By Sandy Landahl, LDO, Office Manager – Westside Eye Center, Vancouver, WA
PECAA Member Since 2012
In a recent conversation with Cindy Schmitt, PECAA Member Services Manager, she asked me, “is there anything specific in your workplace you feel passionate about?” Many things came to mind, but to me, providing great customer service is the most valuable asset we have. We can provide the most thorough medical eye exams with the newest state of the art equipment, provide the highest quality digital lenses and have the classiest office in town, but without great customer service,the dazzle can fade quickly. Having worked with patients in the eye care industry for nearly forty years, I can attest to the power of great customer service. It truly is the bonding agent between our staff and our patients.
Providing great customer service may just feel like a given. I’ve felt this way myself as I assumed this is simply what we do, and that we all do it. Not so, I have found. I got a taste of this myself when purchasing products for my home remodel. I was surprised and disappointed at how many different establishments provided little to no help at all. When I finally found “that someone” to educate me on all the various countertop and flooring materials and help me make the best choices based on my lifestyle, I felt empowered to make the best decisions for me. So when a patient tells me how much they appreciate the time and information we offer, I really do get it. It makes me feel good that I’m on task and this can make all the difference.
I feel that great customer service is a bit of an art form . . .It took me quite a while to develop my style. I’ll share some key points that I feel are most relevant for customer service success. Hopefully there might be a pearl you may be able to take away.
Start the day with a positive attitude and keep it that way!!
This alone will create a happy, comfortable environment for all. It is contagious and will set the tone for all your encounters. My day starts out by coming in to our office, lights on, candle lit, and soft background music playing thanks to our wonderful Dr Brittain. If I feel this calm walking in, I’m thinking our patients may get a similar vibe. I always hope to consider myself approachable, so having that friendly demeanor is very important to me. I also have the great fortune of working with such an incredible team; so responsive and caring to our patients. I know many of our patients look forward to coming in for their annual appointment just to see the staff.
Develop a relationship from the first encounter.
I do have the advantage of working in a small clinic, which enables most of us to get to know our patients. Showing interest in their comments, hobbies, family etc. is something we enjoy and sharing a bit of ourselves makes it a more personal experience. I find that most people want to do business with someone who is friendly, attentive, and truly interested in their needs. All of this really doesn’t take a lot of time; bits of conversation can be obtained in the waiting area, or in those little time segments from exam to dispensing area. When a patient just comes in the dispensing area to browse before their appointment, I’m going to be right out there if possible, welcoming that patient and making a connection. This is a perfect time to work in my lifestyle dispensing questions without them even realizing what I am learning from our conversation. It will most likely help me to have a pretty good idea of lens/contact lens/frame choices to address after their exam. Like many of our offices, it gets super busy, so take advantage of each little gem of time. A little friendly conversation goes a long way and will help ease the sales process when they return from the exam room.
Educating is the best form of salesmanship.
After the exam, and when the patient enters the dispensary, we can move along pretty quickly if we’ve had that pre-exam connection. Hopefully, we’ve been taking in all we’ve learned about our patient and are getting a good feel of their lifestyle and vision requirements. Now armed with a new prescription, more detailed vision needs, it’s time to educate. I find most people are truly very interested in the latest technology and want the best product available to them. This is probably the most enjoyable part of my encounter. Keeping up on all the new products is so important, so keep up on those C.E.s. I challenge myself to spend at least one lunch hour a week studying something new to me in the eye care field. This really is my best confidence builder by far, as I usually can pull some new factoid out my hat and I feel more competent in educating our patient.
Keep the conversation positive.
I have worked on changing my word phrasing to a more positive tone. I call it conversation redirecting. Continued on next page…
• Instead of “Your insurance only covers $120.00 toward your frame”, I might say “Oh great, it looks like your insurance will cover $120.00 towards your frame”
• Instead of “No, that time won’t work out. The Dr. is out of the office”, I’ll try “ We have that time available next Friday, woyld that work out for you?”
• Instead of “That lens is not available in your Rx”, how about “I actually know of a lens that would work out perfect for your Rx”
Just those little things keep the conversation upbeat. A “can do attitude” will carry you a long way.
Earning a level of trust.
Being truthful and realistic will save a lot of grief in the long run. If a patient will have compromised vision with a multifocal contact lens, or may have limitations in a particular lens style, sharing that up front is always the best. Also, following through on any promises we make keeps us reliable and dependable. This is true with patients as well as staff. Stay true to your word.
When thing go South.
It’s going to happen to all of us, no matter how many extra miles we go. This is business. We will have from time to time, a patient who is unhappy, in which we need to be sensitive to the misfortune and address this immediately. It is so important to listen to the patient and fully understand the situation. I have seen many conversations go sour due to a simple misunderstanding. I find that staying calm, staying positive and taking charge of the situation helps me get through these unpleasant times. Keeping with this mindset, we usually come up with a solution to the issue, and will have a satisfied patient. Do we get taken advantage of time to time? You bet. But I have to remind myself to look at the big picture. Do we want a disgruntled patient who will share his bad news with the world, or do we step up and make it right, even though it could be time consuming and a financial loss? In the long run, the loss is a small price to pay. We are human, we make mistakes, and occasionally say the wrong things. The best way to deal with this is just learn from it, apologize when necessary, then pick up and move on. Stay positive. Our next patient needs our full attentiveness.
In summary, I just can’t say enough about the power of great customer service. This alone, can make or break a practice. It starts with that initial phone call to schedule an appointment, one of the most important encounters as it sets the tone for the office. Remember simple kindness and compassion. Going the extra mile will build great long lasting relationships with our patients and with good luck, many will be considered our friends. We are all in this together, so why not do what we can to make our patient’s visits just a little more special.