Article Date: 3/1/2011

Budgeting for Patient Complaints
business advisor

Budgeting for Patient Complaints

Are there benefits to always erring on the side of the patient?

Jerry Hayes, O.D.

Question: Do you have a budget for patient complaints and staff errors? If not, here's why I think you need one.

Let's say you just examined a loyal patient who spent a great deal of time selecting a high-end frame and ordering photochromic gray lenses. Your stylist accurately noted all the details, placed the order, and the lab produced the prescription to perfection.

Unfortunately, when the patient came for dispensing, he insisted he wanted brown lenses, not gray and made a scene in your dispensing area while refusing to accept the glasses. Assuming your stylist ordered exactly what the patient requested, how would you want your staff to handle this situation?

Don't force your employees to make judgment calls

My advice is that “customer service” should be a matter of policy, not a judgment call. Requiring your receptionist, dispensing optician or technician to make a clearheaded decision in the heat of the moment about whether a patient is being treated fairly requires a certain amount of skill and tact. And frankly, many of your hourly people are not going to be very good at it.

Just do what my good friend Dr. Neil Gailmard does. Instruct your staff to always err on the side of the patient when there is a question about a product, a service or a promise not kept. I wonder if that policy has anything to do with the fact that Neil has a multi-million dollar practice?

I realize many of you reading this are thinking:

“Jerry, I don't want my employees to give away the store by replacing expensive lenses for free, especially when it's the patients fault!”

Yes, this policy will definitely cause you to eat a few frames and lenses. But as a whole, the consuming public is not that unreasonable. If they were, high-service companies, such as Nordstrom and Zappos would be out of business. Instead, they are both highly profitable, billion-dollar corporations.

How much is a great reputation worth?

The key to gaining financial peace of mind is to quantify the cost of pleasing your patients. And the way you do that is to set a budget. Just how much are you willing to invest developing your reputation for customer service? I think your customer service budget should be at least the same as what you are willing to spend on advertising. That's about 2% of gross revenues for the typical independent O.D.

Therefore, an O.D. with an annual gross of $600,000 would set a hypothetical customer service budget of 2% ($12,000). Here's the good news. Unless your employees are extremely sloppy, you should not come close to spending that mon potential remakes and refunds. But, the payback can be enormous.

A “priceless” reputation

Here is another way to look at this opportunity. What if a public relations firm came to you and said they could create a campaign—one that was guaranteed to build your reputation as the eyecare practice with the very best customer service in town? How much would that be worth? As the Mastercard advertisements say, it's “priceless.” You have it in your power to build that reputation. And in my view, it's not that expensive. OM


Optometric Management, Issue: March 2011