Have You Talked With Your Staff About Service Recovery?
May 5, 2004
Eye Care Professionals (ECPs) know how a well-trained staff improves patient
flow and minimizes chair time. That’s why it’s important to make sure staff
doesn’t stumble when answering questions about color contact lenses. Staff
should be prepared for questions about ACUVUE® 2 COLOURSTM Brand Contact
Lenses, and aid patients with color selection by using the color paddle
wheels and point-of-purchase brochures. Educating staff before patients
start asking questions will solidify the ECP as a contact lens expert – and
strengthen the bond between practice and patient.
Service recovery is the business term for fixing a wrong. In today’s economy, the consumer is all too familiar with businesses that make a mistake, or products that fail to live up to expectations. In fact, as customers, we’ve gotten to the point that we just accept that, sooner or later, something will go wrong with some of our purchases. What we are really looking hard at, and judging, is what happens next. How well does the company support us when we are not satisfied? This is becoming the true measure of a great business in the public’s eyes.
Many companies of all types, from national discount stores (Target) to upscale retailers (Nordstrom’s) to well-known Internet vendors (Amazon.com) have learned this lesson well and are thriving because the consumer can trust them. The consumer knows he may not like the product when he gets it home, but even if he doesn’t, he won’t be stuck with it. So he buys easily and with confidence. Far more new sales occur because of the friendly policies than refunds.
Let’s look hard at our eye care practices in the same light. Unfortunately, most optometrists are really not all that consumer-friendly. Sure, we can say that it’s different because we are professionals delivering a service and we don’t even want to appear to look like those retail businesses. We can say that our products are custom-made so our hands are tied. But we may be only hurting ourselves with that approach in an attempt to preserve an aura that no one really cares about. If we run our practices like a business, we see that the same retail principles really do apply to us. This is easy to see when we look at an optical purchase through a patient’s eyes.
For simplicity, let’s leave professional services out of our analysis. Let’s just say that fees charged for services are for professional expertise and time spent, and therefore, not refundable. In fact, even in the product aspect of our field, rarely does good service recovery have to involve refunds. When a patient buys glasses today, they see it as a very expensive purchase, where it’s impossible to know the end result in advance. Eyewear is purchased largely on faith. Will the patient see as clearly as she hopes? Will the no-line bifocal be as easy to use as he wishes? Will her friends like the frame style? Will the darkening tint work well enough when driving? Will the glasses be comfortable on his ears? Will the non-glare lens need to be cleaned too often?
It turns out that the vast majority of optical consumers are very happy with their purchases from our offices. But what about the small percentage of people who are not happy? In many practices, staff members handle complaints. This is a huge responsibility and one that deserves much time and attention by the owner and manager. Often, the doctor sees complaints of a visual nature, while an optician may manage other complaints. It may be a receptionist who first gets the phone call or greets the walk-in with a complaint, and must decide what to do with it.
Talk with your staff members about the service recovery process and analyze how complaints are currently handled in your office.
Are the people involved trained well enough to make the right decision and to send the patient to the right staff member?
Do staff members have the right attitude about what constitutes a valid complaint?
Are they compassionate and understanding or defensive and rude?
Is there great effort to assign blame and shift it elsewhere?
Is it OK for a staff member to admit an error and apologize for it?
Are staff members empowered enough to fix problems quickly, without hem hawing around?
If a refund is requested, will your practice grant it?
Are there layers of approval needed before a mistake can be corrected?
Can a staff person offer a small gift or a future discount as a make-up gesture when circumstances warrant it?
Many optometrists have very good service policies and work hard to prevent patient dissatisfaction, but they often keep those policies a secret. The buyer has no way of knowing how good the practice is to deal with, and knowing this in advance could make a big difference in purchasing decisions. Consider posting your satisfaction policies or guarantees in your optical and on the back of your receipts. I’d make the policies liberal, but even if you choose not to be as consumer-friendly, stating the policies in advance makes them fair and prevents hard feelings and confrontations.
Excellent service recovery goes a long way in building a great practice reputation. Word gets around the community, good or bad. In fact, you can go one better than simply resolving complaints by having a friendly staff member phone all patients a few days after dispensing to ask how they are enjoying their new eyewear?
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.