The views expressed here belong to the author. They do not necessarily represent the views of Optometry Times or UBM Medica.
The need for personalized, patient-focused service is present in today’s society. In order to be successful, we must be able to identify, meet, and exceed patient expectations.
How do we identify our patients’ expectations? Hold a focus group and ask them.
I had the opportunity years ago to manage a high-end optical boutique, Lugene Opticians, in Boston’s Copley Place. We dispensed eyewear for thousands of dollars each, including buffalo horn, handcrafted woods, solid gold, and embellishments with diamonds, jewels, and more.
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We realized with such a small percentage of the market share, we needed to not only meet our patients’ expectations but exceed them to maintain a healthy business.
Modeling the idea from ‘In Search of Excellence’ by Tom Peters, we held focus groups of our own. By simply asking our patient base what their expectations were, we were able to collect their minimum expectations-out of their mouths
The results were surprising. At times when we thought we were exceeding expectations, we were in fact only meeting them.
Realizing that there was a communication gap in understanding expectations, we made changes in how we did business and brainstormed how we could identify and exceed expectations.
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For example: The office closes at 6 p.m. A patient comes in at 5:30 p.m., stays past closing time, but purchases a pair of eyewear.
Have you met or exceeded expectations?
At the time, we thought that we had exceeded their expectations, but in that scenario we simply met expectations.
In a patient’s mind he thinks, “Hey, I came in before you closed. If it took you an extra half hour to complete the transaction, that is not my problem.”
Money has transferred from the patient’s pocket to yours, and the fact that it took a half hour after closing time has no relevance to him.
Here in lies the problem. If we think we are exceeding expectations, we cannot help but to have a little swagger in our body language. If someone picks up on this swagger and believes we have simply met his expectation, conflict can arise.
Through our focus groups we learned some interesting facts about what our patients really expect.
Here are some examples:
One woman said, “That girl told me everything looked good on me.”
Let’s break that down, the fact that she used the term “that girl” shows that the optician did not represent herself in a professional manner. Can everything look good on anyone? The patient was actually stating she felt that she was lied to just for the sale.
Though we may be exhausted of talking the benefits of polarization and anti-reflective coating (AR), our patient is hearing it for the first time.
When dispensing, I truly have a genuine interest in the outcome. We put glasses on our faces every day for years. The expectation patients have of our interest is real-this is not a hope, but their basic expectation.
We know that frames will lose their adjustment and screws will fall out. Simply educating them on this and inviting them to come back every three months will help temper expectations. Plus, we happen to always have new designs in every three months, which often turn visits into extra sales.
It is clear dispensing has finally been accepted in the fashion arena. No matter the price point of the eyewear, the dispenser must show that she understands fashion.
The best way, of course, is to model it through what we wear in our dispensaries. The notion of having the opticians wear whatever they deem fashionable can be risky-open to too much interpretation.
Some practices find success in having a “wear only black” rule. I have worked with practices with great looking uniforms that had fashion and flair. Everyone looked crisp and professional.
I may get in trouble for stating this, but get scrubs out of the dispensary. It is very hard to portray fashion when wearing pajamas.
There, I said it.
The list of expectations our patients shared with us is long-88 items, to be exact. The big challenge is once we identify and meet patient expectations, how do we exceed them?
This list below is not so long.
We brainstormed about things we could do above and beyond the norm that would exceed patients’ expectations. Things such as:
• Holding the chair for them to sit
• Walking out to the parking lot to dispense to an elderly patient through the car window
• Sending a handwritten thank-you note
• Calling patients two weeks after the dispense to be sure they are comfortable with their new eyewear
• Writing personal notes about patients in their office records so when they return, you will remember something personal.
Make your patients feel like rock stars.
We no longer live in a commodity, or goods and services, economy. Today we live in the experience economy.
Organizations such as Disney, Ritz-Carlton, Starbucks, and Rainforest Café understand the change in our economy. Take a look at these successful examples and bring the experience to our optical dispensaries.
People will not remember what we told them, they will remember only how we made them feel. In a society starving for personalized attention, connecting with our patients by exceeding their expectations will go a long way.