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Customer service and optometry: 3 golden rules


A consumer-centric culture with a focus on customer service is becoming increasingly important for brick & mortar businesses. While I do believe most practice owners strive to deliver on great service, it requires a team effort. I often hear owners tell me they want to be known in their community for providing great service, but certain staff members make that difficult. Employee training often focuses on teaching the technical skills of the job, but fails to address the soft skills. Below are a few “golden rules” worth teaching employees.

Seek first to understand, then to be understood

In the words of Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Seek first to understand; then to be understood”. As irrational and difficult as some people may seem, it’s possible that the problem is based on a misunderstanding or miscommunication. The patient may even have a valid complaint. Allow the patient an opportunity to fully explain their version or understanding of a situation before responding. Once people realize you’re trying to help them as opposed to argue or debate them, they tend to soften their confrontational stance. It’s much easier to communicate with an angry patient when their veins are no longer popping out of their neck!

Get comfortable with apologizing!

The words “I’m sorry” are two of the most powerful words in the English language. Business owners (and employees) are often slow to apologize, fearing this will be an admission that the business was in the wrong. The reason apologies are so powerful is not because they establish right vs. wrong, but rather because the words “I’m sorry” communicate empathy.  As in, “I’m sorry you had to wait so long”, “I’m sorry there was a misunderstanding with the bill”, or “I’m sorry we don’t have your contact lenses in stock”. The psychology behind this is simple, when consumers feel they have been “pained” or inconvenienced by a business, they want the business to share some of the pain. An apology communicates that you feel bad about their predicament, regardless of whose fault it is. Negative online reviews often result from situations where the business failed to empathize with the customer, leading the customer to cause pain to the business through negative public comments.

Just fix it!

I realize there are times you have to take a stand against unreasonable or cantankerous patients, but in my experience if you or your employees immediately take action to fix a problem vs. trying to enforce rigid policies or complicate what should be an easy solution, you’ll have a much better outcome. Recently I was at a restaurant and our appetizer showed up after the main dish – and cold! When the bill came we asked that it be removed from the bill and the waitress said she had to talk with her manager. So we waited, the whole time thinking, can’t this employee “just fix it?” From a customer service standpoint, “taking too long to resolve an issue” is often listed as a top reason for customer dissatisfaction - even when the issue at hand is ultimately resolved.

Maybe this all seems like common sense to you, but does your staff know this?


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Steve Vargo

Steve Vargo

Steve Vargo, OD, MBA is a 1998 graduate of Illinois College of Optometry. After working in clinical optometric practice for several years, Dr. Vargo pursued his passion for practice management by earning his Masters of Business Administration (MBA) degree from the University of Phoenix in 2008. A published author and speaker with 15 years of clinical experience, he serves as IDOC’s Optometric Practice Management Consultant. Dr. Vargo advises optometric alliance members in all areas of practice management and optometric office operations.