What can you learn from your patients? Let’s set aside the clinical experience for now and focus on business growth. Say your patient installs carpet, or is an entrepreneur who owns a gas station or a landscaping business, or addresses customer problems at a car parts factory—what can you learn from them?

How does the carpet installer represent his company? Does the employee who pumps your gas do anything to make your experience memorable, such as offering to wash your windows? If you are unhappy with how your hedges were trimmed, does the landscaper offer to absorb the cost of the mistake? If the factory ships the wrong auto part, will the customer service rep reship the correct part, overnight and for free?   

I have studied many unrelated business models through the years, and still find it uncanny how all these separate institutions struggle with the same customer service issues. However, each business tends to troubleshoot these issues in a unique way.

Superior Customer Service
In customer service, there are five main topics that every business has to address. Remember, we can learn from any business if we look at the big picture.

1. How do you find great employees who want to deliver top-notch customer service? Once you hire such a staff member, how do you assimilate them into your practice culture and ensure they consistently deliver your core values?   
Most industries put more emphasis on the hiring and training of a prospect than the average practitioner. Personality profiling, orientation and extensive training—not just technical, but cultural immersion—are the hallmarks of great customer service organizations.

For example, a bank teller spends more time with the customer than the president. The teller is literally the face of the bank. Similarly, the staff often spends more time with the patient than the doctor. How do those interactions compare?

2. How can you credibly and affordably market your customer service message to separate yourself from the pack, and thereby gain more referrals and new patients?
Let’s look at how other businesses market themselves. A tutoring center, for example, advertises its convenient hours as much as its ability to produce scholastic achievement. A five-star restaurant is known for its impeccable service and inviting décor, in addition to its menu.

Consider whether your advertising focuses solely on your “menu.” Do you simply deliver the standard line that you accept most insurance plans and fit all types of contact lenses? Instead, build your credibility around superior customer service.

3. How do you make patients focus on the value they receive rather than the absolute price?
While it’s a huge topic in and of itself, keep in mind that “value” is a function of price and quality. And quality should include the patient experience—not just the features and benefits of a particular lens.

4. How do you make patients feel like you have absolutely gone above and beyond?
Once again, let’s look to other businesses. A car dealer, for example, may offer you free oil changes and tire rotations with your new car. When you bring in your car for service, they offer you a free loaner car or give you a ride home. When the car is done, it’s washed and returned to your house. Similarly, consider what you can deliver as your “above and beyond.” Ask your staff for the corollary to the car dealer with regard to you delivering a patients yearly supply of contact lenses. Have some fun and see what you come up with!

5. What systems and procedures do you have in place, ready to be deployed when customer service mistakes happen?
The truth is that every business makes customer service mistakes. It is the way you deal with the issue, and the time frame in which you resolve the problem, that determines whether your customers stay loyal or stay away from your practice.

Imagine that a patient calls your office complaining that she has been waiting six weeks for her contact lenses. Do you already know how you would respond?

The aforementioned scenarios are the reality of practice management. You can learn a lot when you look outside of the optometry field and understand how other businesses run. Start by talking to your patients about their work experience. You just may learn something new.