March 30, 2020—Knowing what to do in this unprecedented situation is not something that we as opticians, optometrists, and optical shop owners have been taught. Nor is there a book, blog, or business plan that addresses the quick changes you have likely made, or need to make, in order to ensure the health and safety of your staff and patients is equally weighted to the prosperity and longevity of your business in the future.
Here, Sheena Taff, EB contributor and optical manager at Roberts & Brown Opticians in Vancouver, Canada, provides six targeted lists to prepare your business for the future amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Decision Time: To Open or to Close?
Asking yourself the right questions is a great way to weigh the implications of closing your business. These questions should be balanced across all sectors of your business, not simply the fiscal bottom line.
For the most part, the physical doors to optical practices across North America are closed.
For some, that means enforcing a strict limit on the number of people in the practice at the same time. For others, it means letting each patient in after a visual and verbal screening for a scheduled appointment.
Then, there are those of us that have closed our offices to the public altogether.
>> Checklist #1: A Business Decision
When deciding which is the right choice for your business, consider asking yourself the following questions:
- First, what type of services does your office offer?
- Are you an optometry or ophthalmology office that routinely sees emergency patients?
- Are you an optical shop that focuses primarily on the retail sales of eyeglasses?
- How high risk are your patients?
- Do you have a large patient base of seniors?
- Do you have staff that are immunocompromised? Or, do you or they have family at home that is?
Following the recommendations of your community, state, and national health authority, licensing boards, and associations is a great way to stay ahead of the curve.
Closing Your Doors: What Comes Next?
Once you have made your decision, the next phase of work begins. Communication is key, starting with your staff. They are likely worried about the uncertainty of their employment in the days ahead.
It is fair to not have all the answers. None of us truly know how long this will last. But assurances that they will be welcomed back when this has passed is important.
>> Checklist #2: Decisions About Staff
- Review your business insurance to see if you have coverage for employee wages when your practice is closed.
- Check each employee’s available paid sick/vacation leave.
- Look into what type of aid your state is offering in terms of unemployment insurance.
- Determine what type of aid the federal government may now be offering to help cover employee wages.
- Find out what paperwork is required for your staff to apply for benefits.
- Complete the final payroll period.
- Submit the forms promptly to ensure minimal disruption in employee’s pay.
Clearly transmitting information relating to the change in business operations with your patients is equally important.
- Start by creating a statement that notifies your patients and the public about adjustments to your business.
- Review the statement with your staff, so everyone has a consistent message to announce.
- Communicate the statement with all your patients by posting on your website, social media, and the door to your practice.
- Contact patients with scheduled appointments that need to be cancelled.
- Notify patients with pending eyewear jobs to advise of the anticipated delays.
- Call, text, or email patients with completed jobs or contact lens orders. Offer curbside pickup or mail delivery (encouraging them to return for a new eyewear adjustment when operations resume).
>> Checklist #4: Finding Closure
Your practice is likely to reduce or cease operations completely for a period of time. Setting your office to a “sleep” state will ensure that you minimize costs and messes when you return:
- Contact your courier and delivery services to put a hold on deliveries or adjust the delivery address to your home.
- Change your phone message to include your statement and the preferred way to get in touch with someone for inquiries or emergency appointments.
- Take down frames off displays, cleaning and disinfecting them as you go.
- Clean out your staff refrigerator of perishable items and take out all the garbage.
- Turn off all your computers, equipment, and turn off the heat/air conditioning
>> Checklist #5: Keeping in Touch
- Constantly reminding your patients you are still available to them, even while the doors to the practice are closed, will demonstrate your care and commitment to serving them during a time where a face-to-face encounter may not be possible.
- Keep your social media active, but keep it lighthearted and uplifting. Post about healthy living and healthy eyecare tips, digital device eye protection tips, new spring frames styles, and contact lens tips and reminders. You want to be current and conscious, but on brand.
- Consider emailing your patients a newsletter with updates and information.
Use Your Time Wisely; Out of Office Doesn’t Mean a Vacation
Give yourself a minute to breath, as you’ve been through a lot, yet don’t let yourself stand idle, or it will be hard to get moving again. You likely have things on your to-do list that you’ve been skipping over or putting off.
Now is the perfect time to tackle those items.
>> Checklist #6: Be Ready to Reopen
- A top-to-bottom deep clean of the office.
- Shred file boxes of old paperwork.
- Create a patient recall list.
- Fix up the office via minor repairs or renovations. Consider adding a fresh coat of paint.
- Inventory your frames, lenses, and sundries.
- Create a marketing plan for when business resumes, focus on the third and fourth quarters.
- Re-evaluate your sales goals.
- Create a continuing education plan to keep staff learning while they are out of the office.