What do you do with patients who contact you via social media or a messaging app seeking medical or other advice?

Refer them to your front desk, explaining that you can’t discuss such matters via this kind of channel. Or ask a member of staff to get in touch with them. It’s probably also generally a good idea not to accept patients’ friend requests. And for those new-generation customers who seem to think using a phone to call is physically painful, suggest they Like your business page and have them contact you via private message (look into how to share a Facebook Messenger code with customers).


An old boss said never ever apologize. Is that still the best policy to adopt when something goes wrong?

Optometric mistakes happen. And the ethical thing to do when they occur is to apologize, explain what went wrong and immediately lay out how you will make good on the error. For much of the last century, however, the fear of huge malpractice suits has stopped most healthcare professionals from doing any of those things. At the advice of their lawyers and insurers, they adopted a “deny and defend” mindset, which only further enraged patients. A string of multi-year studies by groups such as the Veterans Administration Hospital and University of Michigan have shown that a policy of providing a swift and sincere apology will usually result in far fewer and typically smaller lawsuits — it is the “arrogant, uncaring” doctor who is far more likely to be sued than the slightly error-prone but “goodhearted” one. The legal landscape has also shifted in the last decade and 36 states now have “apology laws” that prohibit certain statements of remorse or other evidence related to disclosure from being used to in a lawsuit. Most of these laws keep expressions of empathy and sympathy from being admissible in court, while a few protect admissions of fault. None of the words “I made a mistake. I’m sorry” could be used as evidence in Colorado for example. But the first sentence could land you in trouble in Indiana. It means you still need to take great care in formulating and expressing your apology, know what is permissible in your state and you would be well advised to consult an attorney to formulate the precise wording of any apologies that you may use. If you don’t have an updated policy to handle this issues, now is the time to get it done.


How can I make my practice more word-of-mouth-friendly?

You’re definitely on the right track by focusing on word of mouth to drive traffic. Brand expert and author Martin Lindstrom, who led a $3 million research study into the influence of friends’ recommendations says they are far more likely to be remembered than any other form of advertising. But as you’re no doubt finding, outstanding service aside, encouraging people to recommend your office to friends is not easy. Short-term incentives (essentially bribes such as “10 percent off your next purchase if you refer someone,” rarely do well, because people don’t like to “sell out” their friends). However, giving customers something they can share with their friends and enhance their “social capital” has shown to be effective, especially when you can identify the influencers in your community. In terms of strategy, word of mouth is so fluid it requires constant testing and experimenting: What stories to tell people about your store, what offers, what inside incentives will work? As for that outstanding service? Don’t claim to have it. Most people won’t believe you. And those who do believe you will expect more from your staff than they can possibly deliver. It’s a lose-lose proposition.


I want to introduce an incentive plan for my staff this year. What do you recommend? 

There are so many things to consider — monetary incentives versus spiffs, commission-only versus a mix of base and commission, the percentages to be paid on products with different margins and then your staff such as your support crew who don’t actually make direct sales— that we’re going to skip over the details and go big picture: Whatever you decide, keep these guiding principles in mind:

    • Don’t use incentive pay as a substitute for leadership. Build a team culture around productivity. Communicate your expectations to your team and hold them accountable.
    • Forecast the financial impact of any incentive payouts, and have a fallback plan in case the market changes.
    • Be wary of commission-only. Most of the successful plans we have heard involve a three-part bonus tied to the success of the individual, the team, and the store. Commission-only and even base-plus commission can encourage selfish behavior on the part of sales associates, and in some cases poison the entire atmosphere in the store.

This article originally appeared in the January 2017 edition of INVISION.

 

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