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Handling Clients Who Seek Advice on Social Media, and More Questions for January

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What do you do with patients who contact you via social media or a messaging app seeking medical or other advice?

Refer them to your front desk, explaining that you can’t discuss such matters via this kind of channel. Or ask a member of staff to get in touch with them. It’s probably also generally a good idea not to accept patients’ friend requests. And for those new-generation customers who seem to think using a phone to call is physically painful, suggest they Like your business page and have them contact you via private message (look into how to share a Facebook Messenger code with customers).


An old boss said never ever apologize. Is that still the best policy to adopt when something goes wrong?

Optometric mistakes happen. And the ethical thing to do when they occur is to apologize, explain what went wrong and immediately lay out how you will make good on the error. For much of the last century, however, the fear of huge malpractice suits has stopped most healthcare professionals from doing any of those things. At the advice of their lawyers and insurers, they adopted a “deny and defend” mindset, which only further enraged patients. A string of multi-year studies by groups such as the Veterans Administration Hospital and University of Michigan have shown that a policy of providing a swift and sincere apology will usually result in far fewer and typically smaller lawsuits — it is the “arrogant, uncaring” doctor who is far more likely to be sued than the slightly error-prone but “goodhearted” one. The legal landscape has also shifted in the last decade and 36 states now have “apology laws” that prohibit certain statements of remorse or other evidence related to disclosure from being used to in a lawsuit. Most of these laws keep expressions of empathy and sympathy from being admissible in court, while a few protect admissions of fault. None of the words “I made a mistake. I’m sorry” could be used as evidence in Colorado for example. But the first sentence could land you in trouble in Indiana. It means you still need to take great care in formulating and expressing your apology, know what is permissible in your state and you would be well advised to consult an attorney to formulate the precise wording of any apologies that you may use. If you don’t have an updated policy to handle this issues, now is the time to get it done.


How can I make my practice more word-of-mouth-friendly?

You’re definitely on the right track by focusing on word of mouth to drive traffic. Brand expert and author Martin Lindstrom, who led a $3 million research study into the influence of friends’ recommendations says they are far more likely to be remembered than any other form of advertising. But as you’re no doubt finding, outstanding service aside, encouraging people to recommend your office to friends is not easy. Short-term incentives (essentially bribes such as “10 percent off your next purchase if you refer someone,” rarely do well, because people don’t like to “sell out” their friends). However, giving customers something they can share with their friends and enhance their “social capital” has shown to be effective, especially when you can identify the influencers in your community. In terms of strategy, word of mouth is so fluid it requires constant testing and experimenting: What stories to tell people about your store, what offers, what inside incentives will work? As for that outstanding service? Don’t claim to have it. Most people won’t believe you. And those who do believe you will expect more from your staff than they can possibly deliver. It’s a lose-lose proposition.


I want to introduce an incentive plan for my staff this year. What do you recommend? 

There are so many things to consider — monetary incentives versus spiffs, commission-only versus a mix of base and commission, the percentages to be paid on products with different margins and then your staff such as your support crew who don’t actually make direct sales— that we’re going to skip over the details and go big picture: Whatever you decide, keep these guiding principles in mind:

    • Don’t use incentive pay as a substitute for leadership. Build a team culture around productivity. Communicate your expectations to your team and hold them accountable.
    • Forecast the financial impact of any incentive payouts, and have a fallback plan in case the market changes.
    • Be wary of commission-only. Most of the successful plans we have heard involve a three-part bonus tied to the success of the individual, the team, and the store. Commission-only and even base-plus commission can encourage selfish behavior on the part of sales associates, and in some cases poison the entire atmosphere in the store.

    This article originally appeared in the January 2017 edition of INVISION.

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    Ask INVISION

    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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    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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