I’m not comfortable in first class

April 12, 2013

By Chad Fleming, O.D., AOAExcel Business and Career coach

It’s 4:55 a.m., and I am sitting in the new international terminal at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas getting ready to board a flight to Denver. Flying is a once-a-month event for me, so an airport terminal is not an unfamiliar place. What I find strikingly different about this particular leg of the trip is the seat assignment I have been given. Like many of you, the “luxuries of life” are not that attractive. You drive an older vehicle and have a house that is nice, sufficient but simple. So when I checked in on my phone last night and added my boarding pass to Passbook (very cool app), I was taken aback with my seat assignment. Due to rebooking and canceled flights from a whiteout blizzard in Wichita, I was moved to first class.

Chuckling, I closed the app and prepared to go to bed. It wasn’t until I was sitting in the airport waiting to board that I realized I liked my comfort of boarding and sitting with everyone else. With a first-class ticket, boarding was group 1, and I would be the one sitting at the front whom everyone walks by and thinks, “ooh, they are special, they sit in first class.”

Ironically, I wanted my 28F seat back so I could just blend in.

As small business owners, we must put ourselves in the shoes of a patient and consider the eye exam experience. For patients, an eye exam is more than what happens in the exam room. It is an experience from beginning to end that is greatly impacted by perception. Perceptions become realities, and those realities shape the impressions our patients communicate to their family and friends.

Understanding your patient base is one of the key aspects of practices that thrive in less than “ideal” locations. The mindset of many new graduates is to work in an office that is like the strip view from the Trump Hotel in Las Vegas. The view is spectacular as the hotel sits at the end of the strip perpendicular to the main road that splits the strip. Although the view is grand and the service is exquisite, not all people feel comfortable in that setting. As new graduates, one may see many offices available for sale that do not have the “strip view” and are located in the middle of a large city or small town, USA. These are not practices to overlook. In fact, they just may be the practice you want so you can live your life of luxury. When looking for a practice, here are a couple reasons the “strip view” may not be your best option.

1. Patient comfort — Patients are more comfortable in service establishments that reflect an environment to which they are accustomed. There are few exceptions: cleanliness is never negotiable. Do you have so much technology that your senior patients are intimidated? Is your reception room family-friendly, or is it like going to the boss’ house with your children and telling them in the car “don’t touch anything!”

2. Cost of operations — There are always exceptions, but I bet many of you reading this article have practices netting more than 40 percent but are serving areas most would assume would be low-profit (such areas where the average household income is less than $50,000 or the average price of a house is $80,000). This does not mean you can afford to not keep your office neat and clean. You must replace worn out chairs and paint the walls as needed, but you don’t have to spend high dollar for the most attractive and inviting reception room or dispensary.

3. Perception — Businesses are designed to attract different socioeconomic class types. The perception of a patient’s visit to your office begins with the outside appearance and transitions to interior decorating and design. Not all patients are comfortable with marble floors and high-end appearances. In fact, some patients will avoid businesses that make them feel uncomfortable. Office design and appearance must match the patient base you serve. Many patients are not comfortable with the Trump Hotel as they would rather have a Holiday Inn experience. Patients may have the perception that your high-end appearance and service equals a high-end price for service and products, resulting in them leaving your office for one more comfortable.

As a new graduate looking to join or purchase a practice, finding the right practice may mean looking in areas not attractive to you. There are many great practices that are very successful meeting the patient in their comfort zones. Differentiating yourself from their normal experiences sometimes makes patients feel uncomfortable.

As you look to the future of patient care and owning a practice, consider what makes your patients feel comfortable. And that’s first class!

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