Editor’s Note: Welcome to “Eye Catching: Let's Chat,” a blog series featuring contributions from members of the ophthalmic community. These blogs are an opportunity for ophthalmic bloggers to engage with readers with about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The series continues with this blog by Donna Suter, president of Suter Consulting Group. The views expressed in these blogs are those of their respective contributors and do not represent the views of Ophthalmology Times or UBM Medica.
By Donna Suter
Have you noticed how populations and lifestyle trends impact your practice?
Sure, baby boomers expect you to “fix it” with a pill, a drop, and maybe a lens that provides clear, 18-year-old vision.
Millennials tend to be impatient with anything and anyone that doesn’t use technology to its fullest.
Generation-Xers are not as loyal as their grandparents and might think that Google knows more than you.
But I’m talking about being the first eye-care professional to recognize how patient needs are changing and be the first to fill those needs. Patients of all ages appreciate that kind of customized service and care. Doing so will lead to a filled appointment book and optical sales for complete eyewear that practically fly out the door.
Here are some strategic topics that could spring-board your practice to the next level.
1. Busy lives. According to the Families and Work Institute‘s 2007 National Study of the Changing Workforce, 55% of employees say they don’t have enough time for themselves; 63% don’t have enough time for their spouses or partners; and 67% don’t have enough time for their children. More and more of today’s working parents hit the gym at 5:30 or 6 a.m. and are kissing their children goodbye at the bus stop well before 8 a.m.
2. Interests and hobbies. Recycling, finding meaning in life, pets fondly called furry babies, and supporting a closely held cause are all might describe your patients’ interests and hobbies.
3. Computer use. While you and your staff may be painfully aware of the impact smartphones have on patient flow and grabbing and keeping the patients’ attention, did you know that the fastest-growing segment of users are individuals over 65? Electronic screens and myopic children are often linked in studies accessed during internet searches read by concerned parents. I recently attended a CE presentation that suggested a rise in nearsightedness from last century’s steady 20% to over 48% of today’s population.
The three concerns listed above could be called cultural trends that have the potential to shape your future. Each represents a potential niche that may lead your practice to a higher degree of profitability because you can solve a problem that the consumer is experiencing.
This can only be done through strategic planning. Strategic questions surrounding these three issues could include the following:
1. How convenient are your clinic hours? Are our office hours and the way you process patients through your clinic respectful of today’s busy consumer? If no, what are you willing to do about it? Ever thought about offering early birds 7 am appointments? Accommodating these patients helps you too by reducing the number of times someone has to cancel because he got tied up during the day. Also, parents might appreciate their children not having to miss school or after-school activities.
2. How are you showing that you listen and care about both the health of the eye and the patient’s ability to see clearly in all life’s challenging situations? What type of lifestyle questions are you techs asking? Does the practice mirror any of your consumers’ interests and hobbies? EXAMPLE: Is there a recycle trashcan in the waiting room or drop area? Do you have a way for your patients to recycle eyewear that shows that out-of-date prescriptions can be re-gifted to those less fortunate? Do technicians understand the link between pet ownership and exacerbated allergies, particularly as it impacts contact lens wearers?
3. Are you a gatekeeper for current information and trends? Do you understand the hard science behind what internet headlines call ‘the hazards of wireless radiation?’ Can your staff elaborate on how light from computer screens impacts vision? What about tear quality?
Once the patient enters the optical, he or she becomes a customer in need of practical advice. The process will go more smoothly if the lifestyle / lens guide and the doctor’s recommendation are given to the optician face-to-face. The prescription should be handed to the patient, as required by law.
Here are a few lens recommendations that meet the lifestyle scenarios described in the first part of this blog.
1. Busy lives. Driving at sunrise: polarized spectacle lenses or lenses with anti-reflective coatings.
2. Interests and hobbies. Emphasize that proper contact lens care regimens and clean spectacle lenses ease vision challenges. Be more than proficient in treating all types of dry, irritated eyes.
3. Computer use. Offering digital lenses or computer glasses is just one solution. Some surgeons are becoming specialists in vision enhancement surgeries and lens implants. Or, perhaps you have staff that could discuss vision therapy or orthokeratology?
Learning how to close an optical sale is an art form that can be learned. Selling multiple pairs regularly requires more than just product knowledge and intuition. It means understanding when to quit explaining and end the optical presentation.
This hesitation about exploring patient needs and recommending different lenses technology is intensified by the rapid change in spectacle lenses options and the practitioner’s need to understand the options before presenting them to a loyal patient base. The key to selling more than one pair of spectacle lenses per patient is not to sell. It is to educate.
The patient knows that they are there to make what is likely to be an expensive purchase. Use technology in the optical to educate the patient.
Lenses first, then frame selection. Make the transition from spectacle lenses functionality to fashion frames with a brief statement. “Mrs. Smith, we’ll be putting your lenses into a frame that does three things. It works with your prescription, it will be comfortable and it will complement your face shape and coloring.”
Because the patient is a wise steward of his or her resources, be prepared for him or her to say, “Can’t I just use my old frame?” The answer? A confident, “May I see your frame? I will evaluate it for use and based on its condition, recommend which pair of your fresh lenses it would be suitable to house. By the way, may I assume that you would like the frame to last for at least twelve months of wear?” After the optician gives his or her opinion, offer to replace green or dirty nose pads as a free service to all clinic patients.
Presenting the fee. Begin the “how much” conversation by reviewing the benefits of each pair of lenses and giving a total fee per pair. Explain what features will be paid by a third party and bundle items together that enhance the end product’s functionality. (EXAMPLES: Do not sell a high index lens without an anti-reflective coating (AR) because an uncoated high index lens might lead to difficulty with night driving as well as eye fatigue due to decreased light transmittance. Minimize complaints about dirty lenses by automatically including the new scratch, dirt and oil resistant enhancements that complement a basic no-glare lens.)
Because financing is a relatively new option, mention it and accepting credit cards right after the fee presentation. Move the consumer back to the excitement of seeing clearly by giving an anticipated delivery date.
As you train your team to present the best to patients, monitor your key metrics before and after implementing changes. Compare usage ratios of high performance products with national averages while keeping an eye, not just on number of sales and gross revenue, but on cost of goods and how much time the optician is spending with a patient in order to close the sale.
There are unlimited sources for improvement ideas: journal articles, specialty coaching and professional events. But the best, most relevant source of improvement ideas will come from your own employees. Think back over the past month, or quarter. Have you encouraged their ideas? The best encouragement is implementation; however, in the average practice, fewer than half of the suggestions made by staff are used. Repeated lukewarm responses by doctors and management kill employee interaction and innovation.
The most important point to keep in mind when developing a multiple-pair strategy is that there must be a constant commitment to communicate with both the patient and employees. Be humble.
Remember that “wins” belong to the team. “Losses” are yours, alone.
Suter is an internationally recognized authority on the unique practice management issues that face dispensing eyecare practitioners.