The more I wander around my office and observe our day-to-day activities, the more things I find that we need to work on. My practice will never reach perfection, but I am going to continuously work on pursuing it. The latest thing is that the staff who work at the front desk don’t smile enough. So my office managers and I have embraced this as our latest mission in staff training and motivation.
I want to be clear that I have long insisted on hiring and developing a pleasant, friendly staff. I look for happy people in our hiring process; we administer personality tests; we talk about smiling and being friendly before and after we hire someone. My managers and I work hard to create a positive organizational culture where we care about our staff members and treat them with respect. We offer a good pay and benefit package plus other perks. Excellent customer service is at the core of our business model and we talk about it at every staff meeting. In spite of a great deal of effort, I notice the front desk staff rarely smiles.
To be fair, it is not that easy to smile all the time. Most of my staff are perfectly happy on the job and they will smile if something amusing occurs, but most of the time, they are busy and they are working and there is nothing to smile about. I realize that it won’t work to simply command my employees to smile. I can’t just say “Smile, darn it!” I must show my staff why they need to smile and what it will do for them and for the practice.
It was actually a personal experience that motivated me to pursue Project Smile in my practice. I went to a new restaurant in town a few times and I noticed that the hostess and the wait staff were extremely friendly and it had a profound effect on me. I really enjoyed going there. Keep in mind that I study business models and marketing strategies, so I see behind the strategic curtain pretty easily, but this restaurant even had me thinking that the staff really liked me. It was mostly the hostess; she smiled at me and made eye contact with me. It was not always the same person, but the hostess always seemed very pleased that I was there. She seated me and told me the specials or whatever, but that was secondary to how she made me feel. I almost thought for a moment that she might have been flirting with me, but I quickly came to my senses on that point. Even when I realized that her interest in me was the result of corporate training, I didn’t really care. I liked it.
I would really like all my staff and our associate doctors to smile more. I realize that it is a powerful relationship builder. It creates a great patient experience. I’m working on helping everyone in my practice to understand this, but the front desk staff is most critical.
Here are some of the points my managers and I are making with our staff on Project Smile.
Understand that a smile is an extremely powerful tool to build relationships and improve the patient experience.
The patient experience is a key factor in practice building: it drives patient referrals, repeat business and higher sales.
The growth of our practice as a business directly benefits the employees. It lets us provide raises and better employment benefits. It helps us make our office a better working environment. Employees who embrace new projects and help the practice achieve its goals will be rewarded.
The managers will remind the staff to smile. One great way to do that is for the manager to give the staff member a smile of her own. Smiles are contagious.
Target and Starbucks gift cards will be given to individual staff members by managers whenever they see a strong pattern of smiles.
Two important side points in this project are to make eye contact with patients and to remember patient names and use those names in the greeting and in conversation.
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.