Master Moves™

Retaining Market Leadership

In the early '90s, an Optometric clinic in Tennessee - the local market leader - was concerned about the imminent arrival of the discount optical chains. They knew their prices would be undercut. They wanted help preserving their customer relationships and increasing their market share, rather than losing to the big guys.

Much to their surprise, I never used the word 'marketing'. Instead I insisted on meeting with the entire staff of the clinic for two days - a request they viewed as impossible, not wanting to interrupt clients coming in, picking up glasses or making appointments, and receiving personal attention. Finally they agreed to temps staffing the front desk and in the event of a client emergency, we would interrupt our meeting.

Though the entire staff was fiercely committed to personal service, it was clear at the outset that everyone doubted that 'lower level' members would be of any significance in the work.

The heart of our inquiry was "What would have you say this is a great clinic, one you would be proud to say you helped build?" Each person was called on to speak and to listen carefully. The conversation did not follow hierarchichal roles as they expected. Within an hour or two, the founder - the Optometrist - and the manager were on equal footing, and all were surprised to hear what some of the most quiet and most junior staff members had to say.

Since that time Neuroscientists have proven that leveling status enables Neuro-plasticity. In fact, this kind of shared inquiry proffers status.

At the end of the day the Clinic had 5 new shared objectives, two of which drove the completion of all 5. The two "drivers" had both been introduced in the first hour by the most junior members of the team. However, by that time, I was the only one who noticed - their distinctions about status and hierarchy had faded.

The new metrics were about the quality of Customer experience. They focused on providing a premium service experience each and every time a customer "touched" the clinic. They identified the points where customers felt most vulnerable, and assessed Clinic processes with a critical eye.

They concluded that each and every one of them had to be "doctors" to achieve the desired quality. The look on the Optometrist's face at that moment will stay with me forever. They further defined that each of them had to be the leader of the clinic in order to meet their new quality standards.

While in this mood, they articulated a new bold tagline for the clinic: a public promise of their stand as a professional organization.

A colleague and I provided coaching for two months to guarantee they they didn't slide back into their old hierarchical habits. The Optometrist and the manager were amazed by the results. They also had the most learning to do to render the new accountability structure sustainable.

While the team was inventing how to fulfill their new standards, we did some outreach. We made new signs showcasing the new tagline, sent mailers articulating their new service commitments, and took full advantage of the clinic's long tenure in the community. We constructed bulletin boards and newsletters about accomplishments of clients and their families. They provided services and products to schoolchildren and seniors who couldn't afford them, many of whom they had known all their lives. By the time the discount chain opened its doors, the Clinic was a force to be reckoned with.

Three months later they had an even bigger challenge. The Optometrist had a stroke and passed away.

Though they were saddened by his death, the Clinic staff were fully prepared for this event. Though patients were bonded to the original doctor, the dozen other "doctors" were highly skilled at patient relationships. They hired and introduced a new Optometrist to the community as though he were a member of the family. Patients supported them with increased loyalty and referrals. The Clinic remained the local market leader for years to come.

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