WE asked our readers to tell us their biggest gripes—and they did so in spades. So, we turned to two of our contributing eyecare professionals for their takes on dealing with common optical retail issues.
Eric White, O.D., of Complete Family Vision Care Optometry in San Diego and Bridgitte Shen Lee, O.D., of Vision Optique in Houston have a combined 55 years of experience in owning a practice—and have learned to successfully navigate optical’s challenges. Read on for their sage advice to your biggest gripes.
READER GRIPE: How do we keep up with the intense workload?
SAGE ADVICE: Our practice is 1,800 square feet with two exam lanes and two doctors seeing patients 4.5 days a week.
We “divide and conquer” among our team. One member is in charge of the insurance submissions and accounts receivable reconciliation, and one member orders all the frames/lenses online, checks incoming jobs, and handles in-house edging.
Multiple members handle frame styling and dispensing with patients, while other team members take care of preliminary work and contact lens orders. Every full-time staff member is cross-trained with both primary and secondary responsibilities. —Bridgitte Shen Lee, O.D.
READER GRIPE: Our patients leaving for the chains.
SAGE ADVICE: To be able to compete with the chains you need to think like the chains. We have a value frame-and-lens package priced to compete with what the chains are offering.
In our office, this includes frame and poly lenses with AR and Transitions, if prescribed. It helps patients make a purchase decision while they are in our office, instead of leaving to “think about it.” We tell patients this is a way we can offer them an equal price comparison with the chain, but maintain quality eyewear. —Eric White, O.D.
READER GRIPE: How do we deal with difficult patients + customers?
SAGE ADVICE: The optical is a retail business. In today’s increasingly competitive environment, the biggest opportunity is your practice’s ability to consistently deliver an exceptional customer experience.
To do that, our team members are empowered to hold every patient’s happiness in their hands. We try our best to not allow a potential issue to escalate. If it does, we listen, acknowledge patient frustration, apologize sincerely, ask what solutions they want, and try to meet that request.
In the rare cases of abusive patients, we always support our team.
—Bridgitte Shen Lee, O.D.
READER GRIPE: Managing inventory mix and sell-through.
SAGE ADVICE: Do you know your frames’ turn rate, which lines yield higher profit, the shipping charges, and the best discounts of each vendor? If you don’t, you need to implement a frame board management system.
We found it helpful to sell only off the board for our ultra-high-end collections, and order what we sell for all other lines. It helps to always have the best-sellers on the board and keep the understock to a minimum. We work with each vendor to solve shipping issues as they arise, so they are not repeated.
Instituting a sales reward program for your opticians can also help with inventory movement, especially if it targets sales of slow-moving frame styles. —Bridgitte Shen Lee, O.D.
READER GRIPE: The lack of customer appreciation for quality products + experienced dispensing opticians, and patients’ concentration on price only.
SAGE ADVICE: Advertising and social media is flooded with cheaper glasses and contact lens alternatives. But people do not know what they don’t know about product quality and the value of an expert optician. Whose job is it to educate patients? Ours.
Educate your patients on the benefits of what you prescribe. For example: “This special anti-fatigue lens prescription with Transition lenses and blue light protection will give your eyes the maximum UV and harmful blue light protection, reduce eye fatigue from your devices, minimize night-driving glare, and help you fall asleep better. This technology is not available online or at big-box retailers.”
—Bridgitte Shen Lee, O.D.
READER GRIPE: Patients wanting to touch frames, then order online.
SAGE ADVICE: More and more patients are looking to order frames online, but the one thing patients still want to do is feel, touch, and see the frames. We cater to these patients by having multiple styles and multiple frames available for them.
In our practice, we still order frames but charge a postage charge to send them back if the patient decides against purchasing the frames. This situation is evolving and we just need to listen to our patients and provide what they tell us they want. —Eric White, O.D.
READER GRIPE: Sales reps who try to take advantage of you—that drives me crazy.
SAGE ADVICE: When frame reps know that you know your boards and there is clear expectation of what they should do, they tend to follow the set rules. It helps to have a frame board management system in place and to schedule the meetings ahead so you can evaluate what needs to be done. I enjoy shopping for my own optical, but I meet frame reps only on Thursday afternoons. They know to not show up on other clinic days, and they come prepared with sales reports. If they stray from the rules, they aren’t my frame rep anymore.
—Bridgitte Shen Lee, O.D.