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It's often the little, overlooked things that make the difference when it comes to practice building. It's too bad that things like good manners, common courtesy and etiquette have been relegated to a status of less importance, but if you observe any business today, you'll see that it has. In our fast-paced world, few optometrists and office managers have time to focus on whether staff members say please, thank you or you're welcome. Actually, the smart ones do find the time to focus on it.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who has noticed that virtually no one says "you're welcome" anymore in the retail or service business. The new "you're welcome" is... "no problem". Sadly, it's not an acceptable substitute in my book. I hate to date myself, but this seems like it might have started as a generation-X thing, but it's becoming more popular with all age groups.
I think this began because these same employees first stopped saying "thank you". I'll give you an example: let's say I just purchased an item at a store and paid for it. Rather than saying thank you, the expressionless cashier hands me my change and my purchase in silence. Or she may possibly use the new substitute for "thank you"... which is the insincere "have-a-nice-day". Feeling an awkward silence, and being used to some form of courtesy among humans, I find myself saying, "thank you" to the cashier. The response to my "thank you" is generally a "no problem". I would hope it's no problem! I just bought a product and I would like that to be acknowledged and appreciated. The "no problem" response creates a perception that the store and the cashier have done me a favor by selling me the product. That is not a good feeling for the customer to leave with.
I know that language and culture go through stylistic changes among generations, and this may be a passing thing. Some people may feel awkward or un-cool having to say thank you, and smile. But optometric practices that want to excel must look for employees who can get over that, and can communicate in a courteous and professional way.
Consider how often you hear these phrases in your office, and talk with your staff openly about saying them.
It's my pleasure
I'm sorry for the delay
Use of Mr., Mrs., Miss, Ms.
I'll be right with you
May I put you on hold?
It's so nice to see you again
An issue related to good manners is the use of reasonably correct grammar. It's part of good etiquette and it creates a perception of intelligence and excellence. Grammar and spelling and penmanship are all characteristics that should be investigated in the hiring process, but we must realize that this is not a perfect world and there is always some give and take with any employee. While it may be considered rude to correct another person's grammar in a public setting, an employer or manager should explain the importance of proper grammar to employees, and consider it part of ongoing staff training. If an employee makes some frequent and common errors, I'd correct them in a respectful way, in private.
How much time should a practice spend on teaching manners and grammar? Obviously, it must be in balance with many other pressing needs. To some degree, these are the intangible benefits of hiring people with higher educational levels, and that goes hand-in-hand with paying higher salaries. Another big factor beyond raw talent is the practice culture. Practice culture is the unwritten set of rules of a practice; it is the way things are done here. If the doctor and senior staff all practice good manners and grammar themselves, new employees will observe it and learn it, subconsciously.
Why should we care?
The success of a practice is largely based on perception, and the perception of excellence, quality, and good service is enhanced by the behavior and the communication skills of the staff. To patients, the practice is the staff! When patients perceive high quality, they are likely to buy more, stay loyal, and refer others. Those are plenty of good reasons to care.
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.