From time-to-time, patients make the comment: “It seems like your front desk staff is always changing.”
“True!” I reply enthusiastically, “Isn’t that great? That’s because SEVEN (1/4th) of our current staff started at the front desk and have taken on new roles, including three that are now Managers.” Check out our ‘Meet the Team’ page (https://www.helmusoptometry.com/meet-the-team.html) to learn more about Sasha, Veronica, Theresa, Wendy, Nadia, Nancy, and Christopher who have grown with our practice.
Every member of our team must be able to schedule appointments, field patient inquiries, and check patients in and out. While all must pass through the reception gauntlet, whether shadowing or training, not everyone is suited for this role. Staff at the front desk get pulled in numerous directions at once. And eye care is technical.
This position is best for those who are social, aware, detail-oriented and able to multi-task. It’s akin to a hostess at a restaurant with rushes and lulls, although we’re serving medical devices instead of meals. Some get drained while others thrive in this high-energy environment. Not everyone is suited for nor fulfilled by customer service. “Know thyself,” I say.
One of the ways we’ve succeeded in quieting the front desk is by creating a “Call Center” upstairs in our Administrative Wing. Meredith is in charge of answering calls on the first ring. You’ve likely spoken with her at some point in the past 5 years!
Even if you’ve never run a business, you can probably guess what every small-business owner reports as the number one challenge. That’s right, staffing! We have a large roster for a small business: 27 individuals and growing. For one segment of our employee population, specifically current UCD students or recent UCD alum, we are an early rung on their career ladder towards medical research or training. We’ve even hired several patients over the years!
After 36 years in business, we accept that people come and go. At times this is necessary for a harmonious and effective team. Other times, it’s under joyful circumstances: babies (both natural and foster), graduate school, relocating, large inheritances, retirement. Sadly, we’ve also lost staff to illness and family crisis. An employee’s departure is an opportunity for reflection and new beginnings. I take comfort knowing my team now has a solid backbone: we can withstand a trickle of flux because we have enough long-time strong players, plus proven systems.
Best case scenario, we retain, develop and promote our staff. Training and coaching the team is one of my top priorities. We hire for integrity and attitude and teach the rest. To date we’ve sponsored courses in Leadership, Management, Optics, and Billing. Time and again we’ve asked interviewing candidates: why are you seeking a change? Over and over they report their prior office provided no room for growth, and/or they are burned out from short-staffing.
Another patient comment I’ve heard more than once: “you have so many staff!” Again, I respond with an enthusiastic “YES!” I am not interested in running a bare bones operation. I know what it’s like to be chronically short-staffed. We have redundancy and cross-training.
I’ve also learned that what’s good for our employees is good for the practice. That’s why I’ve given presentations on “How to Ask for a Raise” and financial literacy topics such as “Improve your Credit Score” and “Basic Investing.” Several are preparing for first-time home ownership, while others have recently succeeded in buying a home in the area! This brings me great pride.
So where have these many receptionists landed? Well, we didn’t have a Billing Team before Theresa; previously we used an Independent Contractor with less success. Veronica wisely bonded to one of our licensed opticians and quietly took on more and more. She later brought her sister (Nancy) and best friend (Wendy) to the team, both of whom started at the front desk before discovering a passion for billing and contact lenses respectively. Nadia and Sasha both saw an unmet need and created their own roles: Referral Coordinator and Operations Manager. Sasha is a great example: he lasted less than a month at the front before he proclaimed we needed a new phone system and new server environment. He’s since implemented both those changes, along with many more!
Our team is our greatest asset. Thank you for treating these hardworking individuals with kindness and respect.
Dr. Julie Helmus