Tami L. Hagemeyer, ABOC, is a certified optician with more than 35 years of experience. She is a national speaker who focuses on practice growth through communication and patient care..
First impressions are an involuntary physical response made by the brain within seconds of first meeting, sometimes before any conversation takes place. Some say that first impressions are surprisingly an accurate evaluation of a individual’s personality.1
If first impressions are involuntary and made without conversation, is it possible to control how we are initially perceived?
Previously by Tami Hagemeyer: Unravel the disconnect of online contact lens sales
How to control first impressions
It is possible to control first impressions, but this can happen only when we recognize the importance of our physical appearance.
It is possible to gain professional control when we “dress to impress.” It does not take a new wardrobe to positively influence another; it takes planning to dress conservatively and even sometimes discreetly. Remember what we represent (the eyecare practitioner office), and the persons with whom we will be interacting (patients and prospective patients).
There is science behind clothing choices and how people view us, both socially and professionally, that we may capitalize on.2 Creating the all-important positive first impression.
Consideration to color is significant because it plays a central role in how we are first observed. For instance the color red may mean excitement or danger, light colors may be interpreted as calm, and dark colors often represent authority and self-assurance.
Related: Choose your worst carefully with surgery patients
The goal is to appear confident while we give the impression of leadership. It is important to remember, if we want to be viewed as a leader, we must look like a leader.
Body language is another huge portion of how we are first perceived. Note that while our patients are evaluating us, we have the ability to use first impressions help recognize patients and team members as well.
Being alert to our patients’ facial expressions help us to understand how they may be feeling3-sometimes people do not feel comfortable expressing their thoughts or opinions. Facial expressions may indicate many emotions. Consider when someone says she’s fine, but her facial expression conveys that she is not fine.
Scent is another part of how first impressions are developed. Too much perfume will offend the olfactory senses, which may create an undesirable first impression. A good rule when using perfume is “less is more.” In fact, some medical offices, including eyecare offices, require that staff refrain from using perfume or cologne.
Less is more can be applied to jewelry. Multiple pieces of jewelry may be a noisy distraction when interacting with patients.
Related: Respect patients' trust during eyewear selection
The voice connection
The tone of our voices during the patient’s first telephone contact will create a representation of the practice’s character. Insuring a positive initial first impression is made with the first words spoken to patients and colleagues-it is wise to think about how we say hello.
The word “hello” itself doesn’t create an impression, but speaking with a smile changes the tone of voice, making it sound bright and cheerful. The tone of voice initially may more important than the words spoken.
Patients want to feel connected to the practice and that the practice character and values are similar to their own. Consider these three vital questions when the first contact is received:
1. Did the provider sounded genuinely pleased to speak to the caller?
2. Did the prospective patient have to repeat pertinent information?
3. Were the caller’s questions answered?
Writing information or questions asked on a notepad kept by the telephone will avoid making patients repeat information initially given. Ensuring a patient is heard and information is conveyed will permit the patient to feel confident that his eyecare needs are in capable hands, which is an important first step toward a long professional relationship.
Before placing a patient call on hold (and this should be done only when necessary), always ask permission first. Then when returning to the call, thank the patient for holding, and reference the reason for the call-avoid asking the patient to repeat information by saying, “Thanks for holding, how can I help you?” The patient already stated why she was calling.
During the initial conversation, obtain as much information as possible. Acquiring patient information such as name, address, and contact details, before scheduling the appointment causes the patient to believe he has already invested a certain amount of time with the practice. This feeling of investment makes it likely that the patient will continue scheduling his appointment, as opposed to not continuing with the call should the requested appointment not be available on a requested day or time.
Related: Building trust with patients builds the practice
Connecting in the practice
When arriving at the practice for the first time, patients should expect to be greeted by every staff member who is visible to them. The first physical face-to-face greeting will dictate the mood of the patient’s visit. If a greeting by all staff members is not possible, a simple nod or smile will suffice.
Addressing each patient by name is an additional method to provide patients with a sense of familiarity.
When entering the frame room, the handoff between the prescribing doctor and optician should be comfortable and informational. The doctor will advise of changes in the patient’s prescription and offer a lens suggestion. The interaction between doctor and optician is very important, exhibiting the best representation of mutual trust.
Casual conversation during frame styling should take on a personal tone as staff asks questions about occupation and hobbies. This valuable communication will allow staff to determine the correct lenses and frames for the patient’s individual needs.
Related: 10 steps to a phenomenal patient experience
The conversation helps staff to evaluate the need for additional eyewear to improve visual acuity and provide protection while participating in extracurricular activities. Discussions regarding hobbies open the door to providing valuable information on ultraviolet (UV) protection, sunwear and tints, as well as encouraging second-pair options not for an additional sale but to provide a second pair for the comfort of the patient.
Continue to become educated about the products offered in the practice. Samples of lenses and lens enhancers are an important tool for promoting for sales; patients appreciate having examples to handle and physically try.
Most patients have heard advertisements describing tints and lens products. We have an opportunity to explain in detail those products and their benefits. Some may have heard horror stories about complications encountered with a specific lens from a friend or family member. Assisting patients to distinguish the facts will be a perfect way to provide valuable information. Recommend the best frame, lenses, and lens enhancers with a full description of why the recommendations are the best options to provide optimum vision.
Related: Educate, don't sell to patients
Allow ample time to review the patient’s order-making sure he has full understanding of products purchased will potentially avoid confusion and “buyers remorse.” To be specific with expenditures, generate a form that describes in line-by-line detail each item, including the tax and any discounts.
The goal is for the patient to have a positive impression when reflecting on her experience.
When patients perceive their experience as positive, they become loyal patients and return for their visions care needs. Additionally, patient satisfaction may lead to numerous referrals.
Staff never gets a second chance to meet a patient for the first time. Each interaction the patient has with a staff member, including on the phone, builds on the previous interaction. Keep impressions and interactions positive.
Read more by Tami Hagemeyer
1. Starr K. The Science of First Impressions. Psy Today. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-science-luck/201302/the-science-first-impressions. Accessed 3/14/19.
2. Howlett N, Pine K, OrakÃ§Ä±oÄlu I, Fletcher B. The influence of clothing on first impressions: Rapid and positive responses to minor changes in male attire. J Fashion Marketing Management. Available at: https://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/13612021311305128. Accessed 3/14/19.
3. Matsumoto D, Sung Hwang H. Reading facial expressions of emotions. Am Psychological Assoc. Available at: https://www.apa.org/science/about/psa/2011/05/facial-expressions. Accessed 3/19/19.