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An Experienced Optical Employee Bristles at Working Under A New-to-the-Industry Supervisor … How to Handle?

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LINDY HAD BEEN the sole employee of an elderly optometrist for two years; when he retired she applied to the only other practice in her rural Nebraska area: a corporate chain located inside a mall. Eric had joined the company four months before Lindy—he was recruited away from managing a Men’s Warehouse on the opposite side of the mall, and now he was Lindy’s supervisor.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal scenarios are inspired by true stories but are changed to sharpen the dilemmas involved and should not be confused with real people or places. Responses are peer-sourced opinions and are not a substitute for professional legal advice. Please contact your attorney if you have any questions about an employee or customer situation in your own business.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

NATALIE TAYLOR is owner of Artisan Eyewear in Meredith, NH. She offers regional private practice consulting and ABO/COPE approved presentations. Email her at [email protected]

The pair often butted heads, much to Eric’s annoyance. He was making his way through manuals, webinars, modules and off-site training, but Lindy seemed to relish challenging his every move. Today was no different.

Lindy found her supervisor in the lab. “Eric, can I get your help with something?” She gestured towards the sales floor. “Recognize her from last week? You did this order.”

“Oh, yeah,” he said, sucking his teeth. “Took forever for her to pick out a frame.”

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“I’d like to remake these lenses,” Lindy said. “The seg height is too high by 3 millimeters.”

“Impossible. I used the iPad app. Just adjust the nose pads so it sits lower,” instructed Eric.

Lindy pointed at the frame. “If it goes lower the bridge will rest on her nose.”

“Try it. Three millimeters isn’t bad enough to justify a remake.” Eric sensed Lindy would continue challenging him so he grabbed the frame out of her hands. “I’ll show you; it’s good training.”

The pair joined a very annoyed customer, seated at a dispensing desk.

“I’m going to lower this frame a bit and that should fix the problem,” Eric announced brusquely.

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The woman let Eric fiddle with the frame, and when it was back on her face she gyrated her head wildly. “This doesn’t look any different,” she said.

“You’ll need to take a few weeks to adapt but this is going to work great,” he said, shoving his hand in hers in a shake good-bye. Lindy averted her gaze as the woman wandered back into the mall.

“Remakes hurt our stats!” Eric said, for perhaps the hundredth time.

A few hours later Lindy was measuring a patient for progressives when Eric plopped down next to her.

“Here Lindy, I think you were looking for this,” he said, resting the iPad on the desk.

“Thanks Eric, but I’ve got my super-duper marking pen here,” she replied flatly.

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“We want to maintain the same high quality though, and patients love new technology!” he said, smiling at the patient. “This thing really is neat. Here, I’ll do it, can you grab the Blue Light Pen from the lab for me?”

Lindy smiled politely at her patient and gave Eric her seat. As she walked, Eric’s voice carried across the optical sales floor: “We strongly recommend a blue-blocking lens to prevent macular degeneration, which is a permanently blinding disease.”

Lindy’s eyes rolled; she knew blue light was a scare tactic, and when she got back to the desk she’d be sure to give the patient the full story.

The Big Questions

  • If you were this store’s general manager, how would you go about reconciling Eric’s by-the-books approach with Lindy’s experience?
  • The importance of blue blocking lenses is hotly contested. Should office staff be expected to take the position of the company, or is it an individual’s duty to advise patients as she sees fit?
  • How could a corporate supervisor best balance customer service against store statistics?
Tom S.
Holland, MI

Eric is not a kind coworker. Store statistics mean nothing if your patients are not happy. Blue light filters should be a patient-by-patient recommendation and not an assumed choice. You have to get to know your patients and their needs and come to a recommendation.

Chris D.
Lake County, FL

I was at that corporate place and am now in private practice. A third party, competent tenured peer or manager needs to mediate. Acknowledge the strengths both have. Defer optical experience to the optician and the corporate position to the GM. Stress the importance of ethics and proper wording-based research — not marketing. For example, “these lenses may….” or “because blue-light may….” And the optician needs to adapt to some new technologies and embrace changes as well. They should train together. Newbie and experienced both learning at the same time. Utilize both of their talents to tackle a new device so they can see from both perspectives. I have been the one to bridge these two positions.

Stewart G.
San Francisco, CA

To be honest, Lindy needs to look for a new job. Unless she can live with compromising her principles, she’s going to constantly have tensions with her supervisor. Her supervisor is acting like the owner of a commercial franchise I worked for many years ago. He would try to sell a customer (and I use that word purposely) anything, as long as he made more money, and the staff were rewarded for doing likewise. The customer, of course, didn’t know any better. When you sell 1.74 index to a -0.50 prescription, you understand what you are dealing with.

Nancy C.
Cortland, NY

Being in a licensed state, with a degree in ophthalmic dispensing, I see this occurring more and more. I approach with offers of explanation first. When informed my knowledge isn’t needed and stated in front of a patient, I go on break or lunch. Making a point to be very busy with operational maintenance. When the realization of better understanding is needed (it comes), and has been requested, I offer an explanation, again, never changing what was said or offered in the first place. The patients see and understand. Trust me, no job should compromise your professional ethics. Some corporate jobs require the “offer” of products and enhancements as part of your position. Just offer them to the patient, with education on the products, and your job requirement’s fulfilled.

Judy M.
Pittsfield, MA

There should never be a discussion about methods of measurement etc., between employees in front of customers. It makes the customer lose trust in the optical department. The general manager should get involved before the situation becomes out of control. Customers will sense the tension between employees. New technologies do ‘wow’ patients, but where I work we always use two methods of measuring: machine and hand measurements. Once an established patient has measurements that work for them, we may do just one form.

Rick R.
Girard, PA

1. First off, let’s be clear on something. If I were the general manager of this fictional optical (which by the way sounds strangely similar to a chain I once worked for), I would have NEVER hired some half-wit from Men’s Warehouse to be a supervisor. I think we all know how that works out. But if I were in this scenario I would have talked to both of them because a disgruntled customer being subjected to these two would be a formal first step in the counseling process. That behavior was uncalled for by both parties.
2. Again, having worked for this fictional company it is not your decision to make — whether you agree or disagree. But Eric’s over-the-top response about blue light was totally in the wrong.
3. Train your people so you can keep mistakes to a minimum. “Controllable remakes.” Guess how many times I have heard that one?

John L.
Nashville, IN

Typical corporate conundrum: a manager with only four months of experience in the optical business trying to exert his optical knowledge over an associate whose only experience has been as an employee of an elderly optometrist for a period of two years. Meanwhile, the customer is caught in between their differences in “experience.” Unfortunately, this is the future of our business, unless optometrists, opticians and our customers demand that formal training and a proof of competency is required for all opticians. If optometry expects that the full benefit of their Rx will be realized by their patient, qualified opticians are a must.

Cynthia S.
Mequon, WI

I would have a long private conversation with Eric regarding his behavior in front of the customer. I would explain the experience and qualifications I have as an experienced optician. I would let him tell me about the new technology and I would attempt to appease him by trying the iPad technology he is insisting upon, but I would also use my own tried-and-true method of fitting and assisting my customer. If he ever embarrassed me in front of a customer after a private conversation, I would take matters to a higher power. If there was no resolution, I would look for a different job.

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If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. eyecare business serving the public, you’re invited to join the INVISION Brain Squad. By taking one five-minute quiz a month, you can get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting eyecare professionals. Good deal, right? Sign up here.

Natalie Taylor is an experienced optometry practice manager for Advanced Care Vision Network and a consultant with Taylor Vision. Learn more at tayloreye.com.

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