I want to wish all my colleagues who read this weekly publication a very happy, healthy and prosperous (let's not forget that one!) New Year. Thanks for your ongoing interest in reading this e-newsletter. My first article in this weekly series was published in January of 2002, so we have now completed twelve years together!
The start of a new year is a great time to reflect on your practice and set goals. It feels like a fresh start and it is an opportunity to inspire your staff to embrace change and to work with you to grow the practice. To start that trend, be sure to schedule staff meetings every week. You simply must communicate with your staff on a frequent basis if you want to lead them to great things.
A new culture
The organizational culture of your practice is a set of unwritten rules and beliefs. While abstract and intangible, the culture is what makes the difference between a highly successful practice and a mediocre one.
You may not have thought much about your office culture; it often just happens. Fortunately, if you think the culture could be improved in your practice, it can be changed. The culture is a reflection of the leaders of the organization. The natural leader is generally the doctor/owner, but only if he or she is engaged and participative. Anyone in the practice could become a leader, but not always a good one. Much of the culture is created by the examples and signals your staff sees in you. And actions speak louder than words.
Consider making 2014 the year of great customer service. Talk about patient satisfaction and loyalty with your staff and how important word-of-mouth referrals are. Ask your staff to share with you real scenarios about a patient who was unhappy or complained. Consider that your staff may feel it is their job to handle those issues and may not normally tell you everything. But let them know it is your job to hear the bad with the good.
How do you feel about patients?
I read quite a few optometric forums and social media groups and many of the posts refer to specific cases where patients are unreasonable and difficult. Invariably, those threads get a huge amount of support from others and the sentiment is typically that the practice is better off without those bums. There is much encouragement from the crowd to not put up with any "abuse" and the best advice is to develop firm, tough policies and stick to them. There is often a theory that if you give in to this type of person, word will get out and your practice will attract more like them. This theory goes hand in hand with the notion that most people with a specific vision plan are inherently unfair or unreasonable. There is a lot of contempt toward these annoying and in many cases stupid people. I think these theories are incorrect and the tough approach is not in the best interest of the practice as a business.
In my opinion, optometrists who often feel this way do not understand the power of great customer service. The concept is that you can get anything you want in life, if you just help enough others get what they want. Yes, I know there are some people who are truly evil or abnormal and you have to let them go (very rare), but my sense of most of the stories I hear and read are that there was a misunderstanding or poor communication. That patient who is being difficult could have easily been you or me in some cases, when we did not feel we were treated right at a business. In my experience, the practice, the staff or the doctor actually played a role in the problem. It seems to me that many ODs and staff members have great difficulty accepting any blame when something goes wrong. Many of us have great difficulty saying the words "I'm sorry".
Consider that your inner feelings are probably quite obvious to your staff. They will adopt a culture that is based on how you feel. I teach my staff to try very hard to say yes to patients and to tell them in advance about important things they should know, especially if they may not like it. We have office policies and we generally operate within them, but if a patient is very unhappy, we often make a one-time exception to the policy and we tell them we are doing so. Look at everything you do, from the patient's point of view.
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor,Optometric Management Tip of the Week