and skilled optician might be better suited for your lab rather than for the constant patient interaction that goes hand-in-hand with the optical.

The point is to consider the employee's attitude along with her aptitude, and use these observations to your practice-building advantage. OM


Optometric Management, Issue: November 2010