Article Date: 11/1/2006

o.d. to o.d.
It's Not about the Exam, It's about the Experience

If patients view all eye exams as equal, then why
do they continue to return to your practice?
BY WALTER D. WEST, O.D., F.A.A.O. Chief Optometric Editor

I think most optometrists would like to believe that patients come to a practice because of them. Further, many of these optometrists believe that patients visit them initially and continue to return because of the quality of the eye examination that they provide.

While there may be many reasons why patients see a particular practice initially, I submit that patients who return do so for a reason that most optometrists are not likely to be aware of.

Are you ready? The patients return because of the experience that you provided in your practice. And there is an entire marketing philosophy referred to as "Experiential Marketing." Businesses across a wide variety of industries subscribe to this philosophy. And they are feverishly trying to create the most effective experience that they can provide in their particular industry or market segment.

Working in the dark

Now for those of you that thought your unique eye examination was the reason patients kept coming back, here's a news flash: Individual consumers, for the most part, believe that your eye exam is the same as any other optometrist's eye exam. You have the same degree, use the same equipment, ask the same questions (which is better, one or two?), and every optometrist they've ever been to does all their work in the dark. See, same exam.

Here's another thing you should know: The special person who patients build a relationship with — you know, the relationship that keeps them coming back — may not be with you, the optometrist, but rather with a member of your staff.

Why do patients return?

So let's talk about why the patients come back and the experience that patients want. First of all, your eye exam isn't special, you are. That's right, you. I know you have your picture taken with your phoropter every chance you get, but it's not your phoropter that differentiates your eye exam. It's your personality, sense of humor (or lack thereof), your ability to communicate and your willingness to serve, all of which differentiate you from all the other optometrists in your community.

Now let's talk about this experiential marketing thing. I'll mention Starbucks. You'd be wrong to think that Starbucks sells coffee. Coffee is only part of your Starbucks experience. The environment you are in, the lingo that is spoken and the ability to customize your purchase is all part of the Starbucks experience. And there's more — much more, but that's a start.

What's your experience?

So let's think about the experience. Is it waiting mixed with paperwork, confusing questions from staff who don't know the patient's name, topped with expensive pricing for products or services that aren't understood, so that a problem that they don't comprehend can be corrected to your liking? Or does your experience include patient education, communications and concern, from both you and your staff, conveyed in a personal and caring manner?

Get together with your staff and then a small group of your patients (not just those who are satisfied) and ask them about the experience that you provide and how to enhance it. You might be surprised at how well they can differentiate between the experience that brings them back and the examination you thought brought them back.

Optometric Management, Issue: November 2006