By Clint Taylor, OD
Dec. 16, 2020
Your employees are your greatest resource. Without high-performing employees, it is impossible to deliver outstanding patient care. For those reasons, we take a careful, strategic approach to how our employees are developed. Here are the most important things we do in my practice to ensure a well-prepared team.
We have nine support staff in our practice – one office manager, two front desk/billing/check-out personnel and six technicians/opticians. Based in a rural community in Illinois, it is rare for us to have prospective employees apply who have a background in eyecare. None of my current staff had optical or eyecare experience before working at our office, and in the 15 years that we’ve been in business, we’ve only hired one person who had prior eyecare experience. My current employees’ past experience varies. Some were in retail (one worked at a jewelry store), some were in other types of healthcare, some were in manufacturing and one was in food service.
Train to Exceed Patient Expectations
Our office has built our reputation on customer/patient service. In fact, one of our core values is “providing heroic customer service – going beyond what is expected.” This principle is inspired by “Customer Satisfaction is Worthless, Customer Loyalty is Priceless” by Jeffrey Gitomer. In the book, Gitomer makes the case that it’s not enough to provide only what customers expect – you have to do more. When you go above and beyond what they expect, that customer will remain loyal to you and will recommend you to others. I have found that truly outstanding customer service – service that breeds customer loyalty – is rare.
As a result, most new employees don’t come into our office with a customer service mindset because they haven’t worked in a culture that stresses service. We constantly and continuously train our employees to provide exceptional service. We read books (we’ve read Gitomer’s twice!) together as a group and discuss them at staff meetings. We share articles that stress the customer service mindset with each other. And we positively reinforce in-office examples when staff go above and beyond what is expected and gently correct any service lapses.
Invest in Staff Certification
We are believers in staff certification. As a result, we cover the cost of any certifications, continuing education and study materials for our staff. We do this for two reasons. First, we believe it increases the knowledge of our staff members. This helps them be more confident and efficient employees, which increases our capacity to provide exceptional care.
Second, certification makes our employees more likely to make a career out of their job and less likely to leave our office to work elsewhere. We currently have two certified employees and have several others working on becoming certified over the next few months. We encourage CPO, CPOA, CPOT, and/or CPOC certification through the American Optometric Association, although we have also had staff certified through the ABO in the past.
Cross-Train Enough to Allow for Flexibility in Serving Patients
Our front office personnel are trained to perform reception, billing and check-out duties. We currently have two employees who can perform any of the responsibilities associated with these front-office positions, and our office manager jumps in and helps up front when needed. Our other six employees perform both technician and optician duties. They are trained to handle all pretesting, special testing such as OCT and visual fields, contact lens insertion and removal and other technician responsibilities. They are also trained to help patients select frame and lens options, adjust and repair glasses, order frames and contact lenses, and other optical responsibilities.
Other Pieces to Explore
By cross-training our staff in this way, it is much easier for us to handle days when a staff member calls in sick or is on vacation – other staff members already have the necessary skills to cover that position. One disadvantage, however, is that it can take a long time for new staff members to learn all of the necessary skills and information to be able to perform all of their responsibilities. It takes a significant investment into our staff, but we have found that this is a highly worthwhile investment.
Provide Opportunities for Career Growth
Employees should never feel like they are “stuck” in their position without opportunities for advancement. We want our practice to continue to grow, and we want our key employees to continue to grow along with the practice.
Our lead technician, Morgan, started out as a receptionist. She then transitioned into an optician/technician, and eventually became our lead technician. Her current responsibilities include recruiting, interviewing and hiring all new technicians, and then taking the lead on training both new technicians and existing technicians on new procedures and equipment.
Joanie, our optical manager, is another example of a team member who has grown professionally. She started out as a technician/optician, but we soon found that she excelled in the optical. She is now our optical manager, and is responsible for managing both our optical inventory and our employees who work in the optical.
Celebrate Individual Achievements Publicly; Discipline & Provide Criticism Privately
As a rule, when giving praise or celebrating success, it is usually better to do it in front of the rest of the team. When correcting staff or addressing individual areas of concern, it is always better to do it one-on-one.
For example, one of our employees was repeating the same mistakes over and over. The mistakes were hurting our efficiency and were causing lapses in our ability to provide the level of care our patients expect. So, the optical manager and I scheduled a 20-minute meeting with her. We gave her plenty of notice ahead of time about the meeting, we expressed our concerns clearly during the meeting and we scheduled another meeting a few weeks later to follow-up. As a result, her performance improved and she grew as a team member. Being straightforward – but respectful – with her, making our expectations clear, and giving a timeline for follow-up, all contributed to this employee’s growth.
Engage Employees By Empowering Them
For employees to reach their full potential, they have to be engaged. And to be fully engaged, they have to have some control over the direction of the business. When employees can give input to company leadership, and when company leadership actually listens to that input, employees become engaged and invested in the success of the company.
As a result, I recommend frequent communication between and among employees and leadership. In our office, we have weekly staff meetings. At these meetings, any topic is on the table and every staff member has an opportunity to speak. We celebrate successes and talk through solutions to problems that have come up over the past week. I listen to my employees who are “in the trenches” – many times they have a better feel for problems that need to be addressed and for solutions to those problems.
Train on Value of Your Services & Products
For employees to develop fully, they have to fully buy into your company’s products. They have to understand why a certain patient would benefit from a certain product, be it a lens material, certain type of frame, non-glare lens treatment or second pair of sunglasses. For them to understand the benefits of these products, they must be educated on the products themselves.
Frequent training – by frame and lab representatives or by internal staff – is a vital part of getting optical employees to buy into the products. After all, we want our patients to select the products that we use ourselves. And we use these products for a reason – because they are the best products to fit our visual needs. When employees understand this, it makes them much more effective in the optical.
Take Responsibility as Leader for Both Successes & Failures
When developing employees, it’s important to give them credit when credit is due. And it’s important that the leader takes responsibility when things don’t go well. In “Good to Great,” Jim Collins discusses Level 5 leadership. Level 5 leaders, Collins writes, attribute success to factors other than themselves. They take full responsibility, however, when things go poorly. Leading in this way helps build a culture where employees aren’t afraid to fail, which helps them develop to their fullest potential. This starts at the top – with the leadership.
Clint Taylor, OD, is the owner of Taylor Eye Care in Carmi, Ill., a one-OD, one-location practice with nine support-staff members that delivered about 3,000 comprehensive eye exams in 2019. To contact him: firstname.lastname@example.org