What’s it like to walk through the door of your practice for the first time? Can you even remember? Every business day, someone comes in for the first time ever, and sees your waiting room, optical dispensary, reception counter, and pre-test room for the very first time. Within 10 seconds, that person will form opinions about what kind of practice you run. In well under a minute, they already have an opinion about whether you are trustworthy and reliable, whether you are caring or indifferent, even if you are competent.
Those opinions will inform and affect every aspect of your relationship with that person. If your office has given a poor first impression, you now have an uphill hike in front of you to gain their respect and trust – and you haven’t even said “hello,” yet. Why does this matter? Because this person is – assuming they are a patient and not a vendor – the source of your revenue. Your patients are the lifeblood of your practice, and if they don’t feel good about doing business with you, they will choose not to.
Patient experience has a lot of moving parts; it goes far beyond the level and quality of care you provide. “Experience” encompasses every aspect of the visit, from the 30-minute scheduling delay to the glaring late-afternoon sunlight that floods your waiting area at 4:30pm, and even the questionable smell drifting in from the restaurant next door. In the current business climate, a poor experience can be deadly; never forget that a poor Yelp! review is only a few thumb-swipes away. You could be panned online before you even get the patient in the chair.
First impressions are priceless, and good ones go a long way toward positive reviews, returning patients, and referrals, all things that help you build your business. You need to provide an impression that makes a patient to say “Wow!” when they enter your office.
Understand Your Patients’ Needs
Do you know what your patients need? You and your patients may have different opinions about that. Ultimately, a patient’s needs are the motivators that prompt them to purchase your products or services, but those needs are not just limited to what they want to buy. They also have needs that revolve around experience and customer service. Patients want to feel a particular way in your office. Those “softer” (not related to their vision, exam quality, or product choice) needs are less apparent than just providing proper exams, quality eyewear and good vision options.
Customers identify several less-tangible needs that include empathy and understanding, efficiency, fairness, and overall experience in their list of priorities when choosing who to give their money to. If we’d like them to give their money to us rather than our competitors, then it behooves us to pay attention to those intangibles as well as the physical and service goods we sell.
Retailers have long understood this principle and leverage it to encourage customer loyalty. Patients are now choosing medical or ophthalmic care in much the same way they choose retail brands and products, comparison shopping and checking reviews. Your patient experience and reputation are more critical than ever in terms of attracting and retaining patients. You need that “Wow!” in your practice.
Check Your Patient Environment
People who don’t come into your office every day, as you and your team do, see things that you may not even notice. When we are familiar with our surroundings, we just don’t perceive them clearly; they become part of the background. That’s why it is so important to periodically stop and deliberately look at your office. If you haven’t sat in your own waiting room in a while, it’s time to revisit it. Seriously, step out, sit down in one of the chairs, and “look at stuff.” Are the magazines beat up and out of date? Is your POP attractive and legible from the waiting area? Is your customer seating area clean? Are the ceiling tiles stained? Look in every direction, and examine the entire space closely with a critical eye. Does the décor look tired? Is it dated?
If it’s hard to make these judgments yourself, consider enlisting a friend to come in as a patient, and give you feedback. You can be your own secret shopper, and the insights you gain might help to highlight areas where you can improve. Remember, you’re not just treating patients, you’re forming relationships with people. Put your best foot forward with a clean, attractive, and well-designed space where they feel at ease, and comfortable browsing your products.
Review Your Patient Greetings and Dialogs
We can’t emphasize enough how important it is to create an atmosphere and attitude among your reception area and team that makes patients feel welcome and important. Our recent blog article “Putting the Welcome in the Welcome Center” is a terrific resource and checklist for creating a stellar patient reception experience. If your team isn’t greeting your patients warmly and glad to see them, it’s time to do some footwork – definitely. Even if you think it’s going well, you may want to conduct periodic reviews. Do a little investigative work and find out:
- How long does it take for someone to greet patients as they come in?
- How long do my patients wait for pre-testing?
- Is my team inviting patients to browse frames while they wait?
- Are patient-team interactions welcoming and cheerful?
Patients may choose to overlook some aspects of the environment, but they will rarely, if ever, overlook a perception of rudeness or disinterest on the part of the staff. Patient dialog is incredibly important. Don’t treat it as a throwaway item, or a last-minute addition to your customer service considerations. It should be handled thoughtfully and proactively.
Honestly, it’s a good thing to review these questions regularly, and maintain an attitude of continuous improvement. That’s a concept that we endorse in every aspect of practice management. Keep making it better. Keep working for the “Wow!” not the “good enough.” You need to be the best you can be.
Your existing patients are great resources for new patients, and anyone who comes into your practice can impact your public perception through social media or online reviews. Every single one of them deserves the best “Wow!” you can provide.