THE PRACTICE MANAGEMENT CONSULTANT “Outside-the-box” thinking made simple Gary Gerber, O.D.
ptometrists frequently complain about how tough the business of eye and vision care is, often pointing to the complexities of managed care, escalating expenses, competition, hard-to-please patients, a limited talent pool, and constant updates in technology. In fact, optometrists do not face nearly as many day-to-day, businessrelated challenges as those in many other fields. For example, unlike the customers found in many types of businesses,
Try something that does not customarily or historically fit into the optometrist’s business model. It can often pay dividends. And it may not be that hard to do. the patients in an optometric practice are not generally of a mindset to shop around (unless required to do so by their insurance carrier or motivated to do so as the result of a particularly negative experience). Instead, like restaurant patrons, they are highly predisposed to take advantage of the services offered when they enter the place of business. Optometrists can gain a lot of insight into their practices and their patients through “outside-the-box” comparisons with business enterprises beyond the realm of eye and vision care. In many cases, emulating the marketing and management techniques commonly utilized in other fields (e.g., travel, hospitality, and retail) can be beneficial to an optometric practice. For example, pursuing our comparison with the restaurant industry, many practitioners might well conclude that they need to spend less time apologizing for their fees—as restaurateurs certainly do not apologize for their prices—and more time finding ways to encourage patient loyalty to the practice and better serving their patients’ desires for good vision through the introduction of new products and services. However, relatively few practitioners appear to be quickly moving beyond the traditional practice model to adopt marketing or management techniques that could be instrumental in attracting new patients,
Gary Gerber, O.D., is the president and founder of The PowerPractice®, a practice management consulting company. He can be reached at [email protected]
or (800) 867-9303. Opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the American Optometric Association.
ensuring patient satisfaction, increasing gross revenues, and securing adequate net income in an optometric practice. The process need not be difficult. Consider the following simple hints for appropriately adapting the marketing and management methodologies of the nation’s most competitive industries to an optometric practice. ● Maximizing use of the Web. Airlines and travel companies save money and provide customer convenience by allowing customers to find information easily and conveniently on their Web sites (e.g., routes, cost of flights, arrival/departure times). In the same manner, an optometric practice can include on its Web site (or send via e-mail) registration forms for patients. Similarly, practices can provide contact lens ordering and appointment scheduling online. This not only frees staff to spend time on other tasks, it offers a convenience to patients who then do not have to call the office or fill out forms when they come in for their appointments. It also positions the practice as up-todate and business savvy. Make note: in the not-toodistant future, many patients may have the opportunity to verify their own insurance claims online. Patients are going to be getting more and more Web savvy. ● Hiring and training staff. Many businesses make it a point to hire talented people from outside their industry. Rather than restrict their search for individuals with experience in eye care practices, optometrists should consider those with strong customer service and “people facing” backgrounds. These individuals usually come in knowing how to interact with patients, plus they lack the “baggage” that can come from working in other practices. As a result, they come with skills that will immediately benefit the practice and can be more easily trained to the optometrist’s own specifications. ● Conducting more creative (and cost-effective) marketing campaigns. Many optometrists opt for the “tried and true,” choosing to follow traditional routes in marketing services and products rather than thinking creatively. The former often involves spending heavily on such vehicles as Yellow Pages advertising, coupons, and newspaper advertising. Instead, they might consider following more creative routes that can offer greater cost effectiveness while setting the practice apart from the competition. For example, optometrists may wish to consider developing comarketing ven-
1529-1839/07/$ -see front matter © 2007 American Optometric Association. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.optm.2006.12.005
tures with area physicians or businesses (e.g., hair stylists to market frames or colored contact lenses) or fostering relationships with school nurses or human resource directors at local corporations. Designing the office décor. The setup of the office should reflect whatever business model the practice hopes to emulate. For example, a practice that caters to the sale of frames and sunglasses might have a retail lean to it. Meanwhile, a service-focused practice might have the look and feel of a professional office. Similarly, marketing should mirror the type of practice, with the advertising focused on the range of available products and/or competitive prices for a “retail-type” practice and the look and feel should be more conducive to a hospital ad for those practices emphasizing high-end technology or professional expertise. Enhancing customer service. Nothing shows this more than a recent experience I had at a premium hotel chain. When I first stayed at the chain’s hotel in Atlanta, the concierge asked me for my choice in newspapers, which he typed into the chain’s central customer database. When I stayed months later at the chain’s hotel in California, my choice of newspapers awaited me. In the same manner, an optometric practice can provide this kind of customized service by including in its software program the patient’s preferred type of music or reading material. If I was impressed by this kind of service at a national hotel chain, think how eye care patients would feel about it. Beyond simply providing the best in clinical care, practices should, as a rule, do whatever they can to
customize the patient experience. After all, a patient cannot embrace an eye examination, and there is nothing very exciting about having a refraction done. ● Follow the adage that “there are no dumb ideas.” Encourage input from as many parties as possible. Optometrists should ask staff to think about how department stores, hotels, or travel and leisure companies conduct business and how those business practices can be adapted to the optometric office. Patients working in various industries should be asked for their feedback on how the practice can be marketed more effectively or can provide more efficient service. By thinking creatively and looking outside the box, practitioners can improve virtually every aspect of their practices. Adopting the management and marketing techniques commonly utilized in the nation’s most competitive industries could very easily make a major difference in the much more low-key world of an optometric practice. Practitioners who are searching for opportunities to generate new revenue, improve profits, or simply ensure an overall, more economically viable practice should take time to consider some of the marketing and management methodologies from other industries that can be adapted easily to optometric practice. Clearly, they must look beyond the traditional. Operating the practice in a certain manner because “this is the way it has always been done” no longer works. Perhaps the best reason to look for new ways to enhance practice management and patient service is the knowledge that with the quality of service improving in businesses of all types, patients will also expect an enhanced level of service in their eye and vision care practice.