the business of contact lenses
Let Staff Take the Lead on Improving Customer Service
BY GARY GERBER, OD
Few of us would disagree that providing our contact lens patients with a good customer service experience is critical to our success. When your services and lenses are presented in a caring, nurturing environment, you add another reason for patients to staywith your practice. What we really need to address is the seemingly chronic challenge of how to get our staff to actually execute the contact lens customer service practices that we already know are important.
Whose Idea was That?
When you tell staff members to stand up the instant a patient approaches the front desk, their response might be, "Sounds like a good idea, but what if I'm typing on the computer at that time? Do you want me to just stop what I'm doing?" You might think that your staff has just demonstrated an ability to generate excuses or that they just don't get it.
Consider, however, that perhaps it's you who really doesn't get it. If your staff said to you, "Doctor, we have a good idea, too. Every time you enter an exam room, bow down to the patient," you'd probably feel the same way they do. Resentful, demeaned and skeptical come to mind. However, if you came up with the idea of bowing, wouldn't you be much happier and willing to execute your new idea?
There's an axiom in business that paraphrased says, "People support that which they help to create."
Solicit Ideas From Staff
So, how can we use that saying to gain compliance with our request above to stand when greeting patients? Take a step back and ask yourself why you're asking your staff to do the task. In this case, it was to provide another piece to a memorable customer service mosaic. So, during a staff meeting, ask your staff (an admittedly) leading question, "What can we do to bolster our customer service experience for patients when they first enter the office?" The goal isn't just to elicit your idea of standing, but to center the discussion on what are critical points to your patients' experience. From here, let creative brainstorming rule. "Hang up the patient's coat," utters your receptionist, to which you reply, "Great idea! Let's keep going. What can we do before we hang up his coat? What about right after?"
Lead by Example
The mistake that most entrepreneurs make when trying to rally the customer service battle cry is failing to recognize that these tasks must be heartfelt and genuine to be effective and therefore can't be scripted, dictated, legislated or, in a word, trained. Therefore, making customer service education a significant part of your office training usually doesn't work and often backfires. Staff are often cynical when forced to "use this line when dealing with patients who argue about the extra charge for astigmatism contact lenses."
A better approach would be to exude the culture you wish to foster and to chronically and relentlessly demonstrate it in your own dealings with patients. From that culture springs the ideas, emotions and terminology that staff members feel comfortable using and will indeed use because they have instant ownership.
A key point to remember is that as the practice owner, you are automatically empowered to execute your own ideas. This usually is not the case with your staff. Make sure that once your staff members come up with their next idea for the practice that you give them both latitude and permission to execute their idea. Allow them to try and fail. After all, as an owner, that's how you grow and learn, too. CLS
Dr. Gerber is the president of the Power Practice – a company offering consulting, seminars and software solutions for optometrists. You can reach him at (800) 867-9303 or DrGerber@PowerPractice.com.