It’s a no-brainer the receptionist may just be the most important staff member in your office. They control the appointments and they control the collection of money in most practices. When we put it this way, it kind of makes you realize this person controls your destiny, right?
I strongly emphasize paying the front desk an optical-style wage. Crazy, right? We’re used to finding that young person and exploiting them for their labor. That person is the eyes and ears of the practice. Don’t you want someone qualified who can turn all opportunities into sales? The front desk needs the verbiage, digital tools, and efficiency tools to do a great job and making the patient experience “wow” the moment they call for the first time or walk in your door. It’s a big learning curve and it takes a true go-getter.
I’ve seen enough receptionist yapping away on my phone over the years. Sometimes they tell patients “no we close at 5, come get those trials tomorrow,” or “we close at 5, but I’ll stick around 10 minutes for you to pick up those trials.” That patient will forever remember you hung out for a few extra minutes so that person could get trials so they could chill at the pool in contacts instead of glasses.
That’s one quick example of how to exceed patient expectations but let’s jump into 10 things every receptionist must know and do:
- Stand up to greet a patient when they walk in
Anytime in business, you want to be at eye level with your customers. It’s a dominance thing, but also signals I’m here for you and not too lazy to greet you. When that patient checks in at the front desk and you are sitting down, the patient’s eyes are beaming down at you. Trust me, it makes a difference when you stand up. It’s a way of acknowledging the patient they are special and they have arrived.
- When a patient calls to book an appointment, your next question after scheduling the time is to ask “and do you have any other family members you want to book an appointment for today?”
This simple question will increase your schedule majorly. Do you realize the acquisition costs it takes to get a new patient in the door? Internet advertising, social media, vision plans, etc. all add to office expenses. But simply asking a question on the phone costs you nothing!I’ll be honest, I didn’t come up with this idea. When you call Silhouette eyewear to order frames, the last thing they say before saying goodbye is “what else can I order for you today?” The frame order taker on the phone knows they won’t sell everybody an additional color or model, but maybe 1 in 5 will order an additional frame. Instead of frames, the receptionist is booking more appointments. Face it, we forget that our kids or spouses might need appointments. The best part about healthcare is we already have all the data right in front of us. We know if somebody has a family on their account. Ask about them! Don’t be shy. Work to fill up your schedule the organic easy way and not the hard marketing way.
- Pre-appoint next year’s exam
Pre-appointing means scheduling next year’s exam for a patient so they don’t have to worry and remember about booking one. By doing this, you keep your patient compliant to update their Rx yearly and get frequent eye health checks. Yes, you could just send your automated text and email reminders, but why not just lock in the appointment now!?
Some offices don’t like pre-appointing because they feel like these patients don’t show up or forget they even booked them. The good news is, you send reminders and patients can cancel if they want. I would rather have 30% of patients cancel, but know full well my schedule is booked for next year. Here’s the script you can use to book next year’s exam: “Karen, let’s book your yearly eye exam for next year so you don’t forget. I’ll just put it down for this same time next year and if something changes with your schedule just give us a heads up. We’ll send you reminders way ahead of time.” Most patients just say “that’s cool.” It’s really as easy as that. Be confident and book that appointment!
- When a patient calls and asks “how much is an eye exam?” don’t answer the question right away with the price, but rather ask open-ended questions to really figure out why they are calling.
We know private practice optometry will never be as cheap as chains and for a very good reason… we are more advanced and more thorough! When patients call to ask for the price, it’s because they just don’t know what other questions to ask. They don’t know what services we offer that can help them solve their visual dilemmas. After the phone caller asks, I would hit them with something like “well let me just ask a few questions first.” The goal is to get the caller to start talking excessively! Let them tell their story and what they need so you can prove to them you are the place to go! If you have all the answers it will be like bing bing bing winner winner you know how to help them.
Questions you might find helpful to ask:
- Tell me when you last got your eye exam
- Do you wear contacts or glasses?
- What brand of eyeglasses do you have?
- Are your glasses still working well for you?
- Would you like to get in tomorrow, we have openings (temp them with speediness)
- Are your contacts comfortable still?
Once you answer the caller’s questions, you can then say the price of your exam services since now you built value.
- What to do when someone calls your optometry practice asking to see an ophthalmologist
It’s a frequent issue, the patient calls and asks “do you have an ophthalmologist or just an optometrist at your location?” The public does not know the scope of practice of optometry. Many think they just are the refractionist fitting glasses and contact lenses.
The real question this person is trying to ask is do you provide medical optometry? When someone asks this question, they have something specific in mind they want to visit you for. This could be macular degeneration prevention or checking in on their dry eyes. Never answer the question directly. Probe the patient on the phone with more questions to see what their office needs are.
- Know the science and technology behind your medical specialities the office provides.
The front desk gets many random calls and questions; it’s not just people calling to book routine appointments. You’d be surprised, but many patients are familiar with dilation, Optomap, retinal photos, air puff, tonometry, visual field, OCT, etc.
If you have celiacs disease and cannot eat gluten, you likely call a restaurant or check out their online menu to make sure they have food you can eat. The same thing applies to patients coming to eye care clinics. More advanced patients want to know the equipment you have and if all their medical needs can be taken care of in a one-stop-practice. The front desk doesn’t need to know every specific, just the general function of the machine and what data it gives us to help make clinical decisions.
- Be able to take a PD because there will be a time everyone is busy and this can relieve opticians of one more thing
The receptionist role in optometry is pretty much a superhero role. You bounce around everywhere and help your team members with miscellaneous tasks during busy periods during the day.
Many times, opticians get a rush of patients….it’s like every patient calls each other ahead of time and plans to all come in at once. The front desk should know how to take a pupillary distance measurement on any patient when an optician needs backup. It’s just a quick 30-second measurement that can really take a little weight off an optician during the day. It’s not fair for a patient to wait around for 10 minutes so the optician can do it. Make sure to spend an hour training the front desk before you let the front desk loose doing it. Over time, they will become pros (and maybe fall in love with optical).
- Be able to answer the phone call question “how much are your frames?”
All offices hate being price shopped, that’s obvious. When patients call a private practice, it’s also obvious we are not going to be the cheapest. The reason patients may be asking this question is that they simply are not an educated eyeglasses buyer and they need guidance.
I recommend answering this question with a follow-up question like, “well tell me what kind of style you are looking for…something sporty, colorful, or perhaps super lightweight?” There are many similar styling questions you can ask. Or, maybe they are looking for a certain brand. Right away the patient will start talking and begin feeling comfortable that you actually know you frame product knowledge. Make the conversation less about price and more about your comprehensive frame selection and professional opticians that can help select the perfect pair. I typically like to tell a patient “we have everything from $99 to $1000, you pick your price!” They usually get a kick out of that comment and realize the price range is broad, just depends on their budget. Once you get the patient in the door, people start to relax about price and shop emotionally rather than financially.
- Be prepared for a patient to get to the front desk after an exam and say “I wasn’t told about this fee in the back.”
Doctors and staff do their best to review patient fees and copays always. However, things happen, maybe the patient is staring at their cell phone not paying attention, the information is too complex, or we just legitimately drop the ball and forgot to get fee approvals.
The front desk takes a beating sometimes getting yelled at politely or sometimes rudely. Deescalating these situations is a skillset and carefully explaining what the fees are is necessary at this moment. I would recommend apologizing if the patient is a little flustered. Some patients act surprised, but they are not really bothered by the fees because they expect when they go to a doctor they have to pay for things. They just need a quick explanation and they calm down instantly. For a flustered patient, just admit the staff forgot to tell them and explain what the fee is for and why the procedure was done. A reasonable person will pay it as they know mistakes happen. Sometimes the Optomap fee is one that gets forgotten. For the angry folks that just want something for nothing, sometimes it’s just better to write off the expense if it’s less than $50 as to not cause a confrontation in the office. I know it sucks losing this money, but it’s a learning moment to go back to a staff member who forgot and improve from there. Try to be cheerful and smile when going through fees…it’s hard to hate on a bubbly happy person!
- Have a good sense when a patient has a “wow” experience and ask them to write a Google or Yelp review
We all know that online reviews are so important as new patients browse Google for new businesses to visit. We overcomplicate collecting Google and Yelp reviews. Yes, we must send out text messages and emails post-visit trying to nag people to click over and give a 5-star review.
However, it’s much easier to just ask your patient in the office to write one! You know when that patient picks up a pair of glasses and is just smiling! You know when that patient puts on their scleral lenses and can see 20/20 for the first time! You know when somebody gets soft lenses for the first time and is stoked they can wear glasses part-time. Ask your patient face to face, “Hey, would you mind posting a 5-star Google review about your experience here?” All the patients will say yes! Remember though, probably 1 out of 10 will actually do it so keep asking every day.
The behavior of the front desk can severely affect the financial performance of an optometry practice.
The front desk individual(s) doesn’t need to be the crazy bubbly person we imagine, but they should be vocal, organized, and driven to see the office succeed.
We usually see the front desk as the lowest paid, lowest person in the chain of command. Perhaps this position should be paid near the top of the salary? Just a thought.
These are just 10 ways to increase the performance of your office by training and utilizing a highly-skilled front desk member. If you need more ideas, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.eyerockit.com to learn how Perry Brill can teach you more about this topic.