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Employee Satisfaction—Unlocking the Potential Within Your Staff

By Johnna Dukes

Release Date: September, 2011

Expiration Date: April 20, 2016

Learning Objectives:

Upon completion of this program, the participant should be able to:

  1. Review ways to determine the contentment level of the staff.
  2. Understand how to effectively communicate with others.
  3. Examine how staff satisfaction impacts productivity levels.els.

Faculty/Editorial Board:

Johnna Dukes, ABOC is currently the owner and operator of an optical boutique, with experience in both the private practice sector as well as the retail chain setting. She has a wide range of experience varying from optical support staff to dispensary management to practice ownership. She lives in Okoboji, Iowa.

Credit Statement:

This course is approved for one (1) hour of CE credit by the American Board of Opticianry (ABO).
Course # SWJMI008-1

Keeping patients happy and completely satisfied impacts how a business performs, but do we always keep in mind how business performance is impacted by staff happiness and satisfaction?

Have you ever heard the adage, "When Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy"? We can draw the same inference between patients and staff. Another way to say it is, "When the staff ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!" And by "nobody" we mean the patients, as well as management. The two definitely go hand in hand. When patients aren't happy, they leave, revenues fall, morale changes; and the practice takes on a different identity, which in turn makes management very unhappy.

PROTECT THAT FIRST LINE OF DEFENSE

Staff members are the first line of defense in the battle against complacency in the optical marketplace. Staff, whether they are front desk, dispensary, or clinical assistants, all need to know the role they play to contribute to the success of any office. They should also know their value in that success, more specifically; they want to know that YOU value their work.

So how do all of these impact day-to-day operations? Sometimes it takes a lackluster optical experience to really, fully, understand how staff attitudes contribute to the overall success of a practice. Imagine yourself as a patient where an optician's assistant flatly says, "Pick out a frame and come back as soon as you're done." Or even being on the phone as you call in to make an appointment and the response is, "There are no open appointments for the next month, you will just have to wait until the doctor can see you." In another instance, a patient was told by a previous office: "Well, it's not my fault you can't see out of your new glasses, what do you want me to do about it?" Makes you want to buy several pairs of glasses, doesn't it?

In the first instance, the optician's assistant might consider the patient may want help in selecting their eyewear and should be asked if they can be of any help in the selection process. In the second instance, a more appropriate response from the receptionist might be: "I'm sorry to tell you that the doctor is all booked up for the rest of this month, may I take your phone number so I may call you if we have any cancellations?" And in the third instance, one might consider this response: "I'm so sorry you are having difficulty with these new glasses; let me discuss this with my superiors to see how we should proceed."

The optical products received (glasses or contact lenses) and staff attitude all come together to form a patient's opinion about the optical experience they had while visiting your office. We have all encountered "that" person in our daily lives where you leave thinking, "Wow, someone hates their job." Patients do not want to interact with this person, and you do not want this person employed within your organization. But the shocking fact is that any staff member at any time can become that person if not treated properly. It is our duty to keep staff members as happy and as productive as possible. This process takes some planning and some listening, but it can be easier than one may think.

WOW THE PATIENT EVERY TIME

Today's patient expects to be wowed—not only do they expect it, but they deserve it. They have endured discounters over the last few years due to the down economy and they are bouncing back realizing that cheap isn't good. The professional office can provide the experience and the products they have been lacking. Don't let the pair of glasses with personalized progressive lenses and frames of the finest titanium— glasses that offer unmatched vision with exceptional comfort your office has just created—be overshadowed by the unhappy staff member who has dispensed them, or the unhappy staff member who took their payment, scheduled their appointment or took them back to see the doctor. You see where this is going; the number of scenarios here is unlimited.

Another thing to consider is the ease in which patients can post their customer service stories on the Internet on sites such as Yelp.com. Patients can, and do, go online to post about the experiences they have had, and not all of them are good reviews. Today's electronic climate shows how the Internet is helping uncover those places that provide lackluster customer service, possibly due to unhappy staff.

The best way to wow the patient is to allow them to encounter happy, contented and helpful staff that instills a sense of calm and fun within the office. How is this happy, contented and helpful staff created? We have to listen to them. We have to make a concerted effort to communicate with them (and not just communicate, but communicate effectively). We have to show them they are valued. No one is suggesting you should spend all of your income on paying wages; in fact, often it is the non-monetary perks that mean the most to the staff.

START WITH A ROADMAP

Let's look at this process in a couple of steps, the first step being the baseline. If you think of it in terms of a road map, you need to know where you are before you can decide where you are going. The first step is to determine the current happiness level of your staff:

  1. Consider distributing an anonymous survey that asks some poignant questions, such as: How happy would you rate yourself within this office? How likely are you to continue employment with this office? Do you feel you are a valued member of the team?
  2. Then consider a series of meetings with the staff to review the results. Doing so suggests a more open, honest format where the staff will not feel they will be punished for expressing true feelings.
  3. Consider one-on-one meetings with each staff member that start with openended questions such as: Do you clearly understand what is expected of you while you are at work? If yes, why; if no, why not? Do you feel you are recognized when you do good work? How happy do you expect to be at work?

MEETINGS, SUCCESSES, ISSUES AND ACTIONS

While conducting these meetings, also keep in mind that the staff may want to take this time to share their concerns. Listen to them. Chances are, if you are really willing to listen, you will hear specifically what the staff needs in order to feel they are valued. It is then time to decide what changes should be implemented based on the staff's recommendations. The staff should feel they can bring any issue to the forefront at any time. Management might consider a procedure for effective handling of staff complaints. This should include a form that lists the complaint, the date of complaint, the staff member's idea for a remedy to the situation, and the action plan for what to do in order to resolve the situation. The use of a form like this will show complaints are heard and valued. Also, requiring staff members to come up with an idea to remedy the situation prevents them from coming to management just to complain as they know they will need to have a solution in mind. It also nudges management into taking action on the complaint, which is essentially why the staff member complained in the first place. It is essential that all communication in these situations is clear and effective.

Listen Hard—Effective communication is based on the idea that you have two ears and only one mouth, therefore, listen twice as much as you speak. Choose when to speak, and make sure that what is said addresses what has been brought before you. People who have the most effective communication skills actually speak relatively few words. But the words they do speak have weight. Consider ending your conversations using the phrase, "Are we both on the same page?" It is of the utmost importance to have everyone completely understand the message that has been conveyed, speak clearly and directly, and tell everyone the same message. When there is confusion about which direction the business is going, the business will go nowhere. This is where clear communication between all members of the team is fundamentally important.

Resolve Issues—Sometimes the issues that are uncovered will not be fixed immediately. This would be the time to consider a timeline for changes. Consider addressing the most pressing issues first and work down the list until each issue is addressed. Remember to communicate to the staff that issues will be handled one item at a time so they do not expect to come to work the next day and have everything resolved. If there is a schedule of when you plan to deal with each issue, communicate this to the staff. Keep them involved in the process to avoid the "you never listen to me" mentality that happens when the staff brings a problem to management's attention, and it flounders and is never addressed. When the issue is never addressed, a bigger problem is actually created where the staff member who brought the issue up can begin to have feelings of resentment due to the fact that no action has been taken. Always let the staff member know you appreciate they brought the issue to light and that it will be dealt with, and then make sure it is dealt with in the manner discussed. When the issues and concerns of your staff are resolved, be prepared to see a shift in the staff's response to management. Generally, when management shows respect to the staff, the reciprocal also happens as the staff feels nurtured and valued. Overall, when the staff understands and feels they are the top priority, they will also make sure to do work that meets the standards that have been established. Great managers have the ability to get top performance out of the staff without having to ask them to work harder, or to give more effort. Staff members are inspired to work for managers who have shown them kindness, respect and recognition.

Refine the Road Map—Next, evaluate the answers received from the staff and decide what steps need to be taken in order to bring more contentment to the staff. Again, in terms of the road map, you now need to determine where you are going and how you need to get there. This is the perfect time to really sit down and think of what, specifically, each member of the staff brings to the table. If no clear job titles have been developed which contain an outline of each staff member's job duties, this is the time to do so. Clear communication of job duties will prevent the inevitable "that's not my job" mentality that can quickly create chaos within the smoothest running of offices. Make sure to let each staff member know why they are an integral part of how operations run everyday and that you do notice and value their hard work. Often times, just this acknowledgement is enough to really make a change in how the staff views their worth. After all, who doesn't like a pat on the back every now and then? A change in happiness for the staff translates to more pleasant interactions between the staff and the patients, which then transitions to patients having the "warm and fuzzy" feeling that creates a return customer, or more importantly, that patient who becomes a patient for life.

Have Fun—Another question one might ask is: "Are you having fun doing your job?" or "Are you encouraged to have fun?" Jobs in optical can be both professional and fun. Never underestimate that people don't like to do things that aren't fun. Do you look forward to having a root canal or doing your taxes? Do you equate these things with fun? Most likely not. Don't let the experience within your office be equated with the likes of the accountant or the oral surgeon. We can be professional AND we can have fun—look at the success of the fish markets in Seattle. People go to the fish market to see other people having fun at their jobs. Fun is contagious, and it is profitable. Patients will return to a place and an experience that was enjoyable for them.

Encourage the staff to come up with fun activities for patients and then follow through and do it. Events such as patient appreciation days or eyewear fashion shows are entertaining ways to encourage the staff to have fun. Rest assured, if you put thought into these events, the patients will also have fun, which translates to good things for the business.

MEASURE HAPPINESS

Several things factor into the "employee happiness equation." A few really important factors for staff members are recognition, camaraderie, appreciation, trust and fairness. Always strive to think of ways to include these factors in all interactions with staff members. For example, staff members need to be able to work together, so establishing camaraderie within the team is important. Encourage staff members to get together outside of working hours and participate in non-work related activities; all members should participate in these activities. One method is to plan an office trip or activity (picnic, movie, museum tour) twice a year. Staff that recognizes other personal attributes and strengths in each other creates a different dynamic between individuals. Staff members need to see everyone as one of the team. Once a team environment is established, it will be harder for the members of the team to want to leave it. This translates to lower turnover rates for the business.

Recognition is also important as it gives other team members something to strive for. If one staff member is singled out for doing good work, the others will often find themselves trying hard to achieve this recognition as well, thus increasing their productivity. Also important is appreciation. When an employee has gone above and beyond, and they know their efforts are appreciated, it is more likely they will go above and beyond on a regular basis. Don't be surprised if above and beyond becomes the normal level of work. Subconsciously most employees want to please their superiors, and will do what has been proven to create these results.

FOLLOW UP

Staff contentment should not be reviewed on a "once a year" basis. Diligence is the key with employee satisfaction. Remember that the staff is not only the people routinely coming into contact with patients, but they are your patients too. Treat them as such. Maintain professional conduct, be respectful and be clear with your words. Make sure the staff knows what is expected of them, and conversely, ask the staff what they expect of management. Make it a priority to fulfill these expectations and the staff will flourish, usually as a direct result their productivity will also flourish. When productivity flourishes, revenue follows. It's amazing what can be achieved when the right questions are asked, and the answers are analyzed properly.

When the staff members are shown they have value, that they are integral team members within the organization, and that you appreciate they have chosen to work for you, be prepared to experience a change in mentality from the staff. They can become the cheerleaders for any office. They have friends and families they will refer to your office; these friends and families will come in and experience happy staff members and a fun environment, and they in turn will tell their friends and families about your office, creating a referral cycle. Keep in mind, this isn't advertising you had to pay for. This is just people feeling good about what they do and telling other people about it. All you had to do was listen to the staff members, communicate with them and let them know they are cared for.

In summary, let the staff know today they are appreciated and be prepared for the "wow" experience that is about to occur for the staff members, for the patients and for the business.


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