Customer Service

Lessons learned at the grocery store

What ophthalmic practices can glean from a curbside pickup service.


Recently, I have been taking advantage of a new service at my local grocery store by ordering my food online. I select my groceries through the store’s app and confirm a pickup time. At the specified appointment, I go to the store and a sales associate brings the groceries out to my car. Since the grocery store is five minutes away from my house, I now spend a total of 20 minutes each week for my grocery shopping, which includes the drive to and from the store. For a busy ophthalmic professional like myself, this service has been fantastic.

As I studied this customer service model, I realized we can apply several lessons from my grocery store experience to ophthalmic practices.

Prioritize quality, not quantity.

The process at the grocery store is quick and convenient, and I place tremendous value on this store’s ability to save me time. The employees are also very friendly as they help me load the bags into my car.

In ophthalmic practices, patients also place a high value on their time. While it is tempting to spend extra time talking with our patients, most folks are interested in a personable, competent professional who leads them through their exam in an efficient manner. It is often not the amount of time we spend with our patients but the way we make them feel. It is important to monitor patient wait times and check on the efficiency of the practice’s cash pay services, such as optical, contact lenses, refractive surgery consults, and hearing aids. Patients who pay out-of-pocket want quality and convenience.

Remember the “little” things.

At my last pickup, the sales associate who brought my groceries handed me a cold bottle of water and said, “Here, this water is for you. It is hot today.” Then, she noticed my dogs in the back seat and asked for my permission to give them a treat. Reaching into her pocket, she produced little biscuits and smiled. This exchange took no more than 30 seconds, and the gestures were small; however, its impact on me was significant.

In ophthalmic practices, what types of “little” things can we do for our patients? While many practices offer refreshments in the lobby, you may wish to enhance the patient experience by providing bottled water at the check-in counter. Staff may also carry small offerings in their pockets, such as practice-branded wipes to clean glasses, artificial tear samples, or sugar-free mints to share with patients. Technicians may elect to clean patients’ glasses at the autorefractor. Moreover, if the patient’s glasses are severely scratched or appear in disrepair, the tech can hand a coupon or referral card for the optical, so that the optician can help the patient clean up the glasses or consider replacing the lenses to improve vision.

Ask for feedback.

After I pick up my groceries, the attendant hands me a card with her name on it. She lets me know that the store has a customer service contest with other locations in our area. She states, “If you feel that I gave you five-star service today, would you mind indicating that on our survey?” Because she asks, I always fill out the survey and provide positive feedback for the person who assisted me.

In ophthalmology practices, we often forget to ask our patients to provide us with a good review. Unfortunately, happy patients may not seek to leave a good review, while unhappy patients look to vent online. Practices can help guide patients to leave good reviews by simply asking for positive feedback. For example, when a patient praises the staff or the doctor, practices can provide business cards with instructions on how to leave a positive review. Many patients are willing to provide great feedback — all we must do is ask.

Put it all together.

The grocery store that I frequent has thought about how to make its customers’ lives easier. By offering quality, taking care of the little things, and asking for feedback, this company has successfully turned a mundane event into a positive experience.

Ophthalmic practices can follow the same principles to increase their patients’ satisfaction. OP