Article Date: 3/1/2004

customer service
Service Works
BY KENNETH A. YOUNG, O.D., Brentwood, Tenn.

Patients are the lifeblood of every practice. Without them, your practice dies. Treat them well and with respect and they'll stay with you for life. Allow them to leave unsatisfied just once and you've done irreparable harm to your relationship.

While in an outlet store recently, I noticed a sign posted for employees that read, "Customer service WORKS." I thought how simple yet how true. Remember that not only are we in the healthcare business, but also in the service and retail business. WORKS is the acronym for:

W elcome your patients
O ffer assistance to each
R espond to patients' needs
K now your stuff
S incerely thank patients.

Welcome patients

How did you and your staff greet your last patient? Did you acknowledge them promptly? Did you call them by name? Did you give them a smile? Front desk personnel set the tone for the rest of a patient's experience in your office.

It's vital that the first impression is good. As patients pass from front office to back office to optical, the rest of the staff and doctor should warmly greet them also. This may be your first and only opportunity to make a face-to-face first impression.

Offer assistance

Assistance begins when the patient enters the door. It may be as simple as helping them with their coat or verifying and explaining their insurance. Assistance can present in the form of answering questions about test procedures or helping a patient pick out the "perfect" pair of spectacles. Just be eager to help.

Respond to your patients

Your patient is in your office because he perceives you as an expert who can solve his problem. Make sure you address all of his needs and questions before he departs the exam room. Doing so in a caring and patient manner will set you apart as the doctor who really cares.

Know your stuff

Patients often don't know why you perform certain tests, so offer an explanation: "This instrument allows us to examine your eyes without dilating them." Educate patients about new contact lens designs or new advances in spectacle lenses and why you feel these are appropriate for them. Train your optical staff to explain options that satisfy the patient's particular needs. Train your entire staff on how your practice's instruments and technology help you perform better exams. Patients feel more confident with an informed staff.

Sincerely thank patients

The last point of your exam should be to thank your patients. Shake their hands, pat them on the back -- do what you feel is appropriate. Take a few extra seconds and walk them to the front desk or to the optical. You'll be surprised at the impression that will make.

Instruct your staff to thank patients for coming to the office. You want patients leaving with the warm fuzzies. Send new patients a letter thanking them for choosing your office. Encourage them to tell others. In our office, we send two movie tickets to patients who refer others to our office. Whatever you do, make sure you leave your patients enthusiastic about your practice.

Set your office apart

In today's eyecare market, our patients have a multitude of choices for their meeting their eyecare needs. But by doing little things to set your office apart from others in your area, you'll see that customer service really WORKS in building your practice today and in the future. Just try it and you'll see.

Dr. Young is in private practice, is a member of the American Optometric Association and is an adjunct faculty member at the Southern College of Optometry. He's worked as a clinical investigator for the FDA and for many different contact lens, solution and pharmaceutical manufacturers.


Optometric Management, Issue: March 2004