By Maddie Langston, IDOC Practice Marketing Consultant
Great customer service is a common ingredient in nearly every marketing plan for Optometrists in private practice, and many claim this element is a key differentiator for private practices to compete with corporate optometry and/or ecommerce. I agree that all local practice marketing begins with the experience people have when they are inside the practice because it’s very difficult to out-advertise a poor reputation, but what, exactly, does great customer service mean?
This topic is evergreen in my world because I’m often called upon to help practices deal with negative online reviews, and in nearly every instance where my services are needed, the practice is surprised and upset to receive poor feedback on what they felt was great customer service. Clearly there’s a disconnect in many of these cases – the practice delivered what they considered to be a good experience, but the patient left with a completely different perception. It is possible that what you and your team feel is great customer service gets lost in translation, because aside from operational excellence, the words you choose when speaking to patients and the body language displayed during conversations has a major impact on how people feel while interacting with you and your team – and these things can make or break any customer service experience.
Chik-fil-A is a very popular fast-food establishment in the United States (most of the states, anyway) and they consistently rank high on customer service; in fact, last year they earned an 83% rating on a survey conducted by the Temkin Group (a score above 80% is considered “excellent”). Reasons given for their high performance are employee service attributes: they say “please” and “thank you”, make eye contact, have an overall pleasant demeanor, and of course say “my pleasure” after taking an order. This organization has a script with specific vocabulary for employees to use in their brief interactions with customers, along with instruction on facial expressions and body language. While these things seem basic, I’ve found it can be very helpful to work with team members on communication techniques to create great patient experiences in the practice.
The overall goal in patient communication should be empathy – making the person feel heard and understood. Demonstrating empathy for your patients by striving to see things from their point of view is very powerful; after all, everyone wants to feel valued, important and respected. There are ways to show empathy through certain words and phrases and body language, and by being mindful of both, you and your team are more apt to create a culture of great customer service which generates positive word of mouth marketing and loyalty to the practice.
Use positive words as much as you can when speaking to patients. These words tend to resonate with listeners when we use them: absolutely, certainly, fantastic, especially, exactly, marvelous, delightful, reassure. When faced with a more challenging conversation, consider using some of these phrases:
• I can see how important this is to you.
• I understand this can be frustrating.
• I am listening and want to see if we can solve this together.
These are great, positive words and phrases, but they must be delivered with appropriate body language as well. Often, we are not conscious of the body language we display during conversations with others, and without a bit of mindfulness, it’s easy to negate any positive words with off putting body language. A great example is not making eye contact while a customer is talking to you at the front desk or in the optical – you or your team member may indeed be listening, but if you are looking elsewhere and/or doing other things, the patient may not feel heard at all. Maintaining appropriate eye contact, keeping arms uncrossed and displaying a genuine, friendly expression/smile is optimal for great customer service that patients can feel.
Do a bit of listening and observing in your practice and keep an open mind. You may discover that while your staff works very hard and has great intentions, they may benefit from direction and coaching on vocabulary and body language.
Maddie Langston brings extensive experience in marketing and sales administration and has developed strategies to drive sales for various industries. Most recently, Maddie developed marketing programs for a national network of independently owned auto repair service centers. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Liberty University. Maddie and her husband Jim have a teenage son and two beagles. She enjoys reading, watching documentaries and hiking in her spare time.