One of the menacing dangers faced by a solo practitioner is to become void of objectivity and over-whelmed by subjectivity, as time marches on. Put simply, the incumbent thinks everything is fine in the practice in terms of mode of practice and appearance, except it’s not in the eyes of the customers. It’s akin to suffering from halitosis when everyone is driven away by it, but the culprit is oblivious.
Subjectivity renders one immune to seeing things the way they really are and invariably creeps in over time. That’s when you walk over the dirty and worn door mat every day entering your practice, yet it doesn’t ring an alarm bell.
So how does one guard against the peril of subjectivity? For a start it needs to be acknowledged that subjectivity can in fact be a harmful “thing”. Moreover, it needs to be acknowledged, that as a general rule, a practice re-vamp should be considered at least every five- years or so. It then follows, that there should be provision in a budget to upgrade the practice in terms of appearance and technology and at some point, possibly in terms of location.
In all probability, the common reason for neglecting to up-grade is the perpetual lack of funds which makes it easier to turn a blind eye. The obvious solution is to be in the good habit of writing up a business plan every year, which must incorporate a budget and recognise the need for future upgrades, which will inevitably require funds at some future date.
Bringing objectivity into the equation is easily achieved by means of an annual, independent practice audit. The audit (see annexure) comprises a detailed check list of every possible element in the practice and should be conducted by an independent person, to ensure objectivity. The process is very simple; it involves a walk-through, observing and asking some questions while ticking the relevant boxes. This will highlight which areas are poor, average or good and red flag the necessity to fix things.
What goes hand-in-hand with the audit, is to ensure that the practice is based on the fundamentals of The Marketing Concept. This Concept is well documented in marketing literature, yet, always at risk of being misinterpreted because of its simplicity. It is vitally important to any business and simply states: Make sure you understand what your customers want and then make it available to them. The danger then arises when the optometrist is product driven instead of being consumer driven, meaning the optometrist imposed her own subjective opinion on what, where, how, when and at what price to deliver product and service to patients.
For example; if you are practicing in a middle-income area, you can’t expect to sell designer brands all day long. If you are located in a rural area, your market will want an on-site lab to provide the service they need. Is your pricing in line with what your market desires? You may have two-hundred kiddies frames on display, but if they are all priced at over R2000, you are missing the plot. Is your frame selection adequate?
If you want to know what your customers want, you must ask them. A decline in turnover would in all likelihood be the consequence of things that went wrong two or more years before. Once this happens, it will be very difficult to fix in the short term. It would therefore be prudent to make a concerted effort to keep a finger on the pulse of your business and get as much feedback as possible from your customers. Once again, this will require funds and is more likely to take place if budgeted for. There are several ways of conducting surveys, but the telephone is direct, versatile and effective. It is important that the caller identifies herself as an independent, conducting the survey on behalf of the optometrist. This will ensure that the truth emerges. The survey must be short and sweet to allow co-operation from customers. For example, one single question can extract good information, such as; “Does this practice provide a value-for-money service?”
Example of a Practice Audit: Rated – good – average – bad
- What date would I attach to the look of my practice?
- Are my services and products competitive in today’s market?
- Do you have a written business plan?
- Send the right message
- Aligned with what is offered inside
- Does it look too expensive or too cheap?
- Selection good
- Clean and attractive
- No empty slots
- Pricing is easy to see
- Help on hand quickly
- No wear and tear
- Not dated
- Is there an ambience?
- Lab Clean
- Chronological system in place
- Professional look – clean lab coats
- Final checking system in place
- Maintenance done
- Correct greeting
- All counters clean
- Patient flow effective
- All information captured properly
- Flowers fresh
- Magazines fresh
- Chairs modern and comfortable
- All staff understand the concept
- Practiced daily
- System in place
- Everybody adheres to system
- Answered immediately
- Messages handled properly
- New staff properly trained
- Re-call system in place
- Re-calls up to date
- SMS system in place
- SMS programme pre-planned
- E mail system in place
- E mail programme pre-planned
- Communicate with market segments in database
- Follow up phone calls to all patients
- Appointment reminders daily
- Meet legal requirements
- All events recorded
- Filing up to date
- Late-job report active
- All fittings done properly
- Patient informed early if problems occur
- After-sales phone calls to all patients – yes/no
Patient satisfaction surveys
- How long was the visit?
- Deliver on time
- Quality of product and service
- Professional look
- Smells good
- No broken equipment
- Phoropter serviced
- Alcohol swaps being used daily
- Hands washed regularly
- Smell good
- Well trained
- Capacity for emotional labour
- No parallax measurements
- Pricing transparent
- Medical aid advice given
- No open shoes
- Uniforms in good shape
- Smell good
- Patient seen on time
- If not – apologies made
- Jobs ready on time
- Job tracking done
- Patient informed of all events
- All cell phones off at work
- Clearly displayed
- Transparent system
- Target market relevant
- Cleaned with alcohol swaps
- Good working order
- Exclude money from the process
- Fix even if patient complete in the wrong
- Do they get thank you letters?