Last week, I shared some of the office policies from my practice in Indiana, but as I mentioned, we don’t always follow our own rules. I believe in having policies (in writing) for most of the issues that patients bring us, but my staff is trained to listen and let patients win if they are unhappy with how we handle something. This easy-going approach is based on my strong belief that excellent customer service is extremely important for practice growth and success.
To be sure, my staff would much prefer if we just set our office policies and stuck with them. But I know better. I’m more interested in what patients think. I understand why staff members feel that way though. I know that having a policy to fall back on is much easier than making a judgment call. Having policies that must be followed removes the burden on staff to have to make a decision. They can simply say it is out of their hands. Nothing can be done. We have a policy. They do not have to really listen to a string of complaints or think about finding solutions.
I remind my staff frequently about why we make exceptions for patients. I look at everything we do from the patient’s point of view. I’ve seen the power of great word-of-mouth and “word-of-social-media,” which occurs when patients love us. I’ve also seen the negative power of patients who feel they were treated poorly.
So why have policies at all if we are not going to abide by them?
It is still smart to have office policies because 98% of patients find them fair and accept them. Indeed, I designed the policies with an effort to be fair and I believe they are. So having policies about optical remakes, insurance billing, refunds, appointment cancellations or whatever, helps us run our business smoothly and profitably, 98% of the time.
The 2% of the time represents such a small amount of revenue that it just does not make sense to fight about it. The office still runs smoothly with this group of patients as well, because we just let them win.
How will staff know what to do if they don’t follow a policy?
It’s very easy to know what to do:
• When faced with a complaint or a problem, quote our usual office policy. Policies are easy to remember because they are printed on the back of our receipt slips or on other handouts.
• If the patient is happy with that explanation, just proceed.
• If the patient is unhappy, just listen intently and react in an understanding way. You might say “Oh, I see. I understand.” Or, “Oh, that’s horrible. I’m so sorry that happened.” Be compassionate and then fix it. Talk to a manager or doctor, if needed. In many cases, we come back and say: “Mrs. Smith, We are going to make an exception in your case. Here is what we can do…”
Why should the complainers get their way?
It may not seem fair to let people who are being difficult have their way, while people who are understanding must live with a tougher policy. This unfairness truly bothers some staff members and doctors to the point where they simply can’t give in to the patient. To them, it just would not be right.
I don’t accept that argument and I think it is perfectly fine to give in to the “complainers.” First, I disagree with the premise that these people are “difficult.” I disagree with labeling them as “complainers.” I think in most cases, the person who is in your office and unhappy with something is really a normal person like you or me. He happens to be upset about something at the moment, but I have been upset at times and I’m sure you have too. Second, if we are very honest, my practice or staff may have done something that caused the patient to be upset. At the very least, I think we can all agree that the patient perceives that we did something wrong. Who is to say if that perception is right or wrong? Rather than try to judge right or wrong and knowing that I may not have all the facts anyway, I prefer to simply believe the patient. I believe that he believes we did not handle something very well. That is enough for me.
In a way, I am simply using the old tried and true retail maxim that satisfaction (in my practice) is guaranteed. If the patient is satisfied with our usual policies, great. If not, we will find a way to satisfy him.
Won’t this result in more people taking advantage of you?
This is the really cool part to me. I hope it does! I let people take advantage of me all the way to the bank. If we let people have their way and they share a story about us with others, we come out way ahead. What will they tell their friends? They will tell them how great we are to work with! How understanding we were. These patients who got their way won’t tell others that they took advantage of us. They won’t say they lied to us and got away with it. It would reflect poorly on them. This story telling drives more people of all kinds to us, which is exactly what we want.
The small cost incurred for a remake or a refund is nothing compared to the huge amount of goodwill we generate and the wonderful reputation we build in the community when we make patients happy. We are not so proud that we can’t take the blame and make a situation right.
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.