Article Date: 10/1/2006

The Need to Exceed

Who understands best how to surpass your patient's expectations?

Jim Thomas

Every consultant proclaims, "You can't just meet expectations, you have to exceed them." It's the mantra of anyone involved in customer or patient relations. Unfortunately, it's a vague directive, much like a coach telling a basketball player to "get your head in the game." It provides few clues of what to do or how to do it.

Did you succeed?

We need these clues. It's not unusual to exceed one set of expectations while missing those of the patient. Here's an example: Mr. Presby is told his glasses will be ready on Friday, but lo and behold, they arrive from the lab on Wednesday. The office phones Mr. Presby to let him know that his glasses came in — two days ahead of schedule. The staff agrees that the early arrival exceeds their expectations. But did it exceed the patient's?

That depends. If it's convenient for the patient to stop by the office and he values the early arrival, then yes, the practice has probably exceeded his expectations. But what if Mr. Presby is a busy sales rep who fully booked his Wednesday and Thursday appointment schedule so that he could take time to pick up his glasses on Friday? In this case, the early arrival may not affect expectations because it provided little value to this particular patient.

There's no single proven set of rules for exceeding expectations as they differ from patient to patient. Worse, patients may set arbitrary criteria for service ("I want my glasses as soon as possible") that don't necessarily reflect realistic expectations. It's also likely that patients may not even know what to expect.

Some practices exceed expectations by creating a leading-edge office that includes the latest equipment and technology, waiting rooms that look like finely furnished living rooms, beverage services or daycare for children. These practices typically employ attentive, knowledgeable staff who understand the difference between "following the rules" and providing patient-centered solutions.

The rules of engagement

Another way to exceed is to create a practice atmosphere that engages the patient. Just as you diagnose Mr. Presby's needs for vision correction, you would also learn the issues that surround service and care for him and other patients.

Note that the road "to exceed" isn't always paved with costs. I would wager that a simple follow-up phone call after a patient receives glasses, contact lenses or medication surpasses the experiences shared by the vast majority of patients.

Optometric Management, Issue: October 2006