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Remember This Secret When Handling Clients Who Freak Out

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I hate to disappoint my clients when I can’t meet their expectations. How should I handle such cases?

There are three elements at play in every service delivery situation, says Bernadette Jiwa: Expectations, logistics and emotion. In business, we do reasonably well at framing expectations and communicating logistics. Where we fall down is dealing with the third and perhaps most important element: our customer’s emotions. Fear is a powerful thing and no amount of explanation, reason and logic can counteract its effect, which is why we need to train for empathy. This is hard, since the person dealing with the crisis might experience it three times every week. But the customer experiences it only once, and that’s why her reaction and her worldview seem unreasonable. So in any customer service situation, ask yourself these three questions: “How would I be feeling if this were me?” “How would I be reacting right now?” “What would I be saying and doing?” You might find that you’re closer to your customers than you think.

I know Facebook ads don’t cost much, but I’m not showing results even from my limited investment. Any ideas on how I might get a better return?

Daniel Rostenne of EyeCare Pro recently addressed this topic in an email to clients, noting how, in addition to “a call to action/book an appointment button in an apparent attempt to offer some value to rightfully disgruntled business owners,” Facebook is now offering a verification badge. What’s the value? Other online platforms including Google My Business and Yelp were already using verification to help users find authentic accounts. “More importantly, verified pages will also show up higher in Facebook search results and see more exposure on Facebook,” Rostenne says. The option is being rolled out across Facebook and it’s a simple task involving a quick phone call or document upload. Facebook reviews your information against public records and, if your business is for real, you’ll get your verification badge within a few days. “While this new feature alone may not seem very significant in impacting your bottom line, it is another sign that Facebook is making efforts to show that it cares about small businesses and is striving to become a relevant part of their online presence,” Rostenne adds.


An employer has asked me to comment on a former staff member’s performance. He wasn’t great. Should I be honest?

Sadly, this is an area where it’s often best to keep your mouth shut. Unless he signed a release protecting you from legal action, a simple “It’s our policy not to comment” may save you from a lawsuit.


I don’t really get the point of events — they’re expensive to hold and seem goofy. I’m an eyecare professional, not a party organizer. Am I wrong?

Yes. Like it or not, the trend in events reflects two changes in retail that aren’t going to go away. The first has to do with consumers wanting an “experience” over just purchasing a good. That kind of emotional connection can come from a lavish party for luxury consumers or the chance to talk serious high-end frames over a catered dinner. Such events also have the added benefit of generating excellent word-of-mouth marketing. The other factor is an awareness, sharpened by economic woes, that you have to take care of your core customers. Appreciation parties do this nicely. Oh, and let’s not forget one final consideration: Events can make you a lot of money.

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A smaller competitor is slamming us in a new ad campaign. Should we respond?

Never respond to a challenge from a rival who is smaller than you, says marketing consultant Roy H. Williams. “Drawing attention to a smaller competitor makes them larger in the eyes of the public,” he explains. “Conversely, if someone bigger than you is foolish enough to shine their spotlight on you, dance in it.” The one exception to this rule is if the rival is spreading lies about your business. In that case, you need to respond swiftly and set the record straight.


I fell behind on a personal loan and the bank sold it to a finance company that I understand paid 50 cents on the dollar for it. I can now offer immediate repayment — but I want a 25 percent discount. How should I proceed?

Your offer sounds reasonable but be careful about disclosing how much cash you have, because the finance company still has a right to collect the full amount of the loan. And they are experts at squeezing every cent out of a settlement, so don’t expect a friendly “let’s split the difference” discussion.


Is there any point doing performance reviews when it’s very unlikely we will be giving pay raises this year? I don’t particularly like doing them and I imagine the staff will view it as a waste of time.

Ideally, a review should be a discussion about an employee’s performance, not about his compensation. And while you have no carrot to wave, it’s still important to let your staff know how well they are doing at their jobs, what plans you have for their development, what areas they could improve (and if possible, targets for them to shoot for), plus a reminder that the payoff will come when times improve. The review gives your staff a chance to provide feedback to you, too. No matter what, try to take some action based on what is discussed in the review. Otherwise, it really does become a bit of a pointless exercise.

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This article originally appeared in the February 2016 edition of INVISION.

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What the Law Says About Retailers Who Say They’re Selling at ‘Wholesale’ Prices and More Questions for March

Unless it’s true, it might be a criminal offense in your state.

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How can I improve the open rates on my email marketing bulletins?

A few years ago, MailChimp.com did a survey of some 40 million promotional emails and found that those with the highest open rates (from 67 to an amazing 80 percent) were the ones that were — surprise, surprise — the least promotional. Typically, they had subject lines that told the recipient what was inside (they didn’t confuse e-bulletins with promotions or vice versa), they used the company’s name in the subject line, and had straightforward subject lines — they weren’t too “salesy” or pushy (this also helps you avoid spam trigger words). Most email providers will allow you to write subject lines of up to 60 characters but you should try to keep it short and to the point, between 30 and 40 characters and no more than five to eight words.

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Constant Contact, another service provider, recommends you state a clear benefit to opening the email. Email messages that have an “exclusive” offer in the subject line, such as “Private event” or “For select customers only,” can generate an additional 24 percent open rate, according to its studies. Of course, you don’t want to be too dry. Your content should be as friendly as possible. Open with the recipient’s name, use a tone that reflects your personality and end with your signature line. Most important, give them something they want. If they’ve opted in and you are responding to their interests, you too might be able to get super-high open rates.

One of the questions I always get, and hate, is “Do you have to charge sales tax?” How should I answer this?

Here’s a simple way to defuse this sneaky discount ploy. Look at the customer directly, smile, and say, “Actually, I don’t charge sales tax. I collect it.” They’ll get the point. And while everybody wants the best deal possible, they’ll probably trust you more for it. Because if you’d cheat on your taxes, why should a customer or patient trust you to take care of their vision?

My store seems like a reality TV show: unnecessary drama. Addressing it only seems to add fuel to the fire. Is there a way to bring it under control?

You’re not alone. After profitability concerns, this is the No. 1 headache of business owners, says business coach Lauren Owen. Drama and discord create stress and hurt productivity. There is no quick fix but there are a number of things you can do, starting with regular meetings. “Scheduled, well-run meetings are essential to clear communication and team building and addressing potential conflicts,” says Owen, adding that such meetings are conspicuously absent at stores with drama issues.

Other steps include confronting your drama queens, addressing your underperformers (there is often a hidden cost in the resentment they cause), performing a cost-benefit analysis on your high performance/maintenance employees (sometimes they just suck all the energy out of a store), and finally taking a good look at yourself. “Some people actually like drama, despite what they say,” Owen says. “If you were really honest with yourself you might understand that the drama is satisfying some need of yours. Attention? Power? Control? Do you avoid all conflict, even healthy conflict, at all costs?” And are you giving your staff a clear sense of purpose — that eyewear is about something much bigger than business?

My practice has never grown the way I had hoped … or hired for. To keep going, I feel we need to downsize. How can I do it without destroying staff morale?

Layoffs are tough. You can’t have high productivity without good morale, and you can’t have good morale unless people have confidence that the company has a future and that the business is going to treat them fairly if things get worse. Employees need to know that you respect and value their contributions and don’t just view them as a resource.

Sometimes, however, you have no choice but to order layoffs. In that case, remember three rules.

1. Do them all at once. Dragging things out will destroy morale.
2. It’s better to cut too much than to cut too little.
3. Make sure all remaining employees understand that what you’re doing is saving their jobs.

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Finding the Best Tax Professional for You and More Questions for February

Getting a head start on what could be a volatile year, and more advice for February.

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2019 seems like it’s going to be a volatile year. What should we do to get ready?

Eight years of economic growth and cheap credit allowed many business owners to gaze far into the future and craft successful, long-term strategies, but it does seem those times are coming to an end as trade wars, rising interest rates, political turmoil, spooked financial markets and ongoing technological change cast a shadow over what otherwise is still a strong economy. In such a shifting, unstable environment where visibility is low, Donald Sull, a London Business School professor, recommends “active waiting.” Contemplate alternative techniques, explore likely scenarios and focus on general readiness. This is a time of threat but also opportunity. “Keep your vision fuzzy and your priorities clear,” Sull says. “Maintain a war chest and battle-ready troops. Know when to wait — and when to strike. When you grab an opportunity or move to crush a threat, amass all your resources behind the effort.” At the same time, continue making routine operational improvements such as cutting costs, strengthening distribution, and improving products and services. “Though mundane, these initiatives foster efficiency, which can position you to snatch a golden opportunity from rivals’ jaws,” Sull says. It all sounds rather dramatic, but then high drama surely awaits.

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Podcast: More Ways to Motivate Your Own Eyecare Business Team

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The sales experts you quote often recommend role-playing exercises. But my sales staff always slinks away when I suggest them. How can I get them to play along?

That may be because the focus is negative, says sales trainer Dave Richardson. Make the role-playing positive and fun. First, play the role of the salesperson and let your salespeople critique you. Then, when it’s your turn to play the customer, instead of saying, “Here’s what you did wrong,” start off by telling the person what you felt they did well and what you would change if you had the opportunity. Always finish on a positive, encouraging note, Richardson says.

Our marketing team’s images were recently lifted and used by the vendor for their advertising without crediting us. When I contacted them, they said, “We’re sorry; it was the intern’s fault.” How should I handle this?

If it was “the intern’s fault,” who approved the final vendor layouts? But regardless of whose fault it is, you should get some compensation for the use of your images, says business management consultant Kate Peterson. The vendor would have paid for the images had they used any other marketing professional to create them, so they should have no issue with paying your in-house team. “I would suggest that the retailer assign a fair price (what she typically pays her team per image) and send an invoice directly to the head of the company with pics of their ads and an explanation. If applicable, tell them you will apply the amount of the invoice against an outstanding balance,” says Peterson. “The key here is to remain positive and confident, as opposed to challenging. Assume they are expecting to compensate, and communicate in a tone that expresses confidence in their interest in doing the right thing.”

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My business is only four years old and up until now I’ve done my own taxes but now I’d like to find a tax pro. Where do I find a good one?

Online directories such as CPAdirectory.com, Accountant-Finder.com and AccountantsWorld.com are a good place to start. Most will allow you to search by name, location and industry focus. The National Association of Tax Professionals also offers an online database of tax preparers, and the American Institute of CPAs has one for CPA firms. If you do contemplate hiring a tax preparer you found online, request referrals to past clients so you can ask about the quality of the service they received. A possibly better strategy is to ask people in the industry. This is because your ideal target should have some experience doing returns for vision-related businesses as every industry has its own rules and deduction options.

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Personality Clashes and More Questions for This Month

Read the answers to some of your holiday questions.

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Our holiday events are approaching. What are the best finger foods for an in-store event?

Balancing what tastes good — usually greasy or gooey food — with what looks sophisticated and doesn’t leave crumbs around the store or sticky fingerprints over your eyewear or frame boards is a tough balancing act. But store trainer Kate Peterson thinks she’s seen the answer: small, clear plastic drink glasses. “One presentation had a small amount (about three-quarters of an inch) of ranch dressing in the bottom of the cups, along with a variety of veggie sticks (carrots, celery, bell peppers, cucumbers, squash). The glasses were all arranged on a tray, so instead of having to pick up the veggies and scoop dip onto a plate, guests simply picked up an easy-to-handle, pre-made serving, which could then be dropped into a trash bin when they were done. Peterson adds that she saw a similar but more “savory” twist on this treatment with cocktail sauce and jumbo shrimp (tails removed). Don’t want ranch dressing in your store? Try cubed cheese and seedless grapes, which are always a crowd favorite, and easy to prepare.

I need ideas on how to give my optical a quick, cheap facelift before the holiday season starts.

The problem with quick, cheap facelifts is that they look exactly that — quick and cheap. Take a hard look at your store and if you find worn fixtures splash out and get them refinished. Then focus on creating a killer (but easy-on-the-pocket) winter-themed display. Bare branches, lots of white, big candles, spray-on snow… Be bold about moving your merchandise to new locations. Try them in higher or lower positions, with new props or with more space than usual. And if you’ve got a boring wall you just don’t know what to do with, throw up another mirror. People are endlessly fascinated with themselves.

I’m thinking of opening a new retail optical outlet in what’s possibly the most crowded market in the country; there are over three dozen optical retailers here in a college town of 400,000. I feel I know this market but should I look elsewhere?

A crowded marketplace isn’t necessarily a bad sign; conversely, it may be an indicator of the huge demand for a product or service. The secret to business success isn’t finding an empty field, it’s filling a need, and that generally means a niche. Sometimes niches are created because everyone is chasing the big-ticket-buying crowd or the youth market or there are changes in fashion or technology that the existing players may have missed. The real question is whether you can do something better or differently. “Just don’t think you can do it by being the cheapest,” says marketing expert Brad Sugars. “You’re the little guy; you don’t have economies of scale. The big guys can make up in volume what they lack in margin. You can’t.”

I’m a junior member of a front office team of eight. They’re all good people but one of the older girls bugs the hell out of me. It’s purely a personality thing. What do I do?

Focus on the positives. Remind yourself of the contributions she makes. If that’s too hard then at least don’t fall into the trap of recruiting allies to your cause. Sure, it feels good to have someone confirm she’s annoying but it also makes her presence a bigger issue. Try to minimize contact and ask yourself, does she irk everyone or is there something about you that has you grimacing like this?

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