“It takes months to find a customer and only seconds to lose one,” says Jay Binkowitz, who led several sessions at Vision Expo West 2017. “Everybody has more choices today for services and products than ever before and it’s only going to continue to expand,” he continues. That’s why he advocates treating every appointment like you’re on a first date. “You need to put your best foot forward every time,” he emphasizes.
Binkowitz likes to walk around the practice and ask patients two questions: 2 questions: ‘Are you happy?’ and ‘Are we talking care of you?’ He walks around his waiting room and asks these. That way, he can identify dissatisfied patients before they leave. When that happens, he says to them ‘Tell me what I can do.’ “We should never be scared of these questions,” Binkowitz notes. “If you are fearful of asking these questions, there is something wrong with your business model.”
Rethink the Patient Hand Off
When it comes time to transfer the patient to the optical, reframe the transition as “hand to” not “hand off,” suggests optician Barry Santini, president of Long Island Opticians in Seaford, New York, and presenter at Vision Expo West 2017. He makes a copy of the patient’s prescription and hands over the original, telling them that ‘everyone should always give you your original prescription.’ You don’t want to “capture” them, he says. You don’t want to hold the prescription hostage. Of course you don’t want them to leave, but giving the prescription to them right away removes any awkwardness if the patient does prefer to go. “If they think you are looking out for your interest more than theirs, it’s a negative,” he notes.
Simplicity In the Optical
The big thing that you want to do in your optical is reduce decision fatigue for patients. Making it easy for patients to find what they like, what they need, and what they want will boost the likelihood of a purchase. The best way to do this was a point of contention among Vision Expo presenters. Some, like Kevin Harrison, optician at Heritage Vision Center, never let patients go to the frame boards alone. Others, like Binkowitz, advocate a more freewheeling approach, giving patients shopping trays and letting them “go wild.”
One thing they can all agree on is the need to carefully manage your frame selection. The average optical stocks several hundred frames, and when faced with a selection like that, decision fatigue can quickly set in. To prevent that, limit your vendors and cull as much as you can to avoid style overlap. “Each frame must stand on its own with its own unique styling,” says Dave Ziegler, OD, another Vision Expo presenter. He also recommends trading in your old pegs (if you still have them) for shelves. “On pegs [patients] zone out because everything looks the same,” he notes. On shelves, you can differentiate by using tasteful props that highlight your selection. Many display companies will replace pegs with shelves pretty easily, he adds.
Today’s shoppers less limited by labels like “men’s” and “women’s.” Where do you put your unisex frames? Harrison asks. “As soon as you put them in a unisex section, no one wants them,” he notes. Instead, he recommends organizing your optical by brand with men’s and ladies together.
Harrison has another unique way of simplifying the frame selection process for patients. He calls it “the NCAA tournament of frames,” and it goes a long way of taking the “madness” out of frame shopping. He has the patient pick no more than 8 frames. Then, he shows them those frames in pairs of two, asking “out of these two, which one is the winner?” He repeats that until there is only one frame left, and he only talks price after the selection is sufficiently narrowed. He likes to say “This was your number one choice; your number two choice would be a great spare pair.”
Beware of Oversimplifying Frame Selection
One important caveat to the K.I.S.S. principle of keeping it simple is that while simplicity is desirable, you can’t let it interfere with your objective. If complexity is necessary or enhances the end result, that’s ok. “We’ve created a sin and the sin is the bundle,” Santini says. Yes, bundles make it easier to get patients into lenses, but in making it easier for the patient, you may have oversimplified and reduced their perception of value, especially compared to cheaper big box stores or online outlets.“Did you ever communicate the services that were bundled into the one price you offered?” he asks. Eyewear is less expensive online because it’s devoid of everything. Patients need to know that, even if it’s more complicated. Extensive training on the features and benefits of lens types and add-ons can mitigate that complexity.
It may sound like the very last thing you should do, but hear us out: go easy on patients who decide to shop elsewhere. If a patient is determined to shop around, or even shop online, the last thing you should do is try to guilt trip them. Santini tells the story of one mother who told him ‘My child wants to learn about budgeting and being responsible with his money, and he wants to buy Warby Parker.’ He told her that her son was doing exactly the right thing. By taking the “long-term field general’s view” he says “we’ll be here when you are ready to buy from us.” Many patients who shop online come back and say “I want to get something better now.”
After the Appointment
Your work isn’t done just because the patient has left your office. Part of the appeal and value of purchasing eyewear from a brick-and-mortar optical is continued care after the sale. Ziegler lays the groundwork for this by sending each patient home with a “personalized eyewear portfolio.” This is a folder with educational material about the patient’s frames, lenses, and/or contact lenses. What’s important, says Ziegler, is that it’s not general, but specifically about the products they purchased.
Following up with each patient who purchases eyewear is a great way to uncover potential problems before they become big problems. Ziegler has staff follow up with the patient within 72 hours. This makes it easy for a patient to bring up issues or questions that they might normally put off. By conducting appropriate, personalized after-care, you’re making it easy for patients to see the value in staying loyal to your practice.
A Word About Warranties
What’s the difference between a warranty and a guarantee? “They’re both nouns and that’s about it,” says Binkowitz. A warranty is from the manufacturer and has nothing to do with your policy for your patients, he explains. He likes an unconditional guarantee for eyewear. It makes the purchasing decision easier, and far fewer patients ever return or exchange eyewear than you would expect. “Forget about the rules and think about human interaction,” he emphasizes.