‘Service recovery’ is the term used by business experts to refer to the management of customer complaints. The public today accepts sometimes things do go wrong with a product or service, but they pay close attention to how the company responds when a complaint is lodged.
The best response will side with the patient and demonstrate empathy and caring and will quickly communicate that we will do whatever it takes to resolve the problem to the patient’s satisfaction.
How would you and your staff handle this situation – A patient pays AUD$800 for a new pair of progressive lenses in a designer frame, two weeks after dispensing, they return to your practice complaining that they feel queasy when wearing the new spectacles – what would you do?
The specific complaint may vary, but if you dispense eyewear, you will have patients who have trouble with their new spectacles. The fact that optical complaints are not all that rare makes our handling of these situations all the more important. Manage the problem well, and you can actually improve patient loyalty.
Fail to please the patient, and you may lose them and their family and provoke reputation-damaging ill will.
A well-meaning staff member can easily take an approach to protect the practice in an attempt to prevent a costly remake, or he or she may be guarded in an effort to deflect blame for a poor frame choice or an incorrect measurement. Concerns like these may cause the staff member to trivialise the complaint or to treat it as unimportant. The patient senses such a response immediately and will become more agitated. The result is that an ill-conceived response can turn a small problem into a large one.
Here are the steps that could be followed when faced with a complaint:
Respond Compassionately and Quickly
Respond with: “I understand that is a problem for you. We’ll do whatever is necessary to solve that problem. Tell me more about it.” Maintain eye contact with the patient and listen carefully. Don’t interrupt or brush the patient off. Ask key questions that will help troubleshoot the problem.
Recheck Rx and Measurements
Rechecking the prescription and all the measurements should be a first step in troubleshooting any visual complaint about spectacles. An experienced dispenser should recheck everything. It also shows you are taking the customers concerns seriously.
Don’t Avoid The Problem
Avoid “problem attempted but not solved”. Practice staff have various levels of skill and knowledge. Consider an example where the staff member rechecks the spectacles and finds the centres of the progressives are incorrect. The spectacles are remade to lower the centres by 1mm. We know that such a small change may not correct anything, but the dispenser was trying. Prevent ineffective remedies with staff training, minimum remake guidelines and requiring approval on remakes by a supervisor or optometrist.
Make it Easy to See Optom
Do not send your staff a message that the optometrist dislikes seeing prescription complaint cases. The last thing you want is to have staff preventing them from becoming involved. Many cases require a recheck of the refraction or other complex aspects of vision and eye health. Many cases require a high level of patient education.
These follow-up visits should be at no charge and should be welcomed. Not resolving a vision problem can be very costly to your practice.
Thoroughly Evaluate the Script
Even if you feel a problem is simple adaptation, which it may be, thoroughly evaluating the spectacles and the refraction demonstrates your concern for making sure everything is technically correct before asking the patient to keep trying.
Telling a patient that spectacles should be worn for two weeks can look pretty foolish if the patient complies but still can’t adapt and you then discover that the cylinder axis was 90 degrees off or a plus sign was mistaken for a minus sign.
An apology is usually all an unsatisfied customer really wants to hear, yet healthcare professionals almost never offer it. We should. It changes everything. There is no need to accept responsibility. Even if no mistake was made, you can apologise for the inconvenience the patient has endured. If a different employee made an error, a staff member could apologise on behalf of the practice. Don’t try to pass the blame to others, like the lab or the manufacturer.
Service recovery is a vital part of building a successful practice. It is important to work with your staff to ensure that the response is perfect. A patient who has a concern thoroughly addressed often becomes a loyal patient and an advocate for your practice because they know if they do experience a problem your practice will do their utmost to solve it.
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO is President of Gailmard Consulting, a management firm that specialises in helping optometrists increase productivity and profitability. He is in private practice and has published hundreds of articles in professional journals. Dr. Gailmard served on the faculty at Illinois College of Optometry for 20 years and he is a past Benedict Professor of Practice Management at University of Houston College of Optometry.
This article is based on an article he wrote entitled ‘Respond to Patient Complaints with Effective Service Recovery Strategies’.