Far more sustainable than discounting, personalised attention and tailored customer service is a cornerstone of any business and a core part of any successful practice.
As a registered medical professional and third generation optometrist, the rampant commercialisation of our fine profession troubles me.
I always had, in the back of my mind what my dear, late mother used to tell me… ‘Do unto others as you would be done by’
Patients have become customers. Practices have become stores. People no longer prescribe visual aids but sell specs and contacts. Discounts and upselling are part of the model. Practitioners, dare I say humanautorefractors, are in some cases pressured and incentivised to increase ‘conversion rates’ to issue more prescriptions, in order to sell more glasses, while reducing chair time. In my view, this is unethical. I wonder why the powers that be never question, investigate or outlaw such behaviour?
SERVICE WITH A SMILE?
Although I dislike use of the C-word (and the D-word) in practice, in the context of this article, let’s talk about the value of Customer Service – as opposed to calling it patient service.
I recently endured six-weeks of the most gruelling, frustrating and worst customer service I’ve ever experienced. In this case it was with a telco…
It began with me contacting the call centre. COVID-induced work-from-home arrangements have obviously challenged systems, but with eighteen months under the belt, shouldn’t systems have been refined to cope? Contact with a chat bot was even more frustrating: If this is what artificial intelligence is all about, I fear for the world and humanity.
I spent countless hours on the phone and with online bots and people. I was told my problem could only be resolved in store and they booked an appointment in a store I told them was closed due to lockdown. After a long drive I found it was, indeed, closed! Eventually, they partly resolved my problem by phone, but created others in the process. I tried to contact their ‘Head of Customer Service’ multiple times, through various channels, but I’m thinking this ‘person’ is just another virtual bot.
A huge disconnect for a leading communications company.
I eventually got to the CEO, via LinkedIn, who responded on Labour day. His executive team was on the line the next day. They promised to improve their systems and client safety.
This experience made me think about how wonderful, in comparison, our personal customer service is and can be.
It starts with our first contact, be it by phone, text, email or a walk-in. Our staff are the directors of first impressions. As such, they need to be well prepared to offer best practice service. I recommend taking time out of your consulting room to listen to what’s being said and identify any issues. A mystery shopper is another way to benchmark service. Regular staff training sessions, role playing, and professional trainers are a worthwhile investment.
As practitioners, our chairside manner is also critical in delivering excellence in customer service. We need to communicate clearly, listen well, and show empathy and understanding.
When I was practising, I gave every patient my business card, with my contact number and personal email. This was hugely successful and created amazing loyalty and great relationships.
Occasionally, someone would complain. Sometimes with good reason, and other times, simply because they were being a ‘Bunnings Karen’. In my practice, if a patient ever complained about paying $30 for a retinal photo, I had my staff interrupt me. I’d come out and reverse the billing. Typically, they’d respond with, “No let me pay, I feel bad now”, to which I would respond that I’d rather they were happy and it wasn’t worth hassling about. They’d return many times, over many years, and I’d make back the thirty dollars, with interest. Better than losing thousands in future sales by arguing in front of a full waiting room. It only ever happened a few times.
I pride myself on how I dealt with patients.
I always had, in the back of my mind, what my dear, late mother used to tell me as I grew up, and I share these powerful words, ‘Do unto others as you would be done by’.
If every human had these nine simple words in the back of their mind, the world would be an infinitely better place. RIP Mum.