When I ask optometrists how their practice performs in the area of customer service, the answer I always get is: great! Every OD I speak with knows that customer service is very important in growing a practice. If you talk to patients, however, and if you really observe practices in operation, you see that the service is not nearly as good as the owners think. Some of that difference may be because customer service is intangible. It is hard to describe and the standards vary widely. It’s easy to be nice to people when things are going well. A bigger test occurs when you think the other party is being unreasonable. When should you give in and when do you draw the line?
There are some judgment calls needed as you navigate how generous to be, but my experience is that letting the patient win is a very smart business strategy.
In an attempt to assess your customer service more accurately, and just to have some fun, take this quiz. Read the following five statements and decide if each one is true or false. Be objective and follow the spirit of the statement.
At any given moment, there is a good chance there is no one at your front desk. Patients want to be greeted by a friendly, caring person as soon as they walk in. If you are reading this during office hours, stop and walk up to your front desk and take a look.
Your office hours (with a doctor) do not include two or more evenings until 7pm and some hours every Saturday. Part of good customer service is convenience. I realize that many doctors and staff do not like to work these hours, but we’re evaluating what is good for the patients and the practice, not you personally.
If a patient no shows or cancels at the last minute, your staff will give them a stern warning or charge a fee or take some other punitive action. This is a tough one because the patient is clearly in the wrong, but really great practices are understanding and see things from the patient’s point of view, not from their own. A Medicaid practice or other situation that has a high no show rate gets a partial pass, but I think better appointment confirmations and booking closer together based on experience are better ways to handle it.
When you call your own office, you sometimes get voice mail or you are put on immediate hold. This one depends on how often it happens, but voice mail should be extremely rare during office hours. If you have a menu tree that makes callers choose options, score this statement as true.
It is not uncommon for a patient to wait in the reception room more than 15 minutes after their appointment time or for the patient to have an internal wait of more than 15 minutes for the doctor.
If you scored zero true statements, you have outstanding customer service and not due to coincidence, I predict you also have a very successful practice. If you had one to three true statements, you have an average optometric practice, but who wants that? If you have four or five true statements, you should work on improving customer service. Start by taking the quiz again with your staff and talking about each point.
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week
Dr. Gailmard's new book, Practice Management in Optometry: A Blueprint for Success Based on the Optometric Management Tip of the Week, is now available on Amazon.