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Think about exceeding – not just meeting – expectations

April 22, 2012

By Gary Gerber, O.D.

Think of the five-star hotel, where guests open the door to their room to find a basket of fresh fruit or recently baked cookies waiting for them. Or the fine women’s boutique, where a helpful concierge warmly greets patrons when they arrive. Or a deluxe automobile dealer, where the customer’s car is not only serviced, but washed.

Customers leave impressed whenever they get more than they bargained for.  When a service provider doesn’t simply meet but exceeds customer expectations, not only do people come back, but they can’t wait to tell others.

At a time when a “C” is viewed as a more-than-passable grade, scoring an “A” is greatly valued and exceedingly rare.

This philosophy of trying to offer more than expected can and should be something all service providers strive for, including optometry practices.

Unfortunately, few practitioners think that way.  Rather, most set the bar far lower, content in making sure patients get to see the doctor before they start complaining, are not misdiagnosed, and leave with glasses or contact lenses that allow them both to see and don’t hurt. 

In normal times, providing an acceptable, dependable service usually works – if for no other reason than it’s as good if not better than what the competition offers. Yet, it doesn’t cut it during difficult economic times. Today, the opportunity to save a few dollars, find a doctor who is closer to home, or the decision to move from practice to practice due to the vagaries of one’s present insurance plan often trumps patient loyalty. 

However, when the experience of visiting an eye care practice is particularly memorable, people will do everything possible to keep from switching. Or, if they do leave, they often return once they realize the quality of service in the practice is not easily duplicated. Not only that, they can’t wait to brag about the service to others.  

It’s that rare time when all other factors – convenience, practicality, economics – take a backseat to the patient’s realization that this experience is special.

What can an eye care practitioner do to create that special feeling?  The first step in exceeding your patients’ expectations begins with knowing their expectations. How do you find out?  You ask them. For example, if patients say they expect their doctor to be someone they can depend on for their vision needs, it may be as simple as routinely calling patients a couple of days after they’ve bought a new pair of contact lenses or eyeglasses to see how they like them, or contacting them after a procedure they had with the ophthalmologist you referred them to, to see how they’re feeling.

If you find young mothers feel stressed about finding babysitters in the middle of the day when they have doctors appointments, a child-friendly waiting room with climbing gear, computers and coloring books, or a special time set aside on certain days in the office for a staff member to watch young children might go a long way to exceeding their expectations. 

So may offering snacks or creating waiting rooms that keep adult patients happily content.  As an example, one optometrist specializing in sports vision training built a putting course to give patients, many of whom are golf aficionados, something better to do than read month-old magazines.  

Generally speaking, patients expect their doctors to stand behind their products.  That’s why they expect that if the new frames they just bought break, they will be fixed without any hassles.  

However, the practice that agrees, with a smile, to fix patients’ frames, regardless of the reason they broke and whenever they were purchased, surpasses expectations. Refund and warranty policies should not be allowed to get in the way.

No one expects any service to be perfect all the time, but those organizations that exceed expectations even manage to leave a positive impression when things go wrong. 

Consider the restaurant that when hearing from the customer that the steak was cooked too well done doesn’t just present the customer with a new steak prepared to specifications, but also makes sure the potatoes and vegetables have been warmed and sends over a free glass of wine. 

That’s how every eye care practice, much less every business, should think – particularly at a time when going the extra distance has never been more important.

(Gary Gerber, O.D., is the president and founder of The Power Practice®, a practice management consulting company. He can be reached at drgerber@powerpractice.com or 800-867-9303 [www.facebook.com/ThePowerPractice and Twitter @PowerYour Dream]).

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