Doctor Patient Relations

Patient Refunds = Prime Opportunities to Build Patient Loyalty

By Ally Stoeger, OD

Patient complaints offer prime opportunities to showcase your practice’s problem-solving skills, and, through the use of targeted monetary refunds of lenses and frames, a chance to improve the patient experience.

Savvy practice owners know that patients who are unable to get a refund when they feel they should, can damage a practice’s reputation.That’s especially truegiven how easy it is for negative comments toshow up on Facebook, Twitter, blogsand rating sites.Neglect service recovery efforts at your practice’s peril. I recommend first redoing the frames and/or lenses, and then, if that redo fails to make the patient happy, offering a full monetary refund for the products.

Know Your Practice’s Most Challenging Lenses

When your practice receives requests for refunds, there are likely culprits, says Mark Wright, OD, ROB professional editor.

Progressives: The patient doesn’t have the range of vision they expected, maybe losing the distance vision they had with their old lenses.

Astigmats: The lenses don’t provide a uniformly sharp field of vision.

Low-Vision: Patients with conditions such as macular degeneration and cataracts have unrealistic expectations.

Family Feedback: The patient thought the frames were great until he or she got home and were laughed at by family members.

Too Few Refunds, Not Enough Innovation
If your practice is innovative, refunds will be higher. I foundrefunds happenin waves as new products and services are brought into the practice. I consider a patient-centered refund policy a marketing expense, not a product expense.The payoff is patientloyalty and positive word of mouth.In my early years of practice, when myrefund policy was less lenient, I found that when patients had a negative experience with our optical they still came back for eye exams but expressed that they were taking theirglassesprescription elsewhere to be filled. When I rolled out generous refunds, I found thata minority of patients abused the system. Many more asked for arefund once in a while, compensating for the money spent on their refund by spending money on new products I recommended when they came in for their next exam.

New programs or products have a learning curve, and early adaptors sometimes pay the price–or perhaps we should say sometimes refund the price! But if a doctor has a patient friendly refund policy, then both the practice and the patients feel more comfortable trying new, exciting and more profitable technology.

Your Patient Is
10 Percent Right

When Dr. Stoeger researched patient complaints inher practice, she found they were at least 10 percentright–but that in their perception this percentage was substantially higher.

“Because a patient is usually at least partially right,if an office does not refund for complaints, someone in the practice has to become judge and jury to decide whether the patient has enough grounds for a refund, which is uncomfortable for everyone. That judging process can create negativity in the community about your practice.”

Talk About Refund Policy Ahead of Time
What is the best way to present a refund policy to patients? Ahead of time! If your refund policy is generous, it can create a better buying atmosphere for patients; if your refund policy is strict, you will avoid unpleasant scenes at the front desk.What kinds of guidelines do you give them—that they can return a pair of glasses for any reason and automatically get a refund? Yes–within a time limit–generally 30 days (although these days with internet ordering you run the risk of a patient taking home a pair of glasses, getting all the frame info, and ordering on the internet before they return). If they made their purchase 30 to 90days prior, then refund rather than exchange. At my practice, frame/lens warranty for breakage or defects was one to two years.

Train Your Staff on Your Refund Policy
If you don’t train yourstaff properly, they may “judge” the patient and make them feel uncomfortable. Without proper training, they may “roll their eyes” as they give the refund. This would result in the worst of all worlds–a refund paid for by your practiceand a patient who feels they have been insulted. Make sure you and your staff refund with a smile–a staff member who grudgingly gives a refund creates a situation where you both lose money and create a negative patient experience.

Use your service recovery and refund policy as license to give doctors and staff the freedom to recommend advanced patient services and products.Your generosity will differentiate your practice as the one patients go to because they know that your practice offers innovative products, services….and policies. Consider refunds a marketing expense that purchases loyalty.Loyalty is what results in patients spending more timewith your practice.

Talk the Talk

Choose your language carefully when speaking to an angry patient. Dr. Stoeger offers threesample conversations:

Offer a Refund

Patient: “I’m still disappointed with these glasses. I appreciate that you remade them for me. But I still don’t feel like I’m seeing sharply in them.To tell you the truth, at this point I just want my money back.”

Optical Staff: “Mrs. Smith, it has been our pleasure to serve you. Occasionally we recognize that we just can’t work things out to a patient’s complete satisfaction, and in those cases, we are happy to offer a refund. Please see Megan at the front desk, and she will take care of your refund.”

Offer Extra Deciding Time

Patient: “When I tried them on here last week I thought I liked these frames, but when I got home, my wife and daughter thought they didn’t look that good. They told me I had to take them back.”

Optical Staff: “Mr. Smith, sometimes that happens.”

Assuming I think the glasses look good:
“Normally our warranty on frame exchange is 30 days. In your case, I can extend that to 60 days. Sometimes the people who know you best take a while to adjust to seeing you with a new look. The reason you might like to take advantage of that extension is I think they look fantastic on you, and they are much (thinner, lighter, better proportion for your face, etc.) than your old glasses. Would you like to have a chance to give it a little longer? I promise we can makea change next month if you still don’t like them.”

Assuming I don’t think they look or fit great:
“That’s why we offer a 30-day warranty. Let’s take a look at some other frames. We can select a couple of different looks. Maybe even some that are an updated version of the ones you currently wear, and then your wife or daughter can come in before we finalize? I have a feeling they will enjoy taking a look at the options!”

Admit Mistake, Redo

Patient: “These eyeglasses aren’t what I asked for. The frames are larger than I thought they would be, and you said you could thin the lenses so they wouldn’t have that old-fashioned Coke bottle look to them. I feel like I look like a nerd in these—the frames are big and the lenses are much denser than I thought they would be.”

Optical Staff: “Mrs. Smith,I agree with you that the look is not what we are going for.Frames can look very different once prescription, rather than sample, lenses are in them.As I look at them I can see right off the top that there are some suggestions I can make to make them look much better, and we can make these changes while making use of our generous warranty program.I’m going to have oursenior optician/optical technician work with you. I’m so glad you came back. We want you to look fantastic and will do what it takes to get you there.”
To read my blog on the topic of staff-patient interactionregarding refunds, click here.

Ally Stoeger, OD, is president of Consulting With Vision LLC, an optometry practice consulting firm. Her background includes being a founding and managing partner of a multi-doctor practice in Northern Virginia. Dr. Stoeger’s area of special interest is patient decision making and patient loyalty.To contact her:

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