Turning Around the Patient Experience [Tiffany Welch]

When a patient storms into the office and immediately- you know it's going to be a tough appointment, it’s tempting to duck behind the counter and hope another optician takes the patient. However, if you take the time to listen to difficult patients, you can often turn it around to be a positive interaction, and convert a life-long patient. It can be so incredibly rewarding to brighten someone’s day, and in an industry that’s so dedicated to service and patient experience, it’s important to find what works for YOU when faced with a difficult patient. 

Remember that this person is living a life independent of this experience that may have impacted their mood today. In other words, it has nothing to do with YOU. However, the way that you choose to help a patient in this mindset, will decide the tone of the entire visit. Will you be the optician that just puts up with his/her short answers and under-their-breath comments until they leave, or will you be the optician that encourages him/her and brightens their mood, leaving them in a better place than when they walked in?

Be Available

Sometimes difficult patients request extra space when browsing, less conversation or less interaction. That does not mean that your opinions are invalid or that you cannot help them. Stay on the sales floor and clean lenses, straighten or put away stock. It will ensure that the patient knows you are available and where to find you. If you can gain the patient's trust and encourage communication during this phase of the interaction, it will make tailoring eyewear to meet his/her needs that much more successful (and easier for the both of you!).

Read Patient Clues

Both verbal and nonverbal clues can help you determine the best way to approach a difficult patient. If they have previously indicated that they wanted to be left alone, how do you know when to re-approach or check-in? Watch for the patient to start carrying frames around the shop- they are probably carrying around their favorites, and it would be in the patient’s best interests if you offered to get them a tray to carry around the styles they are debating on. You could also offer valuable information about how the frame holds up over time, what it’s made of etc… If another patient uses the tired line of, “just looking,” you could respond with, “no problem, (then insert a fun fact or tip about whatever product they are currently looking at) you know the frame you’re holding was featured on the cover of Vogue magazine.” This is a discreet way to educate a patient about the product while respecting their wishes.

Human Connection 

Attempt to connect with difficult patients on a personal level first. Sometimes complimenting their shoes is a good way to break the frigid air, other times sharing an anecdote is the way to go about it. There’s no exact recipe that will work every time except, to always empathize with your difficult patients. Try to look out from where they are and find common ground. For example, a patient is frustrated because their dog ate their new glasses, which were very expensive. Sharing an anecdote about the time your dog ate your FAVORITE glasses will establish common ground, show that you can empathize with their frustrations, and then once you’re on the same side- you can go forward with the patient to create a better experience.
Studies show that making an emotional connection with a patient plays an important role in decision making. Building an emotional connection with your patients breeds loyalty to your optical shop; The more loyal your patients become, the more you will differentiate yourselves from other optical competition and drive sales.

Listening With Intent to Solve

Though this should already be your biggest tool as an optician, be especially careful to make the difficult patient feel heard. Sometimes nodding along is not enough, and you will need to acknowledge the patient’s reservations or objections. In the case where the patient needs to feel heard it’s a good idea to repeat back to them what you heard them say, then offer a solution to improve the outcome of the experience. For example, if the patient says, “I don’t feel like this rx is correct, the Doctor as in and out too quickly.” You might respond with, “I understand that you feel that the Doctor’s appointment could have been more thorough (RESTATING in your own words that you heard and understood the patient’s frustrations), would you like me to schedule you for another appointment in a longer time slot so that the doctor has extra time to devote to your concerns? (OFFERING a solution that makes the patient feel heard and validated).”

Service Gestures

Sometimes difficult patients just want to feel special. It’s an optician’s job to make them see better, but in order to get there, the difficult patient must first see that you are willing to serve their needs. Here’s a few easy ways to show your in-service mindset:

  • Open the door for someone with a baby carriage
  • Walk a patient into the office/or to their car with an umbrella in the rain
  • Remembering a patient’s name from the last time they were in the office
  • Remembering a fun fact about them from a previous visit (Which can sometimes be jotted down in the notes section of a patient file)

Non-Threatening Phrases

When nothing else seems to make the patient calm down, or open up a useful dialogue to save the interaction, a few simple questions/phrases can be the difference to turn everything around:

  • “I apologize. That must have been very frustrating for you;” (a little humility goes a long way)
  • “I’m sorry we’ve let you down on this issue. I will do everything in my power to get this quickly resolved.”
  • “Have I done something to upset you?”
  • “How can we fix this?/What can I do to make this right?”

Speak softly, in a steady tone, without interrupting the patient. This is so important when dealing with upset patients because you want to ensure that the issue remains the issue, and it doesn’t get magnified by a horrible customer experience because the optician lost their temper too. People may not always remember what you said or did, but how you made them feel. Treat your patients with kindness, empathy and approach any issues with an open mind. Keep your emotions in check, and respond professionally and with empathy.

I believe excellent service is a game-changer, and that even when faced with difficult interactions, it is our duty to ensure the best patient experiences. It starts with product, but it’s the optical staff that bring joy and life to the office one patient at a time.

Please feel free to share any more tips you might have for dealing with difficult patient interactions below!

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