Article Date: 5/1/2001

o.d. to o.d.
Rules of the Office
Here are the two that matter most.
Chief Optometric Editor

Excellent customer service -- or patient satisfaction, if you like -- is the most important factor in building a successful practice. Unfortunately, most doctors stink at it.

Revealing behavior

Let's leave O.D.s out of the picture for a minute, in order to stay objective, and look at general physicians.

How would you describe the customer service offered to you at your last visit to an M.D.'s office?

I rest my case. I think O.D.s are somewhat better -- but not much.

Why is customer service so poor?

For many reasons, but we could start with the fact that doctors aren't business people. Many policies in the doctor's office are based on the doctor's wants and needs, or the staff's -- certainly not the patients'.

Many doctors don't realize how important customer service is to practice growth, which is largely based on word-of-mouth referrals. Of course, some doctors are so busy they don't want more patients, so customer service is the last thing they think about.

Unfortunately, this isn't the case with most optometrists. We could be busier. Most of us would love the problems that would come with too much patient demand.

In some cases, doctors think they're pretty good at customer service, but their staff isn't on the same page. You need to emphasize the importance of customer service. It must become part of the organizational culture and be developed by setting and meeting high standards over time. Also, you get there by monitoring patient satisfaction with surveys and by closely observing your staff's interactions with patients.

Words to live by


Rules of the Office


1. The patient is always right.

2. If the patient is ever wrong, re-read rule #1.

We post the two "rules" listed here in our staff lounge as a constant reminder of the basic principle of good business. It's an oldie, but goodie.

Sometimes, the staff wants to know exactly where to draw the line -- when is the patient not right?

In a few instances, such as payment policies and health issues, we'll hold to our rules. These situations are usually understood, and we must notify patients in advance of the policy.

Excellent staff members are smart enough to let patients win whenever possible. I tell them, just follow the "rules of the office," and don't worry about drawing the line. 

You may contact Dr. Gailmard at

Optometric Management, Issue: May 2001