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How do you or your staff respond to patients who ask for a special deal? Perhaps the patient has seen contact lenses priced lower somewhere else. Or maybe he has shopped for eyeglass lenses and found a better price. What do you do if a patient says he would like a discount because they have a family of five who all come to your office? Consumers are bolder than ever and many feel there is no harm in asking, but what is the best response?
My view on handling requests for special deals or discounts is to politely decline. As you may know, I'm very big on saying yes to patients and satisfying patient wants and needs, but I'm even bigger on fairness. I want my practice to stand for doing business with the highest level of integrity and giving some people lower prices just because they ask strikes me as being unfair to those who don't ask.
It seems to me that if you say yes to a special deal or a price match, patients gain a perception of the practice that is undesirable. They learn that the practice does not have a firm fee schedule. They realize that if a person takes some initiative, everything is negotiable. Even the patient who is getting the deal he asked for will wonder later if he should have asked for more. And what about the other services and products he purchased in the past; could he have received those at a lower price if he had asked? It leaves a bad impression.
Invariably, people find out if you offer different prices or discounts. You may not realize that a patient who gets a special deal today will go home and show his wife, and then they both realize that the wife paid more when she was at your office last week.
We also must consider how your staff perceives the granting of special deals. In my observation, employees behave better when they feel their employer has high ethical standards and integrity. It improves the office culture. Conversely, it's harder for staff to do their work if they must juggle different pricing policies, exercise caution about quoting fees, and field questions about price differences. Morale can suffer.
I know that many large retailers use the strategy of guaranteeing the lowest price by matching any advertised price by a competitor. There are some key differences, however, between those businesses and your practice. First, those retailers are focused heavily on price. The products they sell are true commodities and there is little service that goes with the purchase. In my opinion, focusing on low price is not a good strategy for most independent eye care practices. Secondly, the large retailers with the price match guarantee make the policy widely known in advance through advertising. It's fair to all parties because it's offered to everyone.
Policies in advance
It's fine to offer special deals or discounts as long as you offer them to all and your staff is aware of the policy. For example, my practice offers 50% off on a second pair of glasses if purchased at the same time. That deal is available to everyone all the time and we let everyone know. Some offices have a time of service discount if fees are paid in full at the time of service. You can implement any business policy you wish as long as it's offered to everyone in a fair manner.
In spite of the one discount that I offer in my practice, I'll remind you that discounts in general are very damaging to your bottom line. I recommend you use them very sparingly and only when you are sure they really add new sales that would not occur without the discount. Please revisit tip # 333 for an eye opener about discounts.
How to respond
If you decide to drop some lax policies on discounts and special dealing, just hold a staff meeting to discuss the topic. Develop a simple fee schedule and product price list and agree that everyone will stick to it. Most patients won't even notice a change in policy, but here are some suggestions for how to respond to questions. Try these phrases:
"I'm sorry; we don't offer a program like that. We do work hard to keep our fees as low as possible and still offer the high quality services you deserve."
"In order to be fair to all our patients..."
"Our agreement with your insurance plan does not allow us..."
It's best to not explain too much. Don't open the topic for discussion and don't embarrass the patient for asking about a discount. Simply respond that your office does not offer that and move on. If the patient chooses to go elsewhere due to your pricing then so be it. The number who leave will be very small and the practice net income will still be greater in the long run due to the higher fee levels. And the patients who leave will still have a high regard for your practice integrity; many will even come back and do business in the future.
A system not dependent on the doctor
One final point about resisting the urge to give special pricing is that it's better for your practice. Usually, only the doctor or manager has the authority to grant special deals. I think it's smart to build your practice so it's not totally dependent on the doctor or owner. You want to develop a system that is bigger than any one person. In that way, the practice can produce revenue without relying solely on the owner. Delegation of duties is better accepted, technicians and associate doctors can work effectively in the practice and the practice can be more easily sold when the time comes.
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.