Article Date: 3/1/2006

PRACTICE BUILDING
The Ritz-Carlton Approach to Practice
A contact lens practice shares how providing four-star patient treatment helps them succeed.
By Barry Farkas, OD, Susan Resnick, OD, and Jordan Kassalow, OD

Like people, no two successful optometric practices are exactly the same. They do, however, share certain common threads. First, each identifies that portion of the patient market that it wishes to target. Then, all of the practice's energies and creativity are directed toward attracting that targeted group. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, each does the very best it can for every patient that it treats. In short, members of each successful practice have created that 'special place' — with 'special people,' ready, willing and able to deliver 'special services' — and they've then found a way to let the world know about what they've created.

Our Experience

Ours is a second-generation practice, built on the shoulders of those who preceded us. We give special credit and thanks to our founders for the creation of an entity, well in advance of its time, that encompassed the principles of excellence in patient care, principles toward which we continue to strive every day. Early on they recognized that it's the experience that counts. Patients are, indeed, experts at knowing if they feel valued. Simply stated, if you're selling a service, you're selling a relationship.

We also are equally in our founders' debt for the legacy of the marketing direction that began with them. We continue to target their chosen market, the most upscale of socio-economic populations. We have been most successful in this pursuit by providing a location and ambiance that, along with a warm, caring and highly trained staff, provide products and professional care that consistently exceed expectations.

We're not sure that a practice like ours that doesn't accept third party payments and costs several million dollars a year to run could ever be created again from its beginning roots. The basic principles of success are, however, tangible and we're constantly striving to maintain them.

Special services requires integrating new technology into your office routine.

The Special Place

Location is the foundation upon which our 'special place' was created. Our Manhattan location couldn't be better to attract our targeted upscale patients. It's in the fanciest part of town and exactly on the line between and surrounded by the priciest commercial and residential real estate in New York City. Our office decor blends elegance, comfort and function. As soon as you enter, you feel right at home. The walls are adorned with original artwork and the ample seating is soft and elegant. Dozens of magazines and beautiful books are neatly placed throughout the attractively furnished common areas. Laptop workspaces, a courtesy telephone, and even a much-used jigsaw puzzle offer an inviting way for patients to pass the time enjoyably when we too often run a little behind schedule. We also make sure that nobody goes hungry or thirsty. Complimentary coffee, teas, hot chocolate, bottled water and 'power bars' are always available. Just like a Ritz-Carlton Hotel, it's better than being home! 

We should also mention that within a 20-block radius of our office are dozens of high-end optical boutiques. Rather than avoiding our "competitors," we've actively created strong cross-referral relationships with these upscale establishments. We ensure their patients get immediate attention, the most precise refractive services and are sent directly back to them to fill their eyeglass prescriptions. Additionally, we can provide the specialized contact lens services that many of these patients require.

Our office is convenient not just to those who can afford to live and work in the area, but is also accessible via all forms of mass transit. For those who visit us from out of town, there are ample parking facilities, as well as the finest hotels, shops, parks, restaurants and culture imaginable. In short, like a Ritz- Carlton Hotel, if we could afford it, where we practice would be a wonderful place to live!

Special People

Creating 'special people' begins from the top and actively extrudes downward. Because the doctors are often the most harried, most frustrated, most hidden and least charming people in the office, we can't overstate the importance of selecting the right office manager. We set the tone, but the managers must disseminate and monitor its successful application. They must not simply be as good as we are at this process, they must be better!

'Special people' is, of course, an extension of The Golden Rule: Do unto others.... The variation on this rule is that the successful practice strives to treat its patients even better than we would expect to be treated ourselves. It is, of course, 'Marketing 101' and personifies that all-important yet most basic concept of 'exceeding expectations.'

We can honestly, yet unfortunately, state that we learn so much of what not to do when we visit other doctors' offices. So who is our best interpersonal role model? Why, our Ritz-Carlton friends, of course! If you've ever stayed there you've been treated to the experience: "Welcome Ms. Smith. How nice to have you with us again." Each patient in our office is similarly greeted with his or her name being repeated multiple times.

Please and thank you are not forgotten and the first question our patients receive upon checking out is "How was your visit with us today?" As we conclude each patient encounter, our doctors routinely ask, "Is there is anything else we can do for you today?" We care a great deal about the patients that we treat. We want them to know that they're not just another number to us.

The most painful part of acquiring those 'special people' is the price tag that goes along with it. Yes, our salaries are higher than most, but that's only part of our success in attracting and keeping quality staff. An extensive screening process in hiring and a rigorous training program are essential.

We believe there are three key actions in building a highly trained and extremely attentive office team:

Personal Demeanor You can't train people to be friendly, you can only hire friendly people.

A jigsaw puzzle area, as well as complimentary snacks helps make the wait more pleasant for patients.

Performance Empower your team — don't just delegate. Through cross-training and facilitating new skill development you help your staff achieve, accomplish and take pride in their work.

Professional Image Uniformly professional attire, nametags and business cards go a long way in creating that polish. A sad, but essential necessity is to fire early an employee who cannot tow the mark in meeting your standards of excellence.

Special Services

'Special services' is the one area in which the doctors must rule. Although we delegate so much of what we do, in this area, we must maintain our strongest personal control. We never forget that our patients come to see us, not our biomicroscopes, retinal imagers, wavefront analyzers or tomographers.

To be sure, we have spared no time, cost or effort in acquiring, mastering (or attempting to master) and maintaining the most advanced array of products and ophthalmic instrumentation available. 'Special services' have to do with how we funnel those advances into satisfying our patients' needs. Those needs are often quite extraordinary in a specialty contact lens practice like ours, where the average new patient has tried lenses unsuccessfully several times before and keratoconus and 15.00D myopia seem like normal findings. The key to success with this most challenging patient population is to have a full arsenal of clinical tools on hand. This means having multiple fitting sets and a vast array of diagnostic lenses available from standard disposable lenses to lenses for specialty applications such as post-graft fits, advanced keratoconus, presbyopia and prosthetics. This approach often permits same-day dispensing. Patients are extremely appreciative when at the conclusion of their diagnostic evaluation, they leave with the appropriate lenses. 

Two to three days after initial dispensing, our technicians call all new patients. The purpose of the call, ostensibly, is to find out how the patient is doing with his or her new contact lenses. It's truly an added touch that patients appreciate and has many benefits from a patient management perspective. It allows for a quick review of lens care procedures and the asking of questions which patients may otherwise be too busy or timid to take the time to ask before their follow-up visit. The technicians will bring any significant issues to the doctor's attention so that if alternative lenses are needed or a situation requires "defusing" it can be done immediately.

In addition to patient pampering, 'special services' requires the successful integration of the newest of technologies into your office routines early on. This is an ongoing process which involves keeping your ear to the ground to know what's coming through reading, attending training sessions and lectures, and gleaning helpful hints from those more experienced than yourself. We are privileged to belong to a network of select practitioners, nationally as well as internationally, with whom we exchange and evaluate both clinical developments and business ideology.

We can proudly say that there's no new product out there that we haven't either included into our specialty contact lens practice or tabled for ongoing review. For example, we were among the first in our area to offer patients the benefit of refractive surgery and then a bit later on, corneal refractive therapy. We're currently embracing the introduction of phakic implants and multifocal IOLs in our comanagement endeavors. We're continually evaluating and incorporating new contact lens designs for presbyopia as well as new contact lens materials, tear supplements and care solutions for dry eye management. Staying ahead is how we stay on top of our game.

A Quality Investment
By Gary Gerber, OD

Establishing a highly personal, concierge-type practice may seem like difficult task — especially when trying to keep costs in line with industry norms. For example, it's often written that labor costs for an optometrist's practice should be about 18 percent of gross sales and occupancy costs should be about 5 percent. However, these industry norms are just that — averages across a wide array of practices. If you attempt to keep your cost in line with industry standards, you'll wind up with a standard practice.

So, instead of using the benchmarks from other contact lens practices, use those from industries you wish to emulate. Undoubtedly, the labor and costs associated with maintaining the physical plant of the Ritz-Carlton dwarf those of Motel 6. If you want to configure your practice to deliver concierge-type care, be prepared to pay for it. In short, you not only get what you pay for — you get the rewards of those payments too.

Convenience is yet another important facet of top-notch service. Our multi-doctor practice offers early morning as well as evening and Saturday hours. We also provide immediate access to "loaner" or temporary lenses as well as 24-hour telephone and electronic lens ordering services. Of course, the doctors are reachable via our answering service around the clock in the event of an emergency.

The final, yet perhaps most important cornerstone of 'special services' is the practitioner's skill set and expertise. Employing a cutting-edge approach in clinical applications as well as participating in clinical trials or pre-market evaluations of new designs and materials are hallmarks of successful and growing practices. It's important to be proactive with each and every patient — even with "non-complainers." Superior communication skills are a universally defining quality of the superior practitioner. He or she takes a focused history and is attentive to patients' goals and concerns. You then effectively manage patients' expectations. Lastly, each patient encounter is culminated with a positive message. This may involve informing the patient of a newer and better contact lens design expected in the not-too-distant future or of an improved refractive technology better suited to his needs.

Providing 'special services,' the best professional care possible, is the most important thing we do. Happily, it's the single area that makes us feel the best about ourselves. We think that the folks at Ritz-Carlton Hotels, in their own way, feel the same way.

The Same Rules Apply

Regardless of which patient market you wish to target and attract into your practice, the basic rules that apply are the same. If you can create the place, personnel and level and type of services to attract your segment, they will beat a path to your door. How to let the world know of that excellence is a topic for another day.

Dr. Farkas serves as a trustee for the Pennsylvania College of Optometry and is a Diplomate of the Cornea and Contact Lens Section of the AAO.

 


Dr. Kassalow is a partner at Drs. Farkas, Kassalow and Resnick and Associates, PC. He is President of Scojo Vision LLC, and Chairman of Scojo Foundation.



Dr. Resnick is a principal of Drs. Farkas, Kassalow, Resnick and Associates, PC New York practice and is a Diplomate in the Cornea and Contact Lens Section of the AAO.



Contact Lens Spectrum, Issue: March 2006