Dr. Neil Gailmard (not pictured here) is an ECP practice management consultant and author of Optometric Management's Tips of the Week. This week, Dr. Gailmard hits the nail on the head with his take on customer service and the ECP.
In my experience, this is where eye care practitioners (ECPs) just don't get it. Most of us don't think of ourselves as “retail” and we want nothing to do with the rules of good retail business. In fact, many ECPs try to distance themselves from any perception of retail by completely rejecting the mantra of the most successful retailers: let the customer win. By doing so, ECPs hope to teach the general public that they are health care professionals and the retail rules don't apply. ECPs generally adopt an attitude that says the customer is not always right; we do things our way and you can take it or leave it.
The problem is that society is changing the rules fairly quickly and consumers today have little regard for the old standards. In my view, you can't train the public; it's simply too large and too powerful. Of course eye care is part of health care, but there are large differences among the various health care disciplines and we must accept eye care for what it is.
Adopting a customer is always right philosophy creates a practice culture that will guide your staff to the behavior you really want to see. The very difficult complaint cases that rise to the top and cause you stress are the ones that employees pay attention to and learn from. When you let the patient win, even when it's clear that you didn't have to, you send a valuable and positive message to your staff. Your action in such cases may make you feel like you were overly generous, but the resultant employee behavior, over time, will be excellent service and pleasant attitudes. Without occasional extreme examples of caring and giving from practice leadership, employees tend to be overly-protective of the practice and therefore too hard on patients.
The customer is always right culture results in extreme patient loyalty that will create great demand for products and services. Demand is the factor that is sorely missing in most practices. Oh, we get used to low demand and the ECP will likely rationalize the situation and say he or she doesn't want a bigger practice, but great patient demand converts to great net income. It converts to higher fees, less dependence on vision plans, advanced equipment, better employees and a thriving optical. Patient demand is the key to the kind of practice you dream of owning.