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Donna Suter is president of Suter Consulting Group.
Like polishing glass, there are different ways to make your practice shine
Editor’s Note: Welcome to “Let's Chat,” a blog series featuring contributions from members of the ophthalmic community. These blogs are an opportunity for ophthalmic bloggers to engage with readers with about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The series continues with this blog by Donna A. Suter, president of Suter Consulting Group. The views expressed in these blogs are those of their respective contributors and do not represent the views of Ophthalmology Times or MJH Associates.
Each day we stand in front of the mirror and prepare for life in the public eye. Often, we must consider the mechanics of cleaning up said mirror. Whether you pay a cleaning service or choose DIY, we all have our favorite way of erasing evidence of life and restoring the mirror to its intended function. (Clearly reflecting an image.)
Are you thinking of transforming these 60 words into an analogy for explaining cataracts and post-surgical results? Not me. I am thinking about something else.
Communication is a tricky two-way street shaped by many things. In my first podcast for the Ophthalmology TimesEyePod podcast series, I presented a broad overview of how to brand your practice no matter what stage of ownership.
My cautionary note can be illustrated with five tips on cleaning any bathroom mirror.
1). What gets dried toothpaste off may not polish its surface. Diversify how you allocate each quarter’s marketing budget and target just your ideal patient. Your market can be segmented by age. A good marketing message reflects who you are “IRL.” (If you are a millennial, you don’t need me to define IRL. For all you baby boomers, IRL stands for “in real life.”)
Millennials-Americans born between 1980 and 1994-are the largest generation in the United States, and represent an annual spending of over $200 billion. Don’t be fooled and target all your marketing dollars toward millennials. However, always be mindful that you are building a brand-a reflection of who you are. People 39 and younger self-report being heavily influenced by a brand and price is less of a deciding factor. (If you don’t believe me, spend a Sunday morning in Starbucks and send me flowers as an apology.)
Because aging affects the health of the eye, the age demographic that will most likely spend the largest portion of their income (or managed care dollar) in your practice are baby boomers. Baby boomers are currently between the ages of 75 and 40-you may be a baby boomer or you may have purchased your practice from one.
2). Be intentional. Cleaning a mirror is best not rushed. Be intentional about communicating with mature patients. Just because you prefer to promote with Instagram and Twitter doesn’t mean everyone you wish to reach will see your awesomeness. Reality check: the unhealthier the eye, the more challenging it is to read digital messages on a handheld device.
3). Polish until there are no smudges. Your best advertisement is a very happy patient. It takes effort. I am thrilled when my mirror is “polished to perfection.” I see me and I can become my best. I don’t think about my mirror for a few days and suddenly it isn’t so great. Never take your patients for granted.
The phrase “take for granted” is failing to properly appreciate (someone or something), especially as a result of overfamiliarity. A successful practice requires winning your patients every time they make contact. The older the patient, the more they prefer calling your office and speaking to a human being-not a machine.
A 1951 essay in Time magazine dubbed the people who are now over the age of 75 as the "Silent Generation" because they were more cautious than their parents. The Silent Generation needs your services the most. Win their trust. They have influence. No member of the Silent Generation has served as president. However, their vote has been wooed in every presidential election since FDR.
4). Don’t be blind to the grime that distorts and covers. Mystery shopping your clinic once a year is recommended. The practice may have processes or systems in place that cause patients to feel continually talked over. Haven’t you visited a store or a car dealership where everyone acted like they knew exactly what you were going to say before you said it? Don’t be that provider.
Avoid mindreading. Even if you or the employee assigned to spend your marketing dollar thinks they are good at branding, avoid assuming you know and understand consumer use patterns.
It’s very frustrating when someone else acts like they know what you’re thinking better than you do. Your message is trying to say something about your practice. When the message is put out there without considering differences, the potential patient (target market) might feel disrespected.
A mystery shopper may report the shortcomings in your practice. Most alarming is when the mystery shopper reports something you did not at all expect to initially improve.
Two examples of failure I report when I mystery shop is back and forth communication about health concerns and calls about eyewear pick up.
You have trained employees about these two processes and think all is running smoothly, right?
In truth, your front desk doesn’t get messages from the service until lunch (which could put you over 12 hours behind) and your techs do not return routine calls the day they become aware of them.
Then there is the optical, which must handle all those “Are my glasses ready?” calls. They are busy putting out fires, and often just keep pushing returning calls to the end of a never-ending To Do List.
Who changed the rule? That isn’t the image you want your patients to experience!
My rule is to clean the bathroom mirror before it looks like a mirror in a gas station on a country road leading to nowhere. You ask the glaucoma patient to bring in the drops because you want to confirm he or she is taking it properly.
In practice management, this type of reality check against overstating efforts has to do with the stages of practice maturity.
The forming–storming–norming–performing model of group development was first proposed by Bruce Tuckman in 1965. Tuckman said that these phases are all necessary and inevitable in order for the team to grow, face up to challenges, tackle problems, find solutions, plan work and deliver results.
Just as you build upon Sir Nicholas Harold Lloyd Ridley’s amazing 1949 surgical breakthrough every time you use an IOL, lean heavily on Tuckman and team building truths. The truth is summarized below:
a. A newly formed team needs guidance, lots of training and boundaries.
b. There is a lot of conflict during the storming phase, and without strong leadership turfs develop.
c. The norm becomes what management monitored and offered correction about. Norm is also the level of effort employees figure out will keep them
off your radar. (These are the processes which might now be perceived by your target market as a hot mess.)
d. Performing is as good as it gets. If you don’t like what you have, rebuild the team. (Not the people, how they perform the processes.)
As you and your team take a good hard look at the practice in your mirror, keep cleaning.
5). Everyone who uses the mirror cleans and polishes. Train constructively and listen without being defensive. Practices owned by doctors of all ages have employees. To lead, one must lead without getting defensive. This skill and mastering the art of how to express negative feelings in a constructive manner are challenging.
Just like polishing my mirror, practice makes perfect. Elbow grease must be applied in order for change to occur. For your practice to reflect a polished image of your practice the same focus that you approach a surgical technique pioneered in 1949 might be necessary.
Invest in employee training. This is like the 360-degree look I recommend you give your reflection at the start of your day.
Don’t look for the cheapest training options. There is value at affordable options. Keep training and looking for alternatives that give you the results you want at the price points that fit your budget. (Employees and training should equal about 20% of gross.)
Communication skills change slowly and require lots of coaching. Your reputation is on the line every time the phone rolls to service or a patient is ignored when entering the optical.
You will never regret working on your IRL image. Love your patients and they will promote your practice for free.