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TODAY’S PRACTICE Marketing Mishaps The Art of Customer Service It begins with “hello” and never really ends. BY SHAREEF MAHDAVI I had not walked 30 feet into the hotel (because it requires a mindset and philosophy foreign to before three different employees greeted most medical service providers). me: the valet, the doorman, and the cus- I had the opportunity to interview Elaine Estacio, the todian. Each person looked up from the training manager for the San Francisco Four Seasons task at hand to say hello and smile. Was it Hotel. What I learned is worth sharing here. because I was wearing a suit? No, it was because the hotel was the Four Seasons. HIRE PER SONALITIE S This greeting had a tremendous impact on my entire Excellent customer service starts with selecting the rightexperience at that hotel. That initial encounter set a people to provide it. Although prior experience is benefi-tone for the rest of my visit that magically rubbed off cial, job-specific skills can be developed over time. Whaton everyone in the business meetings. Similar courtesy the San Francisco Four Seasons Hotel looks for when hiringwas extended by other hotel personnel, almost as if staff is work ethic and attitude. Managers stress the impor-they knew we were coming. Was this experience a mere tance of these attributes and ask key questions during can-coincidence? Hardly. The didate interviews to revealFour Seasons earns its repu- past behaviors that may ortation for excellence in large may not suit the position.part by offering incredible For example, Ms. Estacioservice to every individual doesn’t ask a candidate, “Dowho walks onto its property. you like working with peo- ple?” or “Do you believe inREFR ACTIVE SURGERY: good customer service?” SheTHE FOUR SE A SONS reaches further in her inter-EFFECT views, instead asking, “When In the world of refractive have you provided excellentsurgery, there are many differ- customer service?” and “Canent marketing issues practi- you tell me the last time youtioners need to address. went the extra mile for oneProviding outstanding cus- of your customers?” Con-tomer service is at the top of sider asking these morethe list; it takes priority over revealing questions the nextevery other aspect of your time you interview a candi-marketing program. Cus- date for employment intomer service is both the least your practice.expensive investment for yourpractice (when compared INTENSIVE TR AININGwith external marketing Because it considersefforts such as advertising) itself the “Nordstrom ofand the hardest to cultivate the hospitality industry,” JUNE 2003 I CATARACT & REFRACTIVE SURGERY TODAY I 55
TODAY’S PRACTICE the Four Seasons Hotel looks for employees who are SHAREEF’S SUMMER R EADIN G LIST willing to go “one step further” in providing great cus- tomer service, and then it challenges them to do so. All This summer, Shareef Mahdavi will review books that Four Seasons employees undergo a 90-day training peri- can be helpful to refractive surgery providers. od when they first join the company. They attend mul- tiple classes conducted by a training manager, whose full-time job is to educate all employees, from the The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell entry-level clerk to the general manager. Note that the LASIK providers have long known that word-of-mouth training manager is dedicated solely to this task, where- is the single best form of advertising that can build proce- as, in the typical refractive practice, staff training often dures. However, until now, there has been little explana- becomes another brick in the backpack of an already tion of the science behind word-of-mouth marketing. In overworked key employee. The Tipping Point, journalist Malcolm Gladwell helps readers P H I LO S O P H Y 1 0 1 understand exactly how certain products go from being The mission of the training manager at the Four unknown to achieving mainstream popularity. He is able Seasons is to teach the hotel’s philosophy to people to identify the people who make the phenomenon hap- who represent a range of salary, skills, and experience pen—a rare trio of personalities categorized as connec- levels. This manager must convey the hotel’s culture, its tors, mavens, and salesmen. Gladwell also identifies the attitude, and the company’s history to all the employ- ees. In these training classes, the manager also teaches environmental context needed for a product’s popularity the employees about customers’ expectations and how to reach mammoth proportions. By comparing the to exceed them, as well as what the Four Seasons Hotel spread of a product to an epidemic, he adds an impor- values as an organization. Ms. Estacio summarized her tant perspective that complements the classical approach efforts by saying, “If you’re going to spend so much of to market segmentation that divides consumers into their your life at work, you should enjoy what you do. My timing and tendency to adopt new products and tech- goal is to identify future employees that agree, hire them, and help them cultivate this attitude.” nologies (eg, innovators and early adopters). By drawing from examples as diverse as Paul Revere’s midnight ride, I N S T I L L YO U R OW N P H I LO S O P H Y the children’s television show Blue’s Clues, and the drastic Four Seasons employees learn what it means to take fall of crime in New York City in the 1990s, Gladwell pro- care of their customers, as should your employees. vides compelling insight into social and cultural shifts that What philosophy or practice culture do you want your affect markets. This book is a must-read for both its rele- employees to possess and exude to patients? The next vance to refractive surgery and its powerful application to time one of your employees suggests that you conduct customer service training, will you attend? If not, what understanding the consumer-driven world around us. message will that send to your staff? No matter what July’s Marketing Mishaps column will draw from The other priorities you face in your practice, this is the one Tipping Point. Read this book, and you’ll discover a new that deserves your undivided attention. way of looking at your practice and those consumers Customer service is not an event; it is an attitude. seeking refractive surgery. Remember that the customer is never fooled more than once. When lip service is used in place of customer serv- ice, customers figure it out and often will take their Reading List). Several Cataract & Refractive Surgery business (and future referrals) elsewhere. This is the true Today readers recommended this book to me, and I cost of not concentrating on improving your level of share that recommendation with you. ■ customer service, and it is indeed a steep price to pay. Next month, I’ll follow up with an article that discuss- Each month, industry veteran Shareef Mahdavi looks at es what happens when you provide customer service a different topic relating to the business of refractive sur- the right way, which can cause patients considering gery and explores how mistakes from the past can be used refractive surgery to “tip” in your favor. I’ll draw from by all providers for effective marketing. He provides mar- The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, a fascinating, keting counsel to medical manufacturers and is based in must-read book for understanding the science behind Pleasanton, California. Mr. Mahdavi may be reached at word-of-mouth marketing (see Shareef’s Summer (925) 425-9963; firstname.lastname@example.org I CATARACT & REFRACTIVE SURGERY TODAY I JUNE 2003