This story was shared with me several years ago and I never forgot about the "VERY EXPENSIVE TOMATOES". Sometimes we need to step back and look at the big picture and not just the day to day numbers. The $15,000 Bucket of Tomatoes

I know what you're thinking. There is no way anyone would pay $15,000 for a bucket of tomatoes, but read on because this is a true story.

There really was such a bucket of tomatoes located at a small fruit and vegetable stand. The story starts 15 years ago when a woman drove by the produce stand. The beautiful display of fruits and vegetables caused her to stop and shop. What caught her eye first was this bucket of red, ripe tomatoes for $2.00. She could not resist, and because they looked so good she also bought additional produce for a total of $20.00, her usual weekly spend on fruits and vegetables.

When the woman got home and began to unpack her tomatoes she found that the bottom layer of tomatoes were rotten. While some would not hesitate to return and complain this woman did what most consumers do. She decided it was not worth the time or effort to return a $2.00 purchase. She also never went back to that produce stand even though she passed it every day.

Years later this woman figured out what that bucket of tomatoes cost, not her, but the owner of the produce stand. She spends $20.00 per week x 15 years = $15,600.00 (and that's without inflation factored in).

How does this affect us?

How much is a patient worth to us? What is their lifetime value? Everything we do should be aimed at maintaining and building the lifetime value of every patient. Most people tell an average of 15 people about a bad experience they have had and that means the $2.00 bucket of tomatoes eventually cost the produce stand owner $234,000.00.

Now let's look at what could have happened. Suppose when this woman had purchased her tomatoes the sales person took the time to learn her name and make a friend. When she discovered the rotten tomatoes she may have been more likely to return and let them know what had happened. They would have been given an opportunity to make amends by replacing the tomatoes and giving her a fruit basket as an apology. True, they would lose the $2.00 from the tomatoes and the extra $15.00 on the fruit basket for a loss of $17.00 that day. Would it be worth it or are they just being taken advantage of?

Remember, people talk! Now the positive story will be spread to 15 people. The new numbers look like this: $20.00 per week x 52 weeks x 15 years = $15,600.00. Multiply that by a potential of 10 new customers for $156,000.00 all for an initial investment of $17.00.

What we can learn

The most loyal customer and the one that will be our most powerful marketing tool is the one that complains to us. If we build a positive relationship with our patients on their initial visit they will be more likely to return to us if they experience a problem. This gives us an opportunity to correct the problem and the patient walks away singing our praises.

Tips for handling complaints

If a patient complains to any team member, that person must take ownership of the complaint and not pass it on.

Team leaders must support team members in the decision making process with the patient. All on the team should be aware what steps can be taken to compensate a patient. Keep in mind the lifetime value of a patient has a much bigger impact on business than a single transaction. Be flexible, each situation will be different and needs to be handled as such. This is what Uptown Eye Care does to make sure a customer comes back if they are dissatisfied: Every customer leaves with a business card from the optician that helped them. The customer receives an online survey about their experience. After 1-2 weeks of dispensing eyewear to the patient the optician that made the sale personally contacts the customer to make sure their eyewear is working well, asks if they have any questions or concerns, reminds the patient about warranty policies, and reminds them that adjustments are always free.