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In part 1 of this two-part article that appeared in the January/February issue, we talked about exceeding patients’ expectations by developing a warm environment throughout the office and empowering staff to nurture patient relationships. In part 2, I want to focus on how this environment can change the optical experience as we know it.
The handoff from clinician to optical shop is key, not only to improve optical sales, but also to create the patient realization of continuity of care. The value of the handoff is diminished, however, if we merely prescribe the refraction. We certainly would not give a “one-size-fits-all” prescription to a patient; the choice of lenses and lens treatments is no different.
Recommendations for a particular style of lens or type of treatment should be tailored according to the patient’s lifestyle and ocular conditions. At the very least, the clinician should have an optical tracking sheet on which staff members have jotted down lifestyle comments made by the patient throughout the exam, and be ready to pair that with lens technology solutions. In my boutique practice, I have learned that it is significantly more influential when I initiate the conversation myself, in the examination room. The patient history gives us details about his or her vision quality and symptoms, but I always ask what activities the patient encounters during the day. After the refraction, I move the phoropter away and say, “Here’s what we need to do ...,” and then I explain what and why.
The handoff is best done in the exam room, to maintain privacy and to preserve the clinical mindset around lenses—that is, to make the lens choice a clinical one versus a shopping experience. When this is done, the patient gains peace of mind, understanding that the optician is intent on carrying out exactly what the doctor is recommending. It establishes confidence in the optician because the patient sees the trust demonstrated by the doctor and the understanding and expertise demonstrated by the optician. The handoff also relieves him or her from the responsibility of remembering every detail; however, at this point the patient has heard the recommendation twice.
THE OPTICAL SHOP
Because choosing glasses can be time consuming and expensive, the encounters a patient has in the optical shop play an enormous role in his or her overall experience and perception of the office. Therefore, it must be a memorable experience—memorable in a good way, that is.
Sometimes less is more, and simplicity is paramount in the optical shop. A good selection is important, but too many frames can be overwhelming to the patient. It reminds me of the pressure I feel when choosing a paint color from among the millions of shades available. Regardless of the size of your inventory, try to discourage patients from roaming aimlessly around the frame boards. The optician should be the one to carefully select frames that match patients’ styles and complement their facial features. Patients appreciate the expertise and the assistance.
If I do not have another patient waiting (and despite the pile of paperwork on my desk), I walk the patient into the optical myself and help him or her get started with frame selection. Maybe this is a control issue, but nonetheless, I find that patients love it. My process is calculated and purposeful. I walk the entire wall and then choose one frame. I tell the patient not to look in the mirror; I am just trying a couple of styles to see which frame shape works best for his or her face shape. Then I demonstrate in the mirror how tiny variances in the same basic frame shape can affect the overall look of his or her face.
This immediately relaxes patients and removes the pressure on them to find the perfect frame alone. It reminds them that we give attention to such minute details because we really do care about their experience. I also do this so that, if a patient decides to shop elsewhere, he or she will realize, in the first 5 minutes, how different the experience is between offices and quickly return to us. But, to be honest, when we go through this process, patients do not leave! Our conversion rate is more than 90%, multiple-pair sales are well above 80%, choice of antireflective coating is 100%, and we order no CR-39. Most important, it is incredibly fulfilling to be able to deliver this type of experience to the patient.
Although the frame is a fashion choice, the lenses and lens treatments are functional choices, complicated by details not well understood by the patient. To ease this selection process, lens materials and treatments can be grouped together into two or three packages of increasing quality. Also the optician can refer back to the patient’s lifestyle statements or to a symptom/solution guide and use these to link the patient’s symptoms or diagnosis to a lens recommendation.
At first glance, grouping materials and treatments may seem contradictory to the mission of providing tailored care. But making the selection process easier tends to have an extremely positive effect on patients’ overall experience. Of course, there is still the option of selling à la carte when necessary.
When patients return to pick up their glasses, it is essential to reconfirm the value of their purchase. Think back to a time when you purchased a new car. Remember the final conversation, after all the pressure, negotiation, and paperwork were done, when the salesman “delivered” the car to you. He went over every detail and every feature, and he visibly shared in your excitement. You were still nervous about the cost and the weight of the decision, but it felt so good to be reminded of how your life would be made better because of this new car.
Now imagine that model replicated in your optical. Staff members can make presenting a patient’s new glasses just that: a presentation. In our office, we deliver the glasses in a mirrored box or on a black velvet tray, accompanied by high-quality chocolates, a logoed cleaning cloth and glasses bag, an imprinted pen, and a card with instructions on how to care for the glasses.
The presentation should always begin with what is most important to the patient—comfort and vision, not features and technology. Take the opportunity to review every unique and worthwhile detail about the new purchase. Be excited, answer all the patient’s questions, and take your time adjusting the frame for a perfect fit.
As we package all the goodies in an attractive bag with tissue paper, we take the time to sincerely thank each patient for trusting us with his or her eyes. We then welcome him or her to stop by any time for repairs or adjustments at no charge.
At this point, the patient is walked to checkout or to the front door, and a sincere handshake is offered. No matter how many patients are waiting, this is an important step in validating the patient’s choice in eye care and confirming his trust in you and your office. Remember, to get referrals, we have to do more than just satisfy patients. We have to surprise them. Delivering a personal and exceptional experience is all about the power of eye contact, a handshake, and sincere words.
As a final touch, each patient should receive your hand-written thank you card. Include your personal business card and remind the patient that you will be available to him or her whenever needed.
In addition, there is one simple policy guaranteed to improve customer relations at any office: the follow-up call. When you know the details of the visit and make the call from a quiet place, unhurried and uninterrupted, the patient will recognize your sincerity.
But do not be frustrated when patients ask questions. As we know, they often do not think of their questions until after the examination. Being given another opportunity to ask is an unexpected convenience and relief to the patient, one that heightens your face value significantly.
A postencounter survey can also be a great tool. Survey responses can provide enlightenment regarding staff performance and suggestions for how we can improve. The survey also helps to establish in patients the belief that their experience and satisfaction really do matter to us. Many times, the root of customers’ frustration is not from a bad encounter itself but from the perception that their disappointment did not matter.
Frequently remind your staff of the mission of the practice and the type of care you wish your team to deliver. I tell my staff that every single patient should believe we went out of our way just for him or her. Ultimately, it is all about perception. You may indeed go out of your way for every single patient, but if they do not perceive it, you have lost an opportunity to grow loyalty and referrals. n
Crystal M. Brimer, OD, FAAO
• Owner, private practice in Wilmington, North Carolina, with special interests in contact lenses and dry eye management