I realized that I have not written about customer service in a long time and that is unusual for me, so stick with me and read this tip because it is the most important topic there is for building a successful practice. It is important for all of us to revisit our own beliefs about customer service and then lead our staff teams to embrace it as well. If you don’t continue to make customer service the dominant factor in your office culture, service will decline. Complacency will set in. It takes an ongoing, renewed effort.
Do you understand the strategy?
Legendary customer service truly has the power to lift your practice to very high levels of production and profit, but I think many doctors don’t really get it. I’ve talked with and read social media posts by some ODs who actually scoff at the concept. I think they get some kind of ego boost by letting patients know they are the boss. If a patient asks for something unusual or difficult, they become quite annoyed.
I think these optometrists often mean well and they simply don’t want to be taken advantage of. They don‘t think they should have to kowtow to people who are unreasonable. The problem with that thinking is two-fold: first, the patient never thinks he is being unreasonable. There is a difference of opinion on that point. I wonder whose opinion counts more if the ultimate goal is to increase business? Second, it doesn’t even matter if the patient is trying to take advantage! If you let them win (within reason, but liberally) you will make far more money. They will buy more services and products, return more often and send many other people to see you. I let them take advantage of me all the way to the bank.
These doctors may actually be nicer to people than they let on with their bravado, but complaining about patients even behind the scenes can cause more harm to their practice than they realize. The culture of an organization is determined by the leaders and if staff members realize the doctor has little compassion for the public, they will emulate that and take it even further.
Are you complacent about customer service?
Another group of doctors truly understand that customer service is an important factor in practice building, but they are not passionate about it. This group of owners may be so busy with clinical eye care that they delegate customer service to the staff and assume it is being handled well. In my experience, customer service often erodes over time in the absence of firm leadership because staff begin to focus on their own wants and needs more than the patient’s.
Nearly all the extremely successful practices I have consulted with provide excellent customer service in a consistent manner. The owners get it. They live it and breathe it. As expected, the practices that are owned by doctors who are indifferent to customer service are generally mediocre. It stands to reason because professional practices are driven by word-of-mouth and strong recommendations. Of course, the value of customer service is well documented in virtually all business categories.
How to improve your customer service
Here are some ideas for leading your staff to provide great service:
Say yes to patients, even when it is not easy. There are some times when you can’t say yes, but those situations are really quite easy to manage. Just explain to the patient, honestly and patiently, why you can’t say yes in this instance and don’t embarrass the patient in the process.
Review your office policies and try to change them to reflect the wants and needs of the patient. Stop thinking about what is convenient for the doctor and staff.
Talk about customer service frequently at staff meetings and as daily decisions are made.
Explain to the staff about the importance of word-of-mouth referrals and the total patient experience.
It is actually fun to practice in an environment with outstanding customer service. There is far less stress and staff members are happier. There is a feeling of pride for doing wonderful things for others. And patients act better and are more grateful when they realize they are being treated well.
You can have everything you want in life if you just help enough other people get what they want (Zig Ziglar).
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.