By Clint Taylor, OD
August 5, 2020
Exceeding patient expectations should always be our goal as practice owners, even during a pandemic. Here are a few of the ways we are continuing to do that.
At our office, we base our decisions and actions on a set of eight core values. These values are our fundamental, guiding principles. They summarize who we are and what we stand for. In other words, they are our practice identity.
Core value number one at our practice is “Providing heroic customer service – going beyond what is expected.” Early in the life of our practice, we realized that we couldn’t be everything to everyone. We learned (the hard way, at times) that we couldn’t be the best, the fastest and the cheapest. As a small, independent practice, we learned that some of our competitors had advantages in certain areas (price, for example). We also came to know, however, that we were in a position to provide much better customer service than most of our competitors, and this was one of our competitive advantages.
Around the same time that we were figuring out the importance of providing excellent customer service, I read “Customer Satisfaction is Worthless – Customer Loyalty is Priceless” by Jeffrey Gitomer. This book helped me to realize that it’s not enough to satisfy your customers by just providing the level of care they expect. To truly generate patient loyalty, you have to provide more than they expect. If you can go above and beyond what the patient expects, they’ll tell everyone they know about their positive experience at your office. And word-of-mouth referrals are truly priceless for practice growth.
Here are three ways that we exceed our patients’ expectations:
Calling Patients After Dispensing
About a week or 10 days after a patient has picked up their glasses from our office, the optician who dispensed the glasses places a personal call to the patient. This call serves as another personal touch point in which the optician can speak with the patient and make sure they are happy with their new glasses. It enables our team members to let the patient know that we care about their happiness and we care about them.
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This call also helps us find out about any problems or complaints early on. If there is a problem with the glasses – be it an adjustment problem, a prescription issue or manufacturing defect – we want to know about it early. The worst thing that could happen would be for a patient to be unhappy with their glasses and us not to know it. They could complain about the glasses to everyone they know until they come back for their appointment the next year. Or, worse yet, they could not come back to our office at all. Mining out these complaints early lets us fix problems at the beginning, which results in happier patients and better word-of-mouth advertising.
The needed investment in resources to make these calls is minimal. They do take some staff time, but the benefits are worth the investment. Patients feel cared for and problems are nipped in the bud. It’s something that most of our competitors don’t do, and it sets us apart.
Free Adjustments & Repairs, Even If Glasses Were Not Purchased From Us
Another way for us to exceed patient expectations is for us to provide repairs and adjustments on any glasses brought into our office – even if the patient bought the glasses somewhere else. I’m sure many other offices provide adjustments at no cost, but our optical team goes above and beyond what is expected. Patients often bring in broken frames and our opticians put their lenses in an older discontinued frame to get them by until they can get a new pair.
We also keep a large supply of parts (temples, etc.) so we can make repairs. Our team also happily adjusts frames purchased elsewhere, even if patients have used our prescription to buy glasses online. Nose pads are always replaced for free, as well.
While we might be losing a negligible amount of money each time we “give away” a part, discontinued frame, or repair, we feel that the goodwill generated is priceless. Over the years, we have gained many new patients when they stumbled into our office for the first time needing a nose pad replaced. When we get them fixed up and tell them there’s no charge, they often become a long-term patient and they often end up making other purchases.
There is minimal cost to providing these repairs and adjustments. We have to stock a fair number of discontinued frames in varying sizes, and we have to keep an inventory of parts on hand. Our optical team also has to be trained in repairing and adjusting glasses.
I’m aware that other practices do feel justified in charging for repairs and adjustments, and they feel that patients would take advantage of them if they didn’t charge. That philosophy is not “wrong,” and ours is not “right.” We just feel that performing these services at no cost aligns with our business model and core values.
Be Easy to Deal With – Let the Patient Win
Finally, and this is more of a practice mindset than it is a specific action, we’re extremely easy to deal with. One of my optometric heroes, Neil Gailmard, OD, used to discuss the importance of “letting the patient win.” When a patient came in with a complaint, Dr. Gailmard recommended agreeing with the patient, taking responsibility for the issue (even if it wasn’t his office’s fault), apologizing and fixing the problem. He argued that, while handling complaints this way can be humbling and can cause a short-term loss in some revenue, the benefits gained by positive word-of-mouth referrals would negate any negatives.
My practice bought into this mindset, and it has paid dividends for us over the years. In the beginning, when revenue was sparse, it was difficult for us to “eat” the cost of a frame or lenses that a patient wore for a month and then decided they didn’t like. And we routinely blamed others (our lab, our contact lens distributor, the mail, anybody but us!) when delays or other issues came up. But as we started to take responsibility for problems and became more willing to take almost any steps necessary to make patients happy, we noticed a shift in our entire office culture.
Our team members felt empowered to correct problems that came up, and knew that I would be fine with a small loss of revenue in exchange for happy patients and more word-of-mouth referrals. It’s also disarming to angry patients when we sympathize with their complaint and fix their problem. Handling complaints this way has created a more positive work environment, and has led to many happy patients.
Optimize the Advantages You Can as the “Little Guy”
Independent offices are the “little guys” in the optometric world. We can’t compete with the big boys on price, and they have competitive advantages in certain other areas, as well. But they can’t compete with us on service. We know our patients on a personal level.
Grow your relationships with your patients by providing exceptional customer service, let them spread the word about how great you are and watch your practice grow.
Clint Taylor, OD, is the owner of Taylor Eye Care in Carmi, Ill., a one-OD, one-location practice with eight support-staff members that delivered about 3,000 comprehensive eye exams in 2019. To contact him: email@example.com