Customer Service

Master the four core competencies

Develop customer services skills to improve the patient experience.


As with any technical field, in ophthalmology, our work goals often coincide with our positions in the office — a technician may want to become proficient at refractometry, a surgical counselor may aim to improve the surgical scheduling process, and so on.

Though these types of skills are essential, consider developing a goal related to improving your customer service prowess this year. Although taking care of patients may come naturally to you, everyone can work to strengthen his or her core competencies when it comes to customer service.

Consider few fundamental philosophies when setting your goal:

1. Put patients first.

While concentrating on the patient may seem like an obvious core competency, in a busy office, distractions, such as clinic flow or general office drama, can make it easy to focus more on what is going on around us instead of why we come to work every day — the patient. Failing to center our attention on the people in front of us makes it impossible to truly excel in our roles.

When thinking about the past year, can you say you have been focused on the patient during every encounter? If not, you might make one of your professional goals to provide each patient who crosses your path with your undivided attention.

2. Proactively solve problems.

Providing excellent customer service includes remaining flexible and calm when solving patient issues — skills we practice often when working in an ophthalmology practice. While we may not have control over insurance coverage or practice policies, we do have the power to help our patients solve upsetting challenges.

For example, if a patient needs assistance to receive authorization for her glaucoma medications, instead of viewing this task as a hassle, take pride in helping her to overcome the obstacles. If you’ve been seeing patients’ problems as a nuisance, then you may want to change your perspective and ask yourself how you can make their lives a little easier.

3. Maintain a positive attitude.

The unpleasant truth is that, while most of our patients are often kind and courteous, some can be less than pleasant. When faced with disgruntled patients, the ability to maintain a positive attitude is crucial.

As you think about your customer service encounters, can you say you have been able to remain positive, even in stressful situations? If not, you may consider taking an online class to review techniques that will help you stay unruffled under pressure and to learn not to take such situations personally.

4. Be willing to apologize.

While being in a position where we have to say, “I’m sorry,” is not ideal, these two words can go a long way to remedy a situation. Even if the patient’s complaint is beyond our control, or we are accepting the blame for another person or department, taking responsibility and apologizing can quickly diffuse a tense encounter.

Think about your recent patient interactions — did you ever become defensive and blame someone else? Regardless of whether you were right, in the patient’s eyes, you were simply making excuses. Consider setting a goal to listen to upset patients and apologize without shifting blame. Instead, concentrate on how you can help the patient leave satisfied.

5. Increase your accuracy.

Similar to giving our undivided attention to patients, excellent customer service often comes down to paying close attention to details to make sure we get the data right. Whether measuring an eyeball or entering a 12-digit insurance ID number into the computer, we deal with small amounts of detailed information that contribute to a larger whole. Without accuracy in these tiny details, wrinkles occur, causing issues for our patients and co-workers. Multiple errors — whether in a medical chart or on a patient’s demographic information — create customer service issues down the road that ultimately affect the patient experience.

Reflect on your quality of work over the past year — have you been making mindless errors? If so, consider talking with your supervisor about how you can minimize your mistakes and actively work to get important details right the first time.

Focus on the year ahead

The new year presents the perfect opportunity for you to help your practice achieve its customer service goals by setting some of your own. Focus on what the patient experiences as they go through the practice and make it your priority to improve your customer service core competencies. OP