I enjoyed an amazing family vacation in Hawaii last week. We stayed at a beautiful resort that is known for great service and it generally lived up to that for us. But, as is often the case, there were some lapses. I always find that I can learn some valuable lessons in practice management by observing other businesses outside of the optical industry.
How customers react to lapses in service varies widely. Some will just let an incident go with the understanding that nobody’s perfect all the time. Others will complain about any deficiency. I’m mostly in the former group, but if service is extremely poor, I think most people will speak up to management. A lapse like that occurred one day at lunch at our resort, and I informed the waitress a few times that we had been waiting a long time for our food. The response was always the same: an apology along with a statement that the food should be right up. But it wasn’t. It was like the staff did not really listen to me and really could not do anything outside of their usual process.
A two-part review
The point of this story is to inspire you to reconsider two aspects of the process your staff follows when they are faced with a complaint from a patient: (1) How is your attitude when a patient complains? Do you (the doctor or manager) generally view these people as troublemakers? Are they usually being unreasonable? (2) Are your staff empowered to take corrective action on their own or do they have to check with the doctor or manager? Is the process to fix a problem rather complicated? These two factors will have a huge impact on your customer service. Let’s look at them closer.
The leader’s attitude
The culture of a practice is an extension of the philosophy of the leaders. How staff members feel about patients who have a complaint, legitimate or otherwise, is a function of what they observe in the practice owner and the office manager. If you vent behind the scenes that patients are irresponsible, or not very bright, or in some way unfair, your staff will feel that way too. Invariably, they will not cover those feelings very well when they are on the front lines of the public. They will send signals of annoyance and they will be protective of the practice, often to the point of digging in their heels about office policy when the better move would be to let the patient win.
The first response on the front lines carries great importance when we consider the patient’s perception of the practice. You may be able to undo some damage, but you shouldn’t have to. Also, the practice leaders will be faced with the uncomfortable position of needing to support the staff member vs. doing the right thing for customer service. Ideally, these two positions should not be at odds.
The second phase of service recovery is for staff to quickly fix the problem. Train the front line staff to be able to make decisions about how the practice can resolve an issue. Teach them to own the problem for the patient and to take the necessary steps to see that it is resolved. Practice how to handle sticky situations, such as:
Calling to cancel glasses
Requests for frame information
Requests for PDs
Calling to be late for an appointment
Complaints about vision with new glasses or contacts
Complaints that glasses or contacts are taking too long
As you work through how to handle these challenges, consider adopting office policies that are not based on the practice owner’s wants and needs. Consider having policies that are ridiculously patent-friendly. Do that for three years and the results will amaze you.