Rolling out the Red Carpet
Increase patient loyalty and referrals with these three steps
KEVIN GEE, O.D., F.A.A.O., HOUSTON, TEXAS
With the rise of online sales of glasses and contact lenses, as well as the emergence of online refractive determinations, brick-and-mortar practices have a lot of competition.
The good news: You can give online retailers a run for their money by providing face-to-face exemplary service.
I am convinced that the size of your practice or your patient demographic does not matter; everyone wants to be provided with first-class service. You, as business owners, must learn that many consumers still care about service, and, if treated well, those customers/patients will become loyal to you and your practice. Even better, they will share those experiences with friends who are of the same breath, opening the door for new patients as well.
Here are three steps to implementing first-class service into your practice.
1 Observe businesses outside of optical
Before you can provide first-class service, you should first experience it for yourself. Put on your “service glasses” and observe how the businesses you visit treat their customers.
I remember the first time I flew first class: I received a drink before take off, was served a full meal and even had my sport coat hung for me. I was catered to the entire flight, and the attendants were conscious of when to check on me. I reveled in the upgraded amenities that were available to me.
When I opened my practice, I wanted to make my patients feel as important and cared for as I felt. As a result, I brought the same principles and best practices of first-class service I observed along the way from respected companies outside of our industry to my practice (more on this to come).
2 Get staff on board
Your staff is an integral part of your success in implementing first-class service. As a result, get them on board with your vision for the practice by asking them about some of the positive experiences they’ve had as a consumer, and take notes. Your team may actually see the world much like your patients, and they may understand consumerism better than you for your practice.
Better yet, show them your vision. I have found great success in staff retreats. These outings serve three purposes: (1) team building, (2) they reward hard work, and (3) they provide exposure to exemplary service.
For example, I recently took my staff to a local shopping mall. Each team member was given a gift card to spend, a thank you for all their hard work and assignments for the evening. They broke into pairs and visited a yoga-clothing store that explains everything about its product and how to care for it, a designer jewelry store (we carry its frame line in our optical gallery) and a luxury boutique to see how it presents its niche product.
Finally, with their gift cards they were tasked to purchase an item from Nordstrom, another example of a business that provides a great customer experience and service. We reconvened for dinner to compare notes on how they were treated. The results were amazing, and they took what they learned and implemented it into my practice. The next day, the majority of my team had smiles on their faces and enthusiastic tones in their voices, treating each patient with the same warmth and sincerity they received during the excursion.
3 Act the part
Once you and your staff members understand the value of first-class service, it’s time to implement it into your practice. It doesn’t have to be a complete overhaul; the following small changes to everyday tasks and protocols can make a big difference.
► Start with a warm welcome. Get rid of the word “hello,” and instead “welcome” each patient with a simple, “Welcome! How may I serve you today?” If you want to go the extra mile, use the patient’s name. It’s a trick I learned from staying at the Ritz-Carlton: When I arrive for my stay, I am greeted with a “Welcome back, Dr. Gee” (which, by the way, the staff finds out by either looking at my luggage tag or by profiling me before I arrive).
If I see through our storefront window a patient approaching (I survey the schedule to know approximately when patients will be arriving), I open the door and welcome him or her by name to our practice. It’s a simple gesture, but it means a lot to the patient. It also helps to build a rapport with him or her.
► Divide and conquer. If you know a patient is picking out a new frame style and you are headed to the next room to see a patient, quickly stop by and compliment the patient on his or her selection. Again, it’s a simple step, but it will reaffirm your commitment to the patient.
► Be available. Patients want to know they can get in touch with you. My personal e-mail address is on my business card. It’s not filtered, so e-mails come right to my phone. My feelings actually get hurt when a patient tells me she “didn’t want to bother me” because it’s not a bother at all — I give out my e-mail address for the express purpose of being available when patients need me. My team members have printed business cards with their specific e-mail addresses on them as well. The ability to directly contact healthcare providers is a luxury, and it goes a long way to providing exemplary service.
► Exceed expectations. Whether it is a cold bottle of water or a hot cup of coffee given when a patient arrives, the convenient offer to deliver his glasses or contact lens order or simply holding the door for him when he leaves, going above and beyond makes patients feel appreciated and pampered.
► Don’t limit yourself. Don’t be afraid of going overboard with service. When it seems over the top, it’s probably just about right.
A new niche
After implementing these first-class service techniques, you will find that patients change their expectations of your practice — and also of you. Instead of being another errand to run, you will become an experience they look forward to.
As silly as it is, MasterCard had it right when it ran those “priceless” commercials. I can say that I am aware of price, but the experiences are “priceless,” and I hope that our patients feel that way, too. OM