Article

Customer Service

Lessons from Sheila

Reframe how you perceive patients for better customer service.

About a year ago, a dear co-worker of mine, Sheila Pitts, lost her battle with brain cancer. While working with Sheila, I learned a great deal from her — including many lessons about customer service that I’ll share with you here.

When I inquired about her customer service training, Sheila referred me to a popular business quote she had posted at her workstation: “A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption to our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by allowing us the opportunity to do so.”

During our discussions, Sheila shared why this motto meant so much to her. She understood that serving our patients is a privilege, and she had the opportunity and the responsibility to provide care, comfort, and compassion.

Important visitor

As we think about the many patients who walk through our clinic doors, we sometimes fail to remember that these patients are essential to our business. Instead of groaning or sighing when a new patient enters the office, consider reframing this experience. This new patient is not an inconvenience because she forgot her paperwork at home. Each patient is a very important visitor.

A practice could help the patient feel welcome by acknowledging the patient in a friendly tone. The front desk may say, “Welcome! Thank you so much for choosing our practice for your eye exam. We are glad that you are here.”

Not dependent

On some days, we may feel as though our patients are dependent on us. Patients may be limited to their provider options by insurance panels or geography, but they are not dependent. Patients usually have some options if we leave a wrong impression.

For example, a patient could file a complaint with the insurance company, requesting the opportunity to pick a different ophthalmologist. Patients can also elect to drive to another town or seek another opinion. Patients can simply refuse care, which could be detrimental for those with more advanced ocular diseases. But patients do have a choice. They are not dependent on us.

Not an interruption

Do we treat patients as though they are interrupting us? Do we finish the conversation with our co-workers before we acknowledge them? Do we loudly sigh when we see another person walk into the reception area? Do we get angry if a retina detachment patient makes us late? We must remember that our patients are the purpose of what we do.

Part of our business

During our busy days in the clinic, we may lose sight that patients are a part of our business. We need them to be active participants in their medical decisions, compliance, and ongoing treatment. Nearly every position in our practices has some form of contact with our patients. If one patient did not call to schedule an appointment, our practice would likely be okay. If 500 patients did not call us, we would be hurting financially. Each of those 500 patients is a unique human, needing special care and warm treatment.

The opportunity

Not all professions have the good fortune to help other people. Those of us in eye care can restore sight or help prevent vision loss. Now, most of us are not physicians, but our doctors could not do what they do successfully without having a great team around them (that’s us!). And our organizations would not exist if we did not serve our patients. This life cycle of our offices provides many of us with outstanding careers. It is the patient that we must thank for our opportunity to serve and work in eye care.

I will always be grateful to Sheila. I miss her warmth and smile. I also miss watching her “work her magic” by taking someone who was upset and making them very happy when they left us. She had a gift that she shared with all of us, and she taught me to treat patients and customers as the most important visitors on our premises.

Thank you, Sheila! OP