Engineering an Experience
By Jason Vallad, ABOM
Release Date: March 1, 2018
Expiration Date: November 23, 2021
Upon completion of this program, the participant should be able to:
- Understand the type of service that keeps patients coming back.
- Recognize the benefits that creating loyal patients will yield.
- Be capable of implementing a service-oriented approach to patient care.
Jason Vallad is an optician employed by Alpine Vision Center in the panhandle of Idaho. He spends a great deal of his time educating colleagues, outfitting patients and volunteering his time as a member of VOSH International. Jason's career in optics has also afforded him the privilege of consulting for the ABO on multiple occasions.
This course is approved for one (1) hour of CE credit by the American Board of Opticianry (ABO). General Knowledge Course SWJH605
Creating a successful optical practice or dispensary is actually much easier than many would think. Sure, there are several variables that must come together before a practice can truly become successful, but those variables are well within the grasp of any owner or operator. The following course will afford you the advantage of creating loyal patients while also stimulating the number of new patients that walk through your door.
THE FOUNDATION FROM WHICH ALL IS BUILT
Working harder instead of smarter is no way to get ahead. When it comes to improving the profitability and efficiency of your practice, increasing your capture rate and revenue per patient is the name of the game. Thankfully, the most effective means to maximizing your practice's success are as easy as catering to every patient and knowing your products. Putting an emphasis on this way of doing business is an element that has the power to grow your practice all by itself.
While most people would agree that product knowledge is essential for success, few people believe that the way you treat your customers is much more important. The fact is, providing "alright" experiences will give you patients that have no reservations about switching providers. In contrast, creating exceptional experiences will birth loyal patients that may travel across the country for you.
Another element worth mentioning is the time you should take with your patients. You may be speedy enough to transmit an order in a minute flat, but that doesn't mean you should. Just like a book, a patient encounter should only be as long as it needs to be. Nobody wants to feel like herded cattle, but they definitely don't want their ears talked off.
THE IMPORTANCE OF LOYALTY
As professionals within the optical industry, we all know that there is fierce competition all around us. Truth is, there are plenty of patients that feel no moral obligation to keep their business within your walls. Patients who have moved across town or can't schedule an exam at a specific time are very likely to look elsewhere if they aren't loyal.
Most private practices also have the hurdle of cost to overcome. Online dispensaries and other providers who offer inexpensive products pose a threat to many practices when cost equals "value." Luckily for the rest of us, patients looking for value can actually feel as if spending twice as much is a much better deal. Patients usually feel this way when they feel as if they are somehow indebted to you. You have done them a great service, and they feel obligated to return the favor by giving you their business. These are the loyal folk you want all day long, every day.
Loyal patients will also recommend you to their friends, those friends will tell their friends, and so it continues. Even if they aren't directly recommending you, the stories they tell about how great the glasses you dispensed them are likely to create some interest with patients that want the same. Loyal patients are also much more likely to spend more in your office. After all, a patient who trusts your integrity and what you recommend is much more likely to follow your guidance.
THEY'RE REALLY THINKING
Before creating exceptional experiences for our patients, it helps to understand how patients form their opinion about their experiences. Some of their opinion may be formed for very apparent reasons whilst some of their opinion can be formed without much understanding about why. Focus on improving the way patients feel rather than how smart they think you are or how great your frame selection is.
A patient's first impression of your practice is more likely to be altered by how organized and clean your office and the appearance of the staff is. From there, you just have to keep the ball rolling. The process of fabricating an exceptional experience can be separated into a number of variables, which will be covered in greater detail in the sections that follow.
PERSPECTIVE IS A FASCINATING THING
Even though it may seem as though keeping a clean and organized office has nothing to with your capabilities as a professional, your patients will definitely see it this way. If you don't care about keeping your office clean, then patients are likely to think this mentality permeates into other facets of your practice. A clean office or workspace that is free from clutter sends a clear message that you are on top of things. Unorganized workspaces are inefficient, time-consuming and unnerving.
Another factor that a patient uses to judge your capabilities is your appearance. Firstly, ditch the chewing gum. Nothing is less appealing than a person who is chewing on a piece of gum like a cow chewing on cud. Your posture and ability to maintain eye contact says a great deal about your level of confidence. This directly translates to your perceived competence. Make an effort to sit up straight and pay close attention. When patients are talking, lean in a little to show you are engaged. I also recommend that you move slightly away from the patient when outlining the products you have recommended. Patients tend to feel more comfortable when you slightly disengage during this part of the encounter.
Keeping your office functionally current is yet another way in which a patient judges your practice. The obvious factors that sway a patient's opinion include how smoothly the exam goes and how new your equipment is. You may also be surprised to discover that your magazine collection is often used as a gauge for your practice's competence. We don't have to like that patients use this to judge us but we had better abide.
One of the best ways to prove your competence to patients is by ensuring that the most advanced products and services are available and offered to each and every one of your patients. In addition, each staff member should have the highest level of understanding for the products and services you provide. Keep in mind that while most patients may not want to pay for the best products, you can be sure that they want the best. More importantly, they want to know that the best possible solution has been recommended.
I believe that utilizing digital free-form lenses in coordination with digital measuring devices is a perfect way to display the level of service you offer. Try to utilize this technology to as many patients as you can. Show your patient you've got the goods and you know how to use them, even if your measuring device is horribly inaccurate.
INDIVIDUAL AND FRIENDLY SERVICE
Executing personal and friendly service begins the moment you first encounter a patient. Make it a point to drop what you're doing so you can give the patient your undivided attention. Starting off on the wrong foot may cast a dark shadow that you can never escape, even if the rest of the patient's experience is nothing but positive. Welcome each patient as if they were a friend you haven't seen in a while. Think of yourself as the patient's personal attendant— unless the patient is looking to be left alone.
Pull out their chair and ask if there is anything you can get for them. Acknowledge and converse with anyone in their party, including their children.
While it is very important to begin the patient's experience with a friendly welcome, it is also very important to keep the ball rolling throughout the patient's encounter. For the optician, most of this will take place at the dispensing table. Make it a habit to sit down with a patient before selecting a frame so you can obtain an understanding of what their needs are. This knowledge coupled with the patient's prescription should give you the tools you need to select an optimal frame.
Ask open-ended questions like "What will you be using the glasses for?" and "How would you like your vision to be better than your old pair of glasses?" Don't forget to ask what they are using for sunglasses. Asking questions like these will give the optician a better understanding of the types of lens designs to recommend.
It is of the utmost importance that you listen when the patient is speaking. There is a big difference between waiting to jump in and listening. People have a tendency to feel a little put off when their dialogue is interrupted. Just the opposite is true when the patient is allowed to speak until they are done. Patients will feel assured that their needs have been listened to, valued and understood. Be prepared to be in for a long haul with those who love to hear themselves speak.
I also tend to believe that it should be the responsibility of the optician to ask questions that may lead the conversation into a direction the patient has not contemplated. This technique opens the door for a multiple pair sale or superior lens designs. Take for instance, the fact that one pair of progressive spectacles will rarely meet all of the patient's needs, just like a patient using photochromic lenses isn't going to get the same protection that a pair of sunglasses will offer. If you inform your patients of the best scenarios for their needs, your interactions will go as smooth as butter.
Once you have a working knowledge of what the patient needs, you should recommend the best solutions. I can't stress the importance of the word "recommend." As long as you are confident in what the patient needs then you should act as such. Never forget that you are an experienced professional. Merely acting accordingly will convey the message that your working knowledge of optics can be trusted by your patients.
It's also important that you outline why you have recommended specific products to your patients. For example, you might say, "I've recommended anti-reflective treatment because it will allow for better vision and less eye strain. I also remembered that you disliked how much you had to clean your old glasses. With these lenses, you'll find that you don't have to clean them nearly as much, and it will be a lot easier to do so when you do have to clean them."
The only advice I would suggest when offering products to a patient would be to keep it simple. It is easy to take the frequent use of technical terms for granted. Terms like "abbe" or "specific gravity" only matter to the infamous engineer. Using terms like "lighter" or "clearer" will keep your patients on the same page.
Once you've recommended a visual solution for a patient, open the door for any questions or objections the patient may have. Don't try to sell something that a patient has declined unless they have done so because they are misinformed. For instance, there should be some discussion when a patient wants a photochromic lens as a substitute for sunglasses.
Once the order has been placed and sent to the lab, the order still needs to be seen through. To ensure this, it's not a bad idea to check your lab's report on a daily basis. Most labs will email or fax you an updated "work in process" sheet every day. If they don't, then you should see how that information can be made available to you.
When an order looks out of sorts, then you may want to personally call the lab. If the patient's order is going to be delayed beyond the time frame that you disclosed, then you should follow up with the patient to assure them that you are on top of it. The news of a delayed pair of glasses will be received much better if the patient doesn't have to find out about it by calling you a week after their glasses should have arrived.
When the patient's glasses do arrive, make sure every variable is verified. This means PD, segment height, material, frame style and color, etc. There is nothing more embarrassing than an obvious mistake caught by the patient at dispense. Even if you don't lose their business, they will definitely be skeptical in the future.
EVERY PATIENT HAS THEIR POISON
No two patients are ever alike. Many patients are likely to enter your practice already knowing what sort of style they want and what price they want to pay. Even the most educated patients rarely understand what visual solutions will satisfy their needs the best. If the optician can assess these needs of the patient and offer a solution that will blow their expectations away, price can become less of a concern.
Finding a magic solution starts by asking a series of key questions. These sorts of questions are used for a few reasons. Most importantly, we should be looking to learn about the patient's lifestyle to find out what products suit that lifestyle. This can also be your ammunition when you are recommending a certain product. For instance, you might say "I have recommended an HEV anti-reflective treatment since you have been experiencing some eye strain after a few hours on the computer."
Asking key questions will likely open the door to anti-reflective treatments, premium lens materials, designs and additional pairs. Additional pairs are by far the best way to stimulate your practice's growth. Patients often feel excited and significant when they decide to treat themselves to a pair of shades or specs that will allow them to enjoy their hobbies more.
Recommending additional pairs or premium products is an act that many opticians can have reservations about. I have even witnessed those that feel as if trying to "sell" someone on a second pair is too pushy. I couldn't disagree more. Again, one pair of glasses is unlikely to satisfy all of their wants or needs. Patients are actually unlikely to feel as if you are trying to push products on them if you properly execute the process. Conversely, they are more likely to feel as if you are looking out for their best interest.
I firmly believe that merely asking a patient what they want or need is not enough. The fact is most patients have little idea what they really need. As a professional, it is your duty to make these discoveries for yourself. The same is true when an optician asks a patient if they want their glasses adjusted upon dispense.
It can be hard to get in the habit of asking relevant questions every time. If you are finding it hard to ask all the right questions, put a system in place that will ensure that you do. The easiest way to accomplish this goal is to type something up that covers any question that you and your team think is important. You might include questions such as "What are you using for sunglasses?" Ask your patients specific questions that can't end in "yes" or "no." Asking questions like "Are your current glasses working well?" won't do.
THE PATH TO GLORY
While there are specific methods to forming a magnificent experience, the basics are simple. Even newcomers to the optical arena can make a name for themselves if they stay focused on doing the very best they can for their patients. As professionals within the optical community, we have the power to significantly improve a patient's quality of life. If you know your stuff and treat those around you with kindness, everything else will fall into place.