Six Tools for Your Customer Service Toolkit
By Johnna Dukes, ABOC
Release Date: January, 2012
Expiration Date: September 28, 2016
To understand the attributes and benefits of the Trivex lens material including:
- Examine how consultation techniques contribute to overall patient satisfaction.
- Understand the importance of establishing a welcoming environment in the office.
- Review effective patient follow-up procedures and benefits.
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.
This course is approved for one (1) hour of CE credit by the American Board of Opticianry (ABO). Course SWJM240-1
Could the last several years have brought about the death of personal customer service? From online ordering to automated customer service agents on every phone call you make, people are so tethered to cell phones and Internet connections that it is hard to have that warm personal interaction we all thrive on. It seems it is impossible to really feel like we as customers are being catered to. You are more likely to be told: "While your call is important to us, all of our customer service representatives are currently with other customers."
I recently asked friends, family and colleagues to weigh in on customer service issues they have experienced and heard some shocking stories. They ranged from waiting on hold for over an hour to speak to an agent, only to later be disconnected from the line, to having a customer service representative respond to a request with "What do you expect me to do about it?" One friend of mine described an experience at a large retailer where they spent 20 minutes waiting in line to check out and when they were finally at the cashier, they were unable to process their payment. They were sent to the customer service desk where they had to re-ring their entire purchase. On top of the time delay, which was about another 20 minutes, the customer service representative they worked with mumbled under her breath, "This should've been taken care of at the register, what a waste of my time." Yikes!
Your patients have a vast network of family and friends who experience the same poor customer service on a daily basis. Don't you think they would welcome a happy, easy, fun transaction for a change? You better believe they would.
The genius to this process is that customer service in general is so bad that when a good customer service experience is encountered, people talk about it. The good you do for one patient can quickly become an opportunity to provide good customer service to several patients. This unlocks an unlimited potential to grow your practice just by virtue of doing things the "right" way as far as your customers are concerned.
THE "RIGHT" WAY
What is the "right" way to do things? First shift your point of view to be "patient-centric" and the experience they have within your office. Bring this front and center to the minds of each staff member. It is easy to get caught up in the minutiae of the daily routine that one could easily forget the patient sitting in front of you is the actual life-blood of the office you occupy.
Think about it. Without the patient, why would any of you be there? The patient is not only the reason for coming to work, but is also your ability to pay bills, own homes and enjoy your own lives. It's not an earthshaking new piece of information, but if you forget this valuable piece of information, the results can be devastating to your practice. Here's how to implement excellent customer service within your office.
1. GET STAFF ON BOARD
Have daily 15 minute meetings with your staff and discuss customer service. Consider meeting before you open for the day and use this time to identify areas of concern, the results of follow-up surveys (we will discuss these later), and celebrations of customer service successes. Pat the staff on the back when they've provided excellent customer service, and don't forget to pat yourself on the back for taking these steps to better the customer experience within your office.
Add the following Post-it note to cabinet doors and monitors: "Without patients, you would not be here." Post it where your staff will view it often. Not to be threatening, but your staff needs to understand that we are a service-driven profession, and the patient is who you are charged to serve. The more you can discuss this vision of service with staff, the more easily targeted goals will be achieved.
2. PUT CONSULTATION INTO ACTION
You and your staff are committed to making the patient the focus of importance within your office. Now what? Add a few new tools to your "customer service toolbox" and put them to good use. First is the consultation. The consultation identifies why the patient came to you in the first place. What specifically are the reasons they walked in the door? Use it to identify and meet their needs. This is a communication tactic that creates mutually exceptional outcomes. The patient TELLS you what they want, and then you GET the patient what they want—talk about a win-win situation. The consultation is a well-thought out set of questions that addresses a series of issues. The table above is an example that provides a set of questions that can be adopted to be sure that the conversation provides all the details to meet patient expectations.
Be diligent in asking these important questions to every patient. Each customer should be able to expect the same great service. Understandably, sometimes it gets busy and you feel rushed, but try to NEVER allow a patient to feel they have inconvenienced you in any way. After all, the patient is the reason you came to work, right?
Of course, your practice will be able to formulate the questions that you specifically want answered, but just the simple asking of these questions will immediately put the patient at ease and give them a level of trust as their eyecare professional. The act of asking these questions shows the patient you are listening and concerned about the best care for them. What could make a patient happier than giving them exactly what they want?
3. CREATE A WELCOMING ENVIRONMENT
Next, make sure your office is as welcoming and comfortable as your patient's favorite pair of slippers. Make your office into a place people want to visit, not just a place where they have to come once a year in order to get more contacts. Don't you routinely go to places where you feel welcomed and comfortable? We are creatures of habit who go where we have had good experiences over and over. Why else do Starbucks locations who know people's names and recognize what they are going to order flourish? People like that they feel welcome and they belong. It is that feeling of belonging that keeps people coming back.
Check on office cleanliness. It is easy to overlook the tattered piece of carpet because you see it every day. But your new patient has never seen it, and if they believe you are too lazy to fix the tattered piece of carpet, maybe they think you are also too lazy to properly sterilize your instruments. Having an impeccably clean office presents well to patients, and it makes everyone feel good being in that space. Take a look around (do it now or first thing tomorrow when getting to the office) as if you have never seen it before. Or recruit someone who has never seen your office and solicit their opinion. Determine if your wall paint needs to be refreshed or if it's time to reupholster the waiting room chairs. This area makes an impact, the first impression on how comfortable patients feel.
CREATE A WELCOME WAGON
Often the easiest way to create a welcoming environment is to appoint a person to be your "welcoming agent." This person always says hello with a smile and is the first point of contact. They are focused on creating a superior optical experience. People don't want to feel like sheep being herded through your office, they want to feel like you are happy to see them and they have graced you with their presence. Encourage your patients to feel this way. It is, and should be, all about them. Consider having a coffee station, cookies, bottled water, juice, etc.
Your patient's experience is all about them the moment they walk in the door. They are not concerned with how many other patients you have to see that day, or that you have a sick child at home. Your duty is to make sure you too are concerned with what your patient is experiencing at that very moment. Have you ever heard the adage "perception is everything"? Well, patient perception IS everything.
4. COMMUNICATE CLEARLY
Clear, effective communication is critical at every step in the office. Understanding the process of pretesting, the exam, recommended products and the final eyewear order is key. There is nothing worse than a patient surprised by the total amount. Be clear in your communication at every step and also of the reasons they are purchasing the items they have selected. I highlight cost here because today's patients are value conscious. You might consider using a script similar to this:
"The frame you chose is made of titanium because you appreciated its light weight and terrific durability. This frame costs "x." The no-glare lenses we chose are made using UV absorbing and exceptionally impact resistant Trivex lens material because of the safety and optical clarity they offer. You'll experience clear crisp vision that comes from the anti-reflective no-glare coating. Plus, they will protect your eyes from harmful UV rays. These lenses cost 'y.'
The total cost is 'z' which includes your frame, your anti-reflective lenses, ultra-violet protection and the (single vision or no line progressive) lens design. We anticipate your new eyewear will be completed within the next 10 to 14 days, but we will notify you just as soon as they arrive."
Then ask, "Do you have any questions for me?" This will allow the patient to have the last word in your conversation.
Using a script reinforces the reasons they have chosen the items they did as well as communicating the costs to the patients so it can be addressed prior to the checkout process.
5. FOLLOW UP
The patient has been in to the office, has purchased and received their new eyewear (or contacts)—now what? The next step is to follow up with the patient. You want to know how they are and how you did. You might ask: "Did we provide you with service that exceeded your expectations? Are you satisfied with your new eyewear (or contacts)? Were you satisfied with the quality of your exam? Is there anything we could do differently to better serve you? We strive to provide excellent customer service, and we would love to hear your feedback about the experience you had while visiting our office."
Designate someone within your office to be the person who makes follow-up calls. Never underestimate the value of the feeling that will be felt by the patient who knows you care about how they are doing. Do you think people feel they are cared about in their everyday life? Not generally. At least not by most of the places with which they do business. By showing you care, it endears your patients to you and your practice.
6. BECOME A PROBLEM SOLVER
During follow-up, be prepared to hear some people have issues with their eyewear or contacts, or some part of their call or visit. The follow-up helps to identify these issues so they may be corrected. Consider saying: "How are you getting along with your new eyewear (or new contacts)?" Then provide the patient with the opportunity to voice any concerns they may have. Your answer should always be: "Please come in to the office as soon as it is convenient, we want to make sure you are completely satisfied and we want to do our best to remedy the situation."
This conversation shows the customer they will not be left alone to flounder with whatever issue they may have. It shows you have concern for how they are doing and if you are able to resolve the issue quickly. This often impresses the customer even more than if there had been no problem at all.
OTHER PROBLEM SOLVING TACTICS
Solve problems the instant a problem is encountered. For instance: "I understand there is an issue with your glasses (or contacts). What is the problem? How would you like to see this issue resolved?"
This gives the patient some ownership in the outcome. Often times you will be surprised the patient's proposed resolution is much less intrusive than what you might have considered. After all, it is a lot easier to meet the patient's expectations when you know what they expect of you. Why waste time assuming you know what your patient wants, why not just ask the question, and then spend your time correcting the issue in a manner that will satisfy them and you?
COUNTER UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS
Sometimes you will encounter a patient who requests the issue be solved by measures that cannot be met. Don't overpromise in these situations. Be realistic and honest, and tell the patient you cannot meet their request, but give them an alternative that you can accommodate. People hate to hear you "can't" do something. Don't dwell on what you can't do, present to them what you "can" do. Of course, the next key to this is to follow through and do what you said you would.
If you think about it, don't you turn to people in your life over and over who have proven to be "problem solvers"? When you have an issue you go wherever you can get it resolved most quickly and efficiently.
Let your office be that place for patients. Let them come to you because they trust you will take care of any problems they may have with their optical needs. Trust is a valuable thing, it ensures you are creating a patient for life who will be a referral source for you and for the good of your practice. Don't look at problems as inconvenience, look at problems as opportunities to become that trusted "problem solver."
IN CONCLUSION—START TODAY
Shift the focus to the importance of patient satisfaction. The outcomes can be tremendous. Patients you have worked so hard to please will not want to keep the experience they had a secret, they will be excited to spread the word to friends and family. That grows patient numbers and revenue.
Don't forget to put yourself in your patient's shoes and try to convey you will be their trusted problem solver for as long as they choose to seek your professional help. Remember that they do CHOOSE to come to you; they could just as easily choose to go somewhere else.
Quality customer service is not an unattainable goal, and it does not have to be a lost art. Your practice can provide quality customer service; it just takes some planning, patience, clear communication and a few new tools in the customer service toolkit.