Article Date: 12/1/2005

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Not-So Great Expectations
Exceeding patients' expectations is a claim you shouldn't make lightly.

To financially succeed in practice, you have to "exceed your patients' expectations." We've heard that hackneyed phrase so many times that it's lost all meaning. Moreover, most of us only give lip service to the task of "exceeding expectations," since we don't really know what those expectations are!

Patient feedback

I guess that about 99% of you have had a patient say, "Doctor, that was the best eye exam I've ever had!" This utterance is so ubiquitous that I strongly recommend the 1% of you who haven't yet heard this consider another career. But if we're all hearing it, how can it be true? How can we all provide the best eye examination? The challenge is: How can we set our practices apart from the pack when, by and large, most of us do the same things? The answer is to not simply exceed expectations, but to nuke them. And you can't do that unless you know what those expectations really are. If we can make a patient's visit to our offices so memorable that they can't help tell their friends, we'll succeed in fulfilling the trite expectations phrase.

Find out

Patients enter our offices with a baseline set of expectations comprised of anticipated clinical and customer service events. They probably expect little pain and to be able to see with the glasses you prescribe. And if you say they have a 2:30p.m. appointment, they expect that you'll actually be ready to take care of them.

But industry research shows us that even these cursory events are only being met — not exceeded. Compare patient experiences with those other industries. If you have a good experience at a nice restaurant or hotel, you find yourself proactively discussing the experience. In fact, if the restaurant does a great job, you can't wait to talk about it! It's rare that a patient leaves an eye exam with the same enthusiasm. Optometric evangelists are few in number.

On the clinical side, patients have a rudimentary expectation that you be an authority on vision. However, when surveyed, many patients complain their doctors did not offer customized solutions.

After the exam

Patients expect you to stand behind your products. If the glasses you prescribe "don't work" — as defined by patients — they expect that you'll know why they don't work and that you'll fix them. And, right or wrong, they expect that you'll do so at no additional cost.

Here too, research shows many of us receive failing grades. We typically have refund and warranty policies that mimic the IRS tax code. These complex rules prevent us from delivering memorable and extraordinary customer service.

Contrast this with what happens when you book a non-smoking room at a five-star hotel and are mistakenly given the key to a smoking room. Instead of simply coming up with a can of air freshener to "fix the problem," the staff offers an apology and directs you to another room where someone will meet you with the key. While the receptionist could have told you to come down stairs, the hotel used this clerical error as an opportunity to exceed expectations and make the unfortunate event memorable.

Learn what your patients expect from you by asking them. Then, go the extra foot, yard or mile to significantly exceed those known and quantified expectations. OM


Optometric Management, Issue: December 2005