Article Date: 5/1/2005

view from the top
Fresh Office Perspectives
Shake things up by turning your attention to your patients' escorts.
Gary Gerber, O.D.

The Jomo chain of Japanese gas stations offers many things for customers to do while they wait to get gas or have their car washed or repaired. More than just the equivalent of a U.S. car repair center, Jomo offers good food, a clean, thoughtfully appointed kids' area with video games, books and toys. Electric massage chairs are also available for adults.

Since offering these features, Jomo has experienced a 15% increase in average sales, a 22% increase in average monthly vehicle visits and a whopping 82% increase in average monthly operating profit. Now, you may ask yourself what this has to do with optometry. I'll explain.

Take advantage of free time

Using Jomo's model with creative thinking, we can put some of these same concepts into play in our own practices. The key point to recognize here is that while they "examine" their "patient" (the car), they also tend to the person who escorted the patient/car.

In our practices, many patients show up with a companion -- be it a parent, sibling, friend, etc. We direct most of our in-office marketing toward our 2:15 p.m. patient -- not the person accompanying them. We should view these escorts as significant sources of referrals. After all, they may have to spend a considerable amount of time in your waiting area. Instead of them reading a magazine about world events, let's use this time to market our practices!

Right now, the patient directs the conversation with his companion after he's had his exam. He might say, "I'm glad my exam went okay. The doctor said my eyes are healthy and all I needed was a change in my glasses. I picked out a really nice frame." But we should aim for the following statement from the patient's escort: "Well you might have gotten new glasses, but let me tell you what I've been doing for the last hour! What a great office!"

Think things through

Nothing will deflate the above attempt more than stained carpets, peeling wall paper, worn chairs and marred walls. Spend a few minutes each month to sit in your own lobby and take careful notes of these small, but important cosmetic things. Make sure the magazines you display are current and that they're neatly displayed. Point-of-purchase brochures are fine, but make sure you display them smartly and that they don't bombard your spectators.

Like Jomo, many of our clients have done well with carefully planned kids' areas, Internet kiosks, foot massagers and massage chairs. One doctor hands out iPods with headphones and another offers soft drinks and coffee. Others have had great success loaning hand-held video games to kids. These small investments have had immeasurable returns from patient satisfaction surveys. Patients routinely write in comments, "Not only was my exam great, but my husband enjoyed waiting for me."

To sell or not sell

It's okay to sell eyecare-related products and services to these people, but be careful. We don't advocate going much further than, "While you're waiting for your friend, would you like to take a look at some eyeglasses for yourself?" We don't push this issue because our experience is that the environment you're creating will ultimately wind up a stronger practice-builder via these enthusiastic patients either becoming patients themselves or referring others.

Keep in touch

Make sure your staff routinely communicates with people in the waiting room and that they give them frequent updates. "Your wife is done with her preliminary testing and is in with the doctor now."

Don't lose sight of a valuable practice-building resource that's probably sitting in your reception area right now!


Optometric Management, Issue: May 2005