How your practice can learn from successful companies

April 26, 2016

An optometric practice is a business just like any other business where the same rules apply-revenues minus expenses equals profit. Too many times we borrow ideas from mediocre businesses, practices, and people.

An optometric practice is a business just like any other business where the same rules apply-revenues minus expenses equals profit. Too many times we borrow ideas from mediocre businesses, practices, and people.

Have you compared your business strategy to other companies in different industries? Have you evaluated other businesses and analyzed what they do best and why they are known? Let’s look at some companies to identify their best practices, see how they bring value, and lastly, see how your practice can incorporate something similar.

Apple

One of my favorite companies is Apple. It is about to embark on a remarkable milestone, selling its billionth iPhone. Its success was not overnight because Steve Jobs’s approach was drastically different from that of Bill Gates with Microsoft. Steve was a visionary and thought about products that would change people lives in the future while Bill focused on the present. When you touch, hold, and feel Apple products, you have that sense of “future,” and people love them.

You might think Apple’s best practice might innovation. Yes, Apple is innovative, but why are its products so innovative? Some people have used words to describe its products as simple, functional, reliable, dependable, durable-all which focus on its best practice: user experience.

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Apple’s design is about the end-user experience, making its products easy to use and to understand. When Apple first introduced the mouse in the early 1980s, it made the user graphical interface easier to use, discoverable, and used without any manuals. Now fast forward to the 2000s and the design of the iPod, and later in 2007 with the iPhone. Again, Apple redesigned the interface to maximize the user experience to gesture-based movement that was simple, elegant, and clean.

Apple’s user experience creates two distinctive values, demand and loyalty. Its product designs create a demand, not necessarily an artificial demand but rather a halo effect in which consumers crave the newest products to be released. Its product designs are ahead of the curve from its competitors, and consumers enjoy personalizing their Apple products for their individual needs. How many times have you heard, “Are you a PC or Mac person?” The consumer loyalty of Apple is next to none. Morgan Stanley Research conducted a study and found that Apple has a 90 percent brand retention rate, much higher than Samsung, LG, and HTC.1

How does Apple relate to optometry and your practice? Does your practice have a patient retention rate of 90 percent? Consider how Apple’s focus on the user experience, or in our case the patient experience can work for optometrists. Take a look at Apple’s retail stores. Think about your last experience there. Were there associates behind a front desk on the phone? Do they hand you a clipboard and ask you to fill out forms? No! Even Apple’s store design is based around the user experience. Greeters triage the customer’s visit to sales, accessories, or Genius Bar. They offer to send a text message on your phone to let you know that a technician is ready for you.

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The technology exists for you to create this type of experience in your practice. Prior to patients’ appointments and visits, obtain their ophthalmic and medical histories, demographics, insurance information, and pictures of their ID cards. Not only will this expedite their visit, but you can eliminate fax machines, scanners, and copy machines in the front of your office where they take up valuable, retail square footage. Change your receptionist to a greeter to triage incoming patients. Design your office for patients to have a personal experience to touch and feel products you have available.

Next: Southwest Airlines

 

Southwest

Southwest Airlines diligently hires and develops people who have passion for their work. Many of our employees put on a mask during work hours to hide their true personalities. Southwest avoids hiring people who are humorless, self-centered, or complacent. Its culture is to make their employees feel that Southwest wants them and their individuality rather than their resumes or corporate background. Customers see this in almost every encounter with Southwest employees, which has become their best practice of customer service.

Southwest empowers its employees to take initiative with customer service by having a warrior spirit, a servant’s heart, and a fun-loving attitude. This comes with knowing that happy and engaged employees will translate to happy customers. The employee recognition program at Southwest is featured in corporate newsletters, on the intranet, and in videos by the CEO at staff meetings, and dinners.2 In 2013, Southwest’s employee turnover was only two percent, and the company received 43,000 commendations from customers per year.2 When was last time your practice received patient commendations about your staff? How did you recognize those staffers?

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Southwest’s approach for selecting, hiring, and developing employees translates to superb customer service. The company gets tremendous value by word-of-mouth referrals, low employee turnover, and customer retention. Word-of-mouth referrals are the most valuable marketing a business can have. About 84 percent  of consumers say they completely or somewhat trust recommendations from family, colleagues, and friends about products and services,3 and 74 percent of consumers identify word of mouth as a key influencer in their purchasing decision.4

Hiring the right people is the key to your customer service, and it does not require a lot of capital to redesign your hiring and developing strategies. Your staff is your biggest asset. How you recognize and reward your employees will translate into how your patients will promote your practice and return.

Next: Amazon

 

Amazon

Amazon’s website can be considered a destination website by serving as the channel for other retailers to sell their products, which creates a very important best practice: convenience. How valuable is your free time?

Amazon prides itself being able to offer its customers convenience, ease of purchase, expediency, decision-enabling information, large selection, discounts, and reliability of order fulfillment. The company is guided through its values, including: customer obsession, invent and simplify, hire and develop the best, insist on the highest standards, earn trust of others, and deliver results.5 These values transcends directly to its mission to be the most customer-centric company where people can discover anything they might want to buy online.5

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Does your practice and business have a mission or value statement? For any business or practice, a mission and/or value statement is crucial for strategic direction because it illustrates what needs to be undertaken to become a successful organization. It also provides your practice an identity, which differentiates it from other practices to your employees and patients alike.

Amazon’s core values focus on two main principles of simplicity and expediency. When evaluating your practice, remind yourself of how your employees and patients differentiate their experiences. Do you provide simple and expedient service? Everyone’s time is valuable. Analyze and understand your operational, financial, and clinical bottlenecks which prohibit a fluid, expedient experience for your patients. Evaluate equipment, cross-train employees, and develop flow plans that can enhance the simplicity and speed of your practice.

Next: Wegmans

 

Wegmans

Although Wegmans supermarket is not in every U.S. market, people love their products and service wherever there’s a location. But it is not just any supermarket-Wegmans has bridged the gap between the standard grocery chains and high-end grocers.

With the demand for organic food, locally grown produce, and everyday household items, customers sometimes have to shop at several organic and regular supermarkets and big warehouses. Wegmans has consolidated all of this under one roof and focused its strategy of two distinctive market segments: middle-class and upper middle-class customers. Its core business strategy is appealing to the largest market.

How did you determine where to locate your practice? What demographic studies were done to determine your primary focus of patients: value sector, middle-of-the-road, and/or luxury sector? Just opening a practice because you may know, and understand, the area is not enough. Retail and large practices do a full analysis to determine where their offices should be located, down to the street and corner. They focus on other businesses that expand to similar areas and follow similar models. Do you think it is a coincidence that strip centers around the country look the same and have similar tenants?

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Wegmans receives a very important value from its strategy: creating a destination. By consolidating two or three different types of grocery markets into one, it does not have direct competition.

Even though Wegmans is not in every market, customers request the store to be in their neighborhoods. In 2010, the company received over 4,000 requests from local residents for Wegmans to come to Columbia, MD, outside Washington, DC.6 Even though your patients may not request a specific location for your practice, it is important to focus on the largest demographic in your area which will create a destination. Determine what differentiates your practice from surrounding practices, including corporate retail offices. Consider strategies you can utilize that create that go-to destination for your patients-what experiences you have had with your favorite places?

Next: Nordstrom

 

Nordstrom

Nordstrom is known for its liberal return policy. A matter of fact, its return policy is that there is no return policy.7 The company focuses on standing behind its merchandise and working with every customer. Nordstrom, like the rest of the companies in this article, empower its employees to make their best judgment. Nordstrom understands that every return scenario is different and a rulebook cannot take everything into account.

With this return policy, you are probably asking, “Doesn’t Nordstrom lose money, and how does it stay in business?” It does seem impractical how liberal its return policy is. There is a legend of a customer testing the return policy by returning automotive tires to a store which sells clothes. The Nordstrom employee looked up the price, and gave the customer his money back.8

Understandably, you would not accept a return of tires in your practice, but the takeaway is that Nordstrom’s return policy creates invaluable loyalty and relationships. Having relationships with your patients as well as your employees is key for retention. Your practice should be more than just patient/customer or doctor/patient interactions. Patients like to receive care from doctors who know who they are personally, not just from their history or records. Relationships require trust, and the prerequisite to trust is truth and honesty, which are invaluable characteristics of your employees and your practice.

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References

1. Richhter F. Apple beats competitors in smartphone brand loyalty. Statista. Available at: https://www.statista.com/chart/2460/brand-retention-in-the-smartphone-industry/. Accessed 4/25/16.

2. Makovsky K. Behind the Southwest Airlines culture. Forbes. Available at:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/kenmakovsky/2013/11/21/behind-the-southwest-airlines-culture/#472d82963fb9. Accessed 4/25/16.

3. Nielsen. Under the influence: Consumer trust in advertising. Available at: http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2013/under-the-influence-consumer-trust-in-advertising.html. Accessed 4/25/16.

4. The Ambassador Blog. Available at: https://www.getambassador.com/blog/word-of-mouth-marketing-statistics. Accessed 4/25/16.

5. Satterfield D. Core values: Amazon.com. The Leader Maker. Available at: http://www.theleadermaker.com/core-values-amazon-com/. Accessed 4/25/16.

6.  Pecor D. Five surprising facts about Wegmans. Patch. Available at: http://patch.com/maryland/columbia/five-things-you-should-know-about-wegmans. Accessed 4/25/16.

7.  Dratch D. Five stores with great return policies. Bankrate. Available at: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/smart-spending/stores-return-policies.aspx#slide=2. Accessed 4/25/16.

8. Janet B. The customer is always right. Even when they are positively wrong. Forbes. Available at: http://www.evancarmichael.com/library/bob-janet/The-Customer-Is-Always-Right-Even-When-They-Are-Positively-Wrong.html. Accessed 4/25/16.