WHILE MANY of us probably have fantasized about doing so, I’d guess none of us have (yet) dragged a kicking and screaming patient out of our offices. So, if we’re not in the habit of overselling seats, is there anything we can learn from the recent United Airlines debacle?

Yes, there is — a lot.

  1. You don’t have to make a profit on every single patient. But, you should try to make every patient happy — keeping in mind that “happiness” is in the eyes of the consumer, not you or your staff. This fundamental, core value will usually keep you out of trouble and help you avoid the PR nightmares.

    I’ll go on the record here: It’s only a matter a time before a customer service/patient care incident happens in an O.D.’s office, gets recorded and winds up online. “This is the third time I’ve come back, and I still can’t read out of my left lens!”

    It’s apparent to everyone now, including United, the basic premise that profitability happens globally across multiple passengers, not every single one. Had the company followed this premise, it would have raised the ante above $800, and none of this would have happened. Be willing to do the same. Remember, these incidents are rare. In fact, media outlets, such as The Washington Post, report that in 2016, U.S. airlines asked passengers to involuntarily give up their seats 40,000 times — out of 660 million passengers (0.006%).

  2. The, seemingly counterintuitive, practice-building belief that every patient interaction does not have to be profitable for your practice, must be infused into every fiber of your practice culture. In day-to-day activities, empower your staff on the front lines to do whatever it takes to avoid patient blow ups, even if it costs money. It is never a good strategy to make upset patients wait, regardless of the reason. (“Until the doctor finishes with his patient.”)

    Instead, handle customer service incidents the instant they arise, right at the point of contact. This can only be done in a culture where staff might actually get rewarded and praised for potentially losing money on a patient.

  3. Even if a customer incident is not your fault, if it makes it on to social media, it will be perceived that way. So, make sure to follow rule No. 2, and don’t let an incident escalate to a blow up.
  4. Apologize right away, and be genuine and appropriate.
  5. Don’t blame the victim. See the above point.
  6. Have a service recovery plan in place, and practice it. I have no idea whether United trains its flight crews on how to handle these types of incidents. I’d assume that, as a large company, it does. If so, it was probably some time since they rehearsed using the company-approved strategy. To that point, routinely (monthly is good) role play things that could go wrong, and make sure to emphasize the first two points as you create your strategy.

    Yes, there are some patients who you just can’t please, regardless of the heroics you deploy. You should politely and courteously dismiss them from your practice. Your brand will remain untarnished, and your staff will appreciate you backing them up the few times this might happen. OM