The Importance of a Non-Compete Agreement

You own a small business and employ a handful of people. Should you require a non-compete agreement. The answer is yes, you should. You will be investing resources (time and money) into the training of any employee. You also have a customer base and other potentially key information that may be crucial to your success. The noncompete agreement is a form of protection against losses. Your company does not wish to invest in an employee only to see the employee take the skills acquired, or the company’s customers, to another employer.

Agreement Rules to Follow

  • Not every employee should be required to sign a non-compete, typically that’s reserved for just the professional staff.
  • Do not attempt to make the geographical constraints of the non-compete so large that it won’t stand up to a challenge in court (your employees have rights too).
  • Make sure you provide any potential professional employee with a copy of the non-compete for them to review before they take the job.
  • Make sure signing the non-compete is one of the first things the new hiree does. Nothing looks worse in a court of law than a non-compete that was signed 6 months after the employee was hired.

Enforcing a Non-Compete

Should you attempt to enforce a non-compete? Of course you should that’s why you created one in the first place. A member of your professional staff has given you their two weeks notice. Schedule an exit interview (yes that is something you should be doing anytime any employee leaves). During the course of the interview discuss the terms of the non-compete agreement. If you’ve structured a fair agreement and they were given ample time to review the terms of the agreement prior to agreeing to become your employee there is no reason why you shouldn’t fully expect them to abide by the terms of the agreement.

Is it Time for a Change?

Out with the old in with the new.  Time for a change.  Sounds like a great idea, but is it?

Typically we are loath to change until we’re forced to admit that a change is needed.  Why do we loathe change? There are any number of reasons.

Reasons why we hate change

 

1.  It requires admitting that we might be wrong.

2.  It usually requires extra work, effort and/or time.

3.  It usually requires modification.

4.  There may be costs associated with the changes.

And the number one reason you probably don’t want to initiate a change?

Your staff is going to hate it, complain about it and find every conceivable reason why it won’t work and it is a bad idea that shouldn’t be attempted or frankly even discussed.

If that sounds like your office, then I have your first resolution of the New Year.  Start the New Year on the right foot.  It’s time for your staff to get on board.   You need to make changes.  Change is part of running a business.  Call it an adjustment if that makes everyone feel better, but he sooner they understand that you will make “adjustments” as often as necessary to ensure the success of your practice, the better off you’ll all be.

Make sure they understand they have a choice. There’s no easy way to put it, but either they embrace the changes you will be making or they will need to embrace a career change.

Change is never easy but it’s an inevitable part of success.  Make sure you remove whatever obstacles are in the way of your ability to change, starting today (or at least tomorrow…that’ll give you at least a day to get used to the idea).

Happy New Year!

 

How to Answer the Price Question

You know your practice will get this question at least once a week, if not once a day.  Does your staff know how to answer the question?  Do you know what they’re saying?  One of two things is currently happening.  They are either doing a good job of answering the question or they are doing a less than stellar job of answering the question.

Here are few “scripts” your staff can use to answer the question.

“Thank you for contacting our practice.  To answer your question, there are several things that influence the price of a hearing aid. This tends to be true at our practice and probably most other practices you contact.”

The first thing you need to consider is whether you want to pay a one price for the hearing aid and then pay a fitting fee or do you want the fitting fee to be included in the price.

Secondly, almost every hearing aid will need to be reprogrammed several times as your hearing loss changes. If reprogramming is not part of your original purchase price it can cost several hundred dollars each time you need a change to the programming.

Service can also be included in the price and hearing aids will need periodic maintenance and repairs and these fees can add up as well.

Finally, comprehensive programs that include things like free batteries and are also available.

Because there are so many options I would encourage you to make an appointment to meet with our audiologist/hearing aid dispenser in the office. They can talk about what level of options you would be interested in and can provide you with a realistic price that meets your expectations initially as well as over time.”

The exact wording that your staff will use is not as important as the consistency of the message they convey.  More importantly the potential customer asked a question that they expect to have answered.  Telling them that you don’t provide prices over the phone is not what they expect to hear.

The better prepared your staff is to answer the “price question”, the more likely the customer is to make an appointment.  And after all that is the point of the entire exercise.

 

Does Your Office Staff Know That It’s All About a Sale?

For reasons that appear to rooted in our sub-conscious, the phrase “to sell” evokes a negative emotion.  In an attempt to make it more palatable in our profession we refer to the process as “a consultation”, “an evaluation” or any number of other equally and occasionally interesting terms.

If your objective is charity work, then give hearing aids away for free. However if you aren’t independently wealthy as a hearing healthcare professional you typically have to sell hearing aids to make money.  You can have the best marketing program on the planet, but if 8 out of 10 people who come through your door leave with out buying anything, you won’t be in business very long.

To sell, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, means to persuade another to recognize the worth or desirability of something.   Too often the belief is that the product, whatever the product is and the attributes of the product should be all it takes to buy the product.

Wrong, customers buy with their emotions long before the rational part of their brain kicks in.  While that’s easy to understand when it comes to some products (clothing, cars, weight loss programs and creams that remove wrinkles), it’s true of everything that you buy.

The sales process for any product can be very complicated. Many factors are involved. But more often than not its because everyone from the person who answers the phone to the person who checks you out understands that they are selling the patient.  They are persuading the patient to choose your office for their hearing healthcare needs.

  • Yes it was a great idea to call us.
  • Yes, we’re so happy you came for your appointment today.
  • Yes, we’re on time and happy to see you.
  • We’re sad you’re leaving today but you’ll be back to see us again in a few weeks.

Every so often really listen to and watch how your staff interacts with your patients.  Do they really grasp that the patient is the customer and the customer is the reason they have a job?  Or do they act annoyed because the customer interrupted whatever task they were in the middle of?

It may sound corny, but from a patient’s perspective this is going to go one of two ways.  I’m sold or I walk.  It makes more sense to make sure that every step along the way gives the patient one more reason to say yes instead of one more reason to say no.


Customer Service is Marketing

I’m asked frequently by clients, how they can do a better job of marketing their practice. Word of mouth, whether its spread traditionally or digitally generates business.

Your patients are customers.  Hearing aids are expensive.

Your customers experience should be more like Nordstrom’s and a lot less like Target.  I shop at both, I like Target for the selection.  I like Nordstrom’s for the customer service.  You don’t have selection on your side.  (Providing a patient with a choice between Vendor A, B or C’s hearing aids isn’t really much of a selection.)  So that leaves you with customer service.

I know I harp on this a lot.  I talk to people in your offices, a lot and it isn’t always a wonderful experience.  There is always room for improvement.  And I use the word customer interchangeably with patient for a reason.  If we thought of our clientele more as a customer and less as a patient I think that service would improve.

The entire industry of healthcare has neglected customer service.  We have “waiting rooms.”  What other business admits up front that it won’t serve you in a timely manner?  I suppose we could call airports “delay zones,” but I doubt the airline industry would accept that like we have in healthcare.  People are there for good healthcare advice, right?  No, they are there to be cared for, and a huge part of that care is determined by how they are treated in the office.

Nordstrom’s focus is on the customer experience.  They want people to have a different experience when they come to their store.  The staff is helpful and courteous; they make their store to meet the needs of their customers, not expecting their customers to adapt to their store.  When people leave Nordstrom’s, they feel good about their experience.  They feel like they were the center of attention and got their needs met and in return they are extremely loyal customers.

You want patients to brag about your office and how well they’re treated.  A walk-in time for repairs, repair pick-ups and minor adjustments is a great way to practice good customer service. Not only does it meet patients’ needs, but patients love this. They don’t have to call to make an appointment; they just show up.

It isn’t just about the needs of the patient.  Typically repair times are scheduled for 15-minute appointments. Walk in times are 30 – 60 minute time periods.  You can easily see twice as many patients during the walk-in time as you can during a scheduled appointment.  This frees up valuable time, which can be used to generate revenue.

Patients are more apt to believe that you care about them when you run your business in a way that sends that message.  Statistics don’t lie.

A dissatisfied customer will tell 9-15 people about it. And approximately 13% of your dissatisfied customers will tell more than 20 people about their problem.
Source: the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, Washington, DC.

 

Happy customers who have their problems resolved will tell 4-6 people about their positive experience.
Source: the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, Washington, DC.

A strong focus on quality customer service should eliminate the need to undo the damage of 9 -15 unhappy people and exploit the potential of 4-6 happy people. And that’s one way you can do a better job of marketing your practice.

Time Management, What Does That Mean?

There is no such thing as “Time Management”, you get 24 hours every day, the same as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. We can’t change that. What’s more realistic or appropriate to say is “Task Management”. There’s a big difference between the two and if you view it that way you’ll utilize your day more effectively and efficiently.

Piles of information flow into your office on a daily basis. Clutter creates chaos and chaos drains time, money and energy. When we’re faced with chaos we’re more likely to waste time.  We waste time looking for information that should be at our fingertips, reading a few important e-mails along with a few jokes passed on by friends and colleagues, looking for a phone message that you know you saw on your desk and so on. It is a reality that everyday all of us are guilty of wasting time in some way. Lately, for me, it’s been the distraction of Pinterest!

It’s a reality that all of us could be more organized and more productive. Below are some ideas you can use to create a system for handling everything that crosses everyone’s desk. If necessary allot time each day to sort through information before it overwhelms you and your staff.

Mail Boxes/Letter Trays

Each staff member should have a clearly labeled place where key information can be disseminated.  Messages, information, etc. placed on a chair or desktop can easily be lost or misplaced.

Mail and Faxes

Staff should be trained to sort the incoming mail.  One person should be responsible on a daily basis.  (Cross-train an additional staff member as a back up.)  Accounts receivable information should go directly to the person in charge of receivables.  The same should apply to payables.  Technical data should go to one Audiologist who is responsible for cataloging the data, disbursing the information to others and disposing of dated technical information and software.

Voice Mail/Texts

Message books that allow for duplicate messages should be utilized.  Messages should be placed in the appropriate mailbox.  The ability of staff members to send and receive texts should be kept to a minimum.  It’ll keep the personal texting opportunities to a minimum.

E-Mail

Each employee is responsible for sorting his or her own e-mail.  E-mail should be reviewed daily a set amount of times a day depending on the amount your office receives.  Frequently checking and responding to e-mails, interrupts your ability to complete other, more important tasks. Checking e-mail once an hour for a very busy office (busy, meaning frequent e-mails, not lots of people coming and going.) to every two hours for the average business, down to once a day for a very slow office should be sufficient.  Folders should be established in the computer to sort and store e-mails that need to be saved.  The owner should have access to all employee e-mail and periodically review what their employees are sending and receiving.

Phone Messages

The staff should be trained to prioritize telephone messages by source and content.  There should then be a system in place that allows for the recipient of important messages to be notified.

Reports

Whenever a professional refers a patient; a report should be generated in a timely fashion, preferably within 48 hours.  A simplified “STAT” should be available which can be completed during the patient visit.

Social Media

If you have facebook, twitter, LinkedIn or any other number of social media avenues, do not ignore them.  One person from your office should be responsible for monitoring and responding to these channels once a day (no more).  The lure to “look around” for just a short time has probably become the number one way many people waste time on a daily basis.

Make sure you periodically review a few important areas to make sure nothing is slipping through the cracks.  For example…

  • Are the employees handling the correspondence that your office sends and receives efficiently?
  • Is outgoing correspondence sent out in timely fashion?
  • Does the staff know what correspondence should be considered urgent?
  • Do you periodically review how your office sends and receives information looking for opportunity costs?

Now, what happens to “Task Management” when Murphy’s Law rears its ugly head?  This is when the ability of you and your staff to prioritize and re-prioritize will be critically important.

One reason people fail in at managing their employees is because they’re not able to determine (and relay that information to their staff) what is the most important and what is the least important task.   Adding to the confusion is that the priority of tasks can change at any moment.  It’s imperative that whatever system you use be able to immediately adjust and that the changing information be relayed to your staff.

Develop a “flagging” method, or assign tasks numbers like 1, 2, and 3, or letters like A, B, C, to determine what is a priority and what is not. Train yourself to do the A’s before the B’s and so on.  A better idea is to use a software based system that is networkable.

Available software programs are limitless.  The folks at appstorm compiled a great chart comparing the top ten web based task managers . Personally I use “remember the milk”.  It allows me to keep track of a multitude of personal and professional tasks.  These lists can constantly evolve and be shared amongst staff members so that everyone is on the same page regarding the days “to do” list and the priority of everything on the list.

You would be surprised at the amount of things that can be accomplished in a day when the “to do” list is structured, flexible and corresponds to what actually needs to happen over the course of the day.  If you’re lucky you’ll free up a few minutes so you can join me on Pinterest!