By Sherin George, OD
When I purchased my second practice, I inherited one of the previous owner’s employees. Every morning I entered my office to a strong odor of microwaved eggs. Now, no offense to those who cook their eggs in the office microwave, but that odor is definitely something I can live without.It took me three to four months to finally put a stop to this. This situation got me thinking. If this smell bothered me so much, how much would it bother my other employees and my patients?I then went further and started to analyze the different senses of my practice. Looking at your practice through the eyes of a patient, and working toward a goal of creating the best first impression possible, can make your practice grow in leaps and bounds.
Smell: When a patient–especially a new patient–enters your practice, what do they smell? The smell of professionalism?What does professionalism smell like? Is it Lysol air freshener or Glade Clean Linen? Whatever you think it is, make sure it’s inviting, unlike the one I had to put a stop to at my new practice.
Sight: My husband, who is our office manager and our master optician, is very keen on the appearance of the practice. What a patient sees when they enter your practice contributes heavily to the first impression. This includes making sure your front desk stays impeccable at all times. A well manicured carpet, a squeaky clean pre-testing room and contact lens room, as well as a spotless exam room, are all important. When we took over our second practice, we were taken aback by all the stray papers, three-part order forms and other materials scattered on our front desk. After purchasing several desk organizers, we now manage to keep it clean.
Feel: In our office, we sell eyeglasses for package prices such as $60, $80 and $100. This is not by choice. Because our new practice was previously a “discount eye center,” we still get many patients who expect discount prices. We still offer these lower-priced frames, but we create a different feel between that merchandise and our higher-priced, designer frames. We display them differently and take time to educate the patient on the benefits of the higher-priced frames. The educated customer can then make an informed decision–hopefully that the designer frames are worth the added cost. In addition to the feel of your frame board offerings, patients notice how your dispensing table and chairs feel when they touch them. The same holds true for all the ophthalmic instrumentation you examine them with. So be sure to sanitize all instrumentation prior to each use.
Hearing:What patients hear when they enter your office is another factor that will determine how loyal they stay to your practice. For example, I often overhear employees express uncertainty about the product they are selling. The conversation goes something like this:
Employee: “Sir, do you want any coatings like AR coating, scratch coating, UV coating or anything?”
Patient: “No, I’m OK.”
What’s the problem with this type of sales? The employee assumes her patient knows what AR coating, scratch coating and UV coating is. Patients cannot make an informed decision if they don’t know what these products are. I’m reminded of a patient who decided to get anti-reflective coating on one pair of eyeglasses and another pair without. At the time of dispensing, the patient was ecstatic at the quality of vision he got with the AR-coated lenses. He decided to get AR-coated lenses in the second pair as well. This patient was asked whether he wanted AR coating year after year, but it wasn’t until he was educated by seeing the difference for himself that he fully understood the value of this lens treatment. Our staff should have taken the lead in previous years to better educate this patient.
Taste: Last, but definitely not the least, is the taste of a practice. A patient’s experience at your practice can leave a taste–hopefully a great one–behind in their memory. At our first practice, we were very friendly with most of our patients. We knew a great deal about their parents, siblings, grandparents and the rest of their family. About a year into our second practice we’re still striving to get to that level of comfort with our patients. I recently received a call from one of my previous patients telling me how rude and unfriendly one of my employees was. Now I’m left with a clean-up job. Another patient raves about how professional another of my employees is. I have now created a benchmark of how courteous and professional our employees need to be to create the best experience they can for our patients.
Recognizing and understanding the senses of your practice is a recipe for long-term success. Both you and your patients will appreciate an improved office environment, increasing the chances that your patients become patients for life.
How do you ensure your office environment is pleasing for employees and patients? What office environment improvements have you recently made?
Sherin George, OD,is the owner of Franklin Square Eyecare inFranklin Square, NY. To contact her:firstname.lastname@example.org.