Create a Practice of Distinction
Six steps to standing out from the crowd
APRIL JASPER, O.D., F.A.A.O., WEST PALM BEACH, FLA.,
AND CARL SPEAR, O.D. M.B.A., F.A.A.O, PENSACOLA, FLA.
Scott McKain, author of Create Distinction: What to Do When ‘’Great’’ Isn’t Good Enough to Grow Your Business (Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2013), defines distinction as “Businesses so uncommonly excellent, or their differentiation strategies are executed to such an extraordinary level of precision, that these distinct examples become clear market leaders.”
As a result of rapid changes in health care, such as decreased reimbursements and restrictions on provider services, and increases in government regulations on our businesses, such as OSHA and workman’s compensation, we, as optometrists, must create distinctive practices to survive and thrive.
Some would argue that distinction is not possible in optometry because they say contact lenses and glasses are a commodity, and all eye exams are the same. We disagree. Having had the opportunity to visit several optometry practices throughout the country, we can tell you that clear market leaders are indeed in our profession, and they deserve the status they have achieved because of the work they have done to make it happen. For example, we have seen practices that sell more than 95% AR coating and have greater than 75% of their contact lens patients in daily disposable lenses — clearly outside the norm.
Here, we provide six tips on how you can accomplish practice distinction.
1 Determine how to be unique
You can’t be everything to everyone, and countless business examples reveal that attempting to do so is a fast means of going out of business. As a result, concentrate on creating value for your patients in one or two aspects of your practice — the place or places you feel your practice excels — and focus on sustaining this value. Doing so creates patient loyalty and referrals.
In our practices, we made a concerted effort to incorporate the medical model. This resulted in a great opportunity to refocus our attention on the optical. Our goal was to sell a certain percentage of AR-coated and digital lenses. With this laser focus, we have seen tremendous gains in these areas, benefiting both patients and our practices.
Starbucks Coffee Company has been able to create consumer loyalty and referrals by focusing on developing stellar customer service and a warm, homey ambience and improving and adapting as times have changed. This is why countless coffee drinkers are willing to pay more than $3.00 for a cup of coffee when they can easily purchase one for less than $1.00 elsewhere.
2 Share your vision
Once you’ve decided which one or two areas you’re going to focus on making unique, share this information with your staff, including how, specifically, you’re going to do it, the staff training involved and your expectations of them.
In the aforementioned book, Mr. McKain points out that Apple has not always been a clear market leader. The computer giant achieved this status through time with a team of people who understood the company’s vision and worked to create strategies to achieve it.
3 Focus on your customer, not the competition
It is tempting to implement the same strategy as your competition without first analyzing whether it will work in your practice.
For example, if you find out that a practitioner down the street is providing second-pair savings of a certain percent and you utilize this strategy without examining your current fees for those products, you may find you are not making any profit on this strategy. In fact, if your markup on products is less than that doctor down the street, this percent discount strategy could be very detrimental to your practice. In addition, your customer base may be happier with and find more value in your frame and lens package vs. second-pair savings.
The easiest way to find out what patients want is to ask them. We do this informally in the exam room and more formally with patient surveys and questionnaires. We have found that many times what we thought was important was not as important to the patient as we assumed, and we have uncovered information that has allowed us to excel.
An example: Many practitioners assume patients want them to take more time with them in the exam room. As a result, they change their exam time and slow everything down. When we ask our patients about exam room time, however, they tell us that what they prefer is an efficient exam, an outstanding exam experience, and time is not the factor that determines that.
4 Offer only the best
Distinctive practices provide specialty products, such as custom-designed progressive lenses. (Product purchases are strategic to maximize cost-of-goods sold.)
In addition, such practices understand that to sell a product, such as a high-end frame, the selection has to be highly coveted by patients. (Also, they understand the importance of being selective when aligning with vendor partners — only working with those that match the practice’s vision and mission.) Further, specialty contact lens fits are the norm, not the exception. Finally, dry eye disease, among other eyecare conditions, is diagnosed and appropriately managed during every encounter.
5 Use the latest technology
Technology is mandatory in a distinctive practice. It is impossible to wow patients and, therefore, retain them and prompt patient referrals without technology that sets you apart. The latest technology not only enables excellent patient care, it also creates an exceptional patient experience.
6 Create protocols/scorecards
Protocols are increasingly important. Whether we call them processes or protocols, what they do is standardize our care and customer service routines. We are very process-driven, from how we schedule and recall patients to what testing we do on various medical diagnoses. After the fact, collecting metrics on performance and developing a scorecard serves to focus us on the ultimate end goal.
When you create a business of distinction, you become less dependent on outside influences and more dependent on circumstances under your control. A distinctive practice is one the customer cannot live without. OM