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Best of the Best

Best of the Best: Road Test

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Wilson Eye Center, Valdosta, GA

BEST OF THE BEST: Georgia practice provides super customer service (while smartly branding itself) through its free local contact lens delivery service

Dr. Steven Wilson was running a pretty typical eyecare practice — and that was the problem. By 2009, he felt like his five-optometrist office, which had just doubled its space, was in a marketing rut. The eyePOD proved to be a way to get the Wilson Eye Center name seen all over Valdosta, GA, while keeping patients happy and holding online retailers at bay.

THE IDEA

Wilson and his competitors were running the same types of ads and promotions, a mix of broadcast, print and digital. “Branding” had taken off as a buzzword, and he was looking for a way to stand out.

“We wanted something really simple that was very ‘sticky,’” says Wilson, who started his practice in 1981.

Wilson knew that his practice, with a staff of 35, had plenty to offer with its optical lab, a 4,000-frame dispensary and the newly expanded 12,000-square-foot floor plan.

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But the fact that online eyewear retailers were trying to grab market share, especially in contact lenses, was not lost on him. He figured that same-day service might be a way to differentiate his office. It would prevent patients from having to make return trips for bifocal, toric or other contacts not in stock. For a sense of the logistics, Wilson met with the owner of a local drugstore that did home delivery.

Soon his hopes for a distinctive marketing concept had been realized. Even a few years later, Wilson doesn’t know of another practice doing exactly what his does. “I assume it’s just an extra effort that people don’t want to do,” he says. The service is especially popular among working parents who are short on time.

Best of all, the eyePOD — Personal Optical Delivery — no longer requires much thought to maintain.

“With typical marketing, you have to come up with new ideas over and over, and after a while it’s hard to come up with them,” he says. “This lasts indefinitely.”

THE EXECUTION

With the concept in place, the next order of business was a car. The practice picked up a new Pontiac for $7,500 — 50 percent off the sticker price — as General Motors was retiring the brand. A snazzy wrap, turning the car into a moving advertisement, cost another $2,500.

Of course, the car needed a driver. Hiring a local university student for 25 hours a week proved sufficient. When there are no deliveries the Pontiac is available to run errands.

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Route-planning is tricky business — or at least it used to be, before Google Maps. Now, practice staff members just enter addresses and let the app determine the optimal delivery route.

The patient has to sign for the goods. “We take no money at delivery,” Wilson says. “Everything has to be prepaid.”

THE REWARDS

Wilson Eye Center now makes about 100 deliveries a month, all for free. Those deliveries make up a small portion of total sales, and deliveries don’t seem to be increasing or decreasing. Wilson says the real payoff comes in exposure and branding. The delivery program, he adds, “lets people know that we recognize the value of patient service. This is an extension of the internal operations of our office.”

The eyePOD and digital marketing have allowed the practice to scale back on print advertising. It no longer runs display spots in the Yellow Pages, for example.

The service is also a way to hang onto existing business.

“Patients could ask for a copy of their prescription and order them online,” Wilson says. “Because we provide this service, they continue to purchase from our office.”

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DO IT YOURSELF

Get your “house” in order before hitting the road. “It’s easy enough to implement,” Wilson says, “but if your office is not committed to great patient service internally, you should probably focus on that first.”

Hire the right driver, preferably one with not only a clean driving record, but also customer service experience.

Don’t count on a direct return on investment. “We tried to charge for the delivery service in the beginning, but that didn’t fly,” Wilson says. “After five or seven days, we stopped charging and it took off.”

Know where your customers are so you can define a service area. “Ours is a semi-rural area, and our county is essentially our patient base. In a larger market, that could be harder. If I were in a metro area, I might get a courier service to do basically the same thing.”

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Best of the Best

Sports Vision Training Can Be a Game-Changer for Your Practice

These Ohio vision therapy specialists demonstrate how they help see their athletes succeed and their practice grow.

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Vision Development Team founder
Dr. Alex Andrich

AT THE VISION DEVELOPMENT Team in North Royalton, OH, founder Alex Andrich, OD, and his wife Patti, an occupational therapist and a partner in the practice, offer standout vision therapy, treating kids with learning disabilities, brain injury patients and those with stress-related vision problems, to name just a few. But one aspect of their practice that really sets them apart is their top-flight sports vision training, which has helped Cleveland-area athletes of all ages, from school kids to adult professionals, address vision problems and improve their performance.

THE IDEA

Sports have always been a big part of the Andrichs’ lives; the couple met on Ohio State University’s alpine ski racing team. Alex also has a background in competitive beach volleyball and race-car driving, while Patti trained with the U.S. Olympic gymnastics squad. This competitive exposure allowed them to see how small improvements in skills can translate into big gains in performance. With vision being such a big part of sports, it was a natural fit for the couple to open a practice specializing in vision training.

THE EXECUTION

The practice as it exists today was built on Dr. Andrich’s background in VT. “Sports vision training is vision therapy practiced at the highest level,” he says. He took courses in advanced VT techniques and eventually obtained board certification through the College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD). He also says the education and training offered by organizations working in vision therapy such as the Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Association (NORA) and the Optometric Extension Program Foundation (OEPF) provide excellent models on which to build vision training.

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A typical VT case would be a child with eye-tracking difficulty causing reading problems, but as Andrich explains, “When a successful outcome is achieved the child can read better — but they can also hit a baseball better. Utilizing the latest vision therapy tech has also helped to advance my sports vision practice.”

“We go beyond looking at the eyeball and treat vision as a whole-body sense,” says Andrich. “In baseball it is important to see the ball clearly but the visual system tells the motor system critical information about ‘where’ and ‘when’ so the motor system can respond accurately.”

For the past year, Andrich has served as vision coach for the Cleveland Indians, a role he also performs for the Cleveland Monsters hockey team and the Gladiators, the city’s arena football team. He’s responsible for the refractive and ocular health needs of the athletes, but a big part of what he offers has to do with performance. Depending on the sport, he will test the athletes on up to 20 visual performance skills, then put together a training plan for each athlete. “All athletes require core vision skills like eye tracking and eye teaming, but certain sports like baseball require really fast visual reaction and processing speeds, whereas a hockey player benefits from good central/peripheral vision integration,” he says.

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The practice’s large, high-ceilinged therapy room gives the team room for on-site vision training using sports equipment.

THE REWARDS

Dr. Andrich says the main reward he derives from being a sports vision training practitioner is seeing his athletes succeed. “The best athletes set themselves apart by the amount of work they put into their sport,” he says. “Sports are competitive by nature, so the elite athlete is always looking to improve performance. Improving vision skills gives them a competitive advantage and success on the field.” And off the field, having sports vision as a part of his practice has definitely allowed it to grow, he says.

Do It Yourself: Practice Sports Vision Training

  • NETWORK. Get involved with colleagues who are doing sports vision by joining the International Sports Vision Association (sportsvision.pro).
  • START SCOUTING. Offer vision screenings for local high school and college or university sports teams.
  • BONE UP. Enroll in training that can lead to certification. Outfits that deal with vision therapy, including NORA (noravisionrehab.org) and COVD (covd.org), are ready to help.
  • CHAIR CHAT. The OD should ask each patient that comes through his exam lane about sports participation to start a dialogue.
  • GOT GEAR? Andrich has invested in eye-tracking and performance-testing equipment, including virtual reality.

 

PHOTO GALLERY (3 Images)

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Best of the Best

Spice Up Your Frame Selection with This Strategy That Probably Never Occurred to You

It gives patients a reason to visit based on product assortment rather than discounts.

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PERRY BRILL, GENERAL MANAGER at Brill Eye Center in Mission, KS, was looking for something new to base the practice’s marketing effort on, and knew that having new brands always generates more excitement than just saying you’ve got a refresh. Always one to shy away from typical optical business plans, he hit on a novel concept.

THE IDEA

Tired of brands wanting 30-plus-piece orders, he decided to try bringing in micro-collections of 10-20 pieces every month to create some email and direct-mail hype. He wanted experience with more brands quicker than his usual once-every-six-months, large brand buy. “A retailer should always have a flavor of uniqueness. Restaurants have seasonal menus and opticals should have seasonal eyewear. Give patients a reason to visit based on product assortment rather than discounts,” Brill says.

THE EXECUTION

Perry Brill

To curate a micro-collection of eight to 15 pieces, Brill says, connect with “ma and pa” frame vendors, who he says are just happy to have representation of their eyewear in any city. The easiest way to find these vendors is to go to Vision Expo, find the smaller booths and ask their minimum purchase. “Don’t expect the booths to be fancy!” he says. “Just observe the eyewear for quality and personality before making judgments. Most people will be super transparent and love your idea of creating seasonal collections.”

Brill says a small micro-collection should cost between $500 and $3,000. So far, he’s been impressed with the number of luxury or quasi-luxury brands that let him dabble with smaller orders. Being in the Kansas City area, he says, “It’s pretty easy to have exclusivity, with everyone selling bread and butter.”

The small collections now represent 10 percent of his inventory, which he figures is about right, as he wouldn’t risk going deep into the more obscure pricey stuff anyway. “I’m okay if it doesn’t sell quickly since the investment was slim.”
Micro-collections that have worked well for Brill include:

  • Ethnicity: “Asian and global fitting with acetate built-up pads and special wider temples. Don’t need a ton of frames but enough to tackle difficult-to-fit. Opticians need to up their game with fitting standards. The moment you solve frames on cheek issues — patient for a lifetime.”
  • Lucas De Stael (shown): “Ultra luxury for the high rollers and lover of texture and design. Made of leather, stone or cork. Retails for $1,000-plus.”
  • Sospiri: “Ultra luxury for the fancy woman who wants to shine — literally. Most jeweled frames are tacky; these are classy. $1,000-plus. People that want jewels want it! They will go find it if you don’t have it.”

THE REWARDS

Brill says the main benefit of ordering micro-collections is they give you a reason to engage with patients via social media and email. In such a competitive environment, and having access to great independent collections, it’s fun to test the waters with new product all the time, he says. And from a patient perspective, Brill believes that when they walk into an office they always want to see something new. “Carrying the same branded collections is easy, but having lots of collections gives patients choices and a tour around the world of independent eyewear. My optical is used to rapid change and every optician always wants to show what’s new.”

Do It Yourself: Micro Order Luxury Frames

  • PRIDE OF PLACE. Label an area in your optical with catchy signage that says something like: “New season eyewear, feel invigorated.”
  • DON’T SWEAT THE… “Don’t think too hard,” says Brill. “If the frames are bad sellers, the risk was low and you don’t need to worry about returns.”
  • HAVE FUN. “Go funky, always!” is Brill’s motto. This is your time to try wacky new inventory you would never go 50 frames deep in.
  • TAKE YOUR TIME. The key to selling such frames is sitting the patient down, explaining to them the brand story and frame characteristics.
  • GET THE WORD OUT. Inform your patients you have something cool and new in stock. “Thank goodness for email campaigns,” says Brill.

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Best of the Best

This Office Manager Got Her Staff to ‘Own’ the Patient Experience. Here’s How…

She came up with a nine-step program for employees.

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CINDY BRUNER, PRACTICE manager at Professional Family Eyecare, which has offices in Coldwater, St. Mary’s and Greenville, OH, says new employees will never add to what they already know if you don’t set expectations when they start; otherwise you set them up to fail. As she sees it, it’s her job to help them understand this. “When you have long-term employees it’s easy to become ‘Magoo’ and do and say things without realizing how they’re perceived by customers, and by … teammates.” Managers, in her view, should “help staff understand that as co-workers we are customers to each other, not just the patient.” To accomplish this, she created her own training program for implementation at the practice, “9 Steps to a Phenomenal Patient Experience.”

THE IDEA

A few years ago, Bruner came across a book titled 10 Steps to a Phenomenal Patient Experience: Customer Service Secrets for the Eye Care Team by Sharon Alamalhodaei, COMT. After getting the nod from owners Dr. Jillynn Bruner and Dr. James Dickman, she combined what she learned from this with resources picked up at a Patient’s Voice skills clinic to create a list of steps that fit the culture and patients at Professional Family Eyecare. As a final touch, Bruner incorporated the “Love Dare” concept, borrowed from the marriage counseling book of the same name based on a set of 40 daily principles. “Instead of 40 days,” she says, “I broke the steps down into nine weeks. My owners described their vision of what they want their practice to be known for and with my 25 years of hospital management training I pulled my resources together and away we went.”

THE EXECUTION

Staff and doctors were given a quiz to ascertain their perceptions of how customer service impacted business. Then she handed out a “Commitment to the Practice Standards Accountability” form. Staff were asked to return this with statements explaining how they would contribute to the standards outlined on the form.

According to Bruner, the nine steps are: 1. Who’s the Boss? 2. Give Patients more Than They Expect . . . Respect 3. Handle Difficult Patients & Situations with Finesse 4. Be Ultra Aware of Time 5. Be Extremely Knowledgeable and Professional 6. Use Amazing Phone Skills 7. Be ‘On’ Stage 8. Listen to and Learn from Patient Feedback 9. Work as a Team!

Every Monday for nine weeks, staff were sent the steps in an email and at the end of each they signed an agreement to “uphold/own” the Phenomenal Patient Experience. Later, staff were given an “Own Each Patient’s Experience” accountability form and given seven days to document examples they utilized from the nine steps. Their Team Lead had to sign off.

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Getting staff to cooperate with something new is “always an eye roll” Bruner says, but it soon became part of the work process.

THE REWARDS

Implementing the plan was “most definitely worth it” Bruner says. “I was told by a wise doctor that if you take care of your patients, they will take care of you. This is true; if you give the patients a phenomenal experience, they will return and … share their experience with others.” The result is new and returning customers, which helps financially but also “sets our expectations of how we want our customers treated.”

Bruner urges managers to spend time with staff and let them know it is their job to “own each patient’s experience.” This “builds satisfaction, loyalty and referrals by creating a positive patient relationship. Staff learn to listen before responding,” she says. “That’s what patients truly want — to be heard and understood.”

Do It Yourself: Implement a customer experience training program

  • RECRUIT THE DOCS. Employees may be reluctant at first; having the doctors participate helped her staff buy in, Bruner says.
  • INTEGRATE. “We have monthly staff meetings and there is always a customer service topic following the program implementation,” she says.
  • TWO-WAY STREET. As a manager, be open to whatever new ideas, behaviors and skills suggest themselves as a result of the program.
  • KEEP IT UP. Bruner feels such programs are most useful when done once a year with staff.
  • UP FRONT. Bruner has all new hires participate in the program immediately and lets them know that this is part of the “behavior” portion of their 90-day evaluation.

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