Mendenhall Vision Center, an Anchorage-based optometry office, recently lost their star optician to a competing practice. Two weeks ago, the owners promoted Nick, a technician, to the optical department. Nick felt overwhelmed with the new training but was excited to start the process of licensure under his coworkers. 

About Real Deal

Real Deal scenarios are inspired by true stories, but are changed to sharpen the dilemmas involved. The names of the characters and stores have been changed and should not be confused with real people or places.

About the Author

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

One quiet morning, Nick greeted Dave, a walk-in. “My truck’s getting worked on up the street so I figured I’d walk over and take a look,” said Dave. “Do you have glasses with the invisible frames?”

Nick was excited to be asked a question he knew, and went over to the drill-mount display. “Is this what you were thinking of?” he asked, holding a frame by one temple. 

“Yeah, that’s it,” the man replied. “I have my prescription at home, but I want to pick something out now so I don’t have to come back in.”

Nick clumsily gathered half a dozen frames and brought them to a dispensing table. Just yesterday Nick was trained on how to create an order for these custom frames, and he happily shared this information with Dave. They spent nearly an hour evaluating lens shapes, colors, and temple types before figuring out the perfect combination. Nick wrote up the specs on his order sheet carefully. 

“I think I also want some safety glasses, and a pair of those ‘flexy’ frames that are really durable,” Dave said. Nick tried to suppress a grin, excited to describe his big sale with the practice owners later. 

“The safety glasses are stored in the back; I need to go get them,” he said, excusing himself. 

As soon as he turned the corner into the optical lab he heard a familiar sound—the digital shutter-snap of a smart phone camera. “He doesn’t seem like the selfie type,” thought Nick to himself, as the two opticians exchanged a knowing look. “Ugh, Nick, the guy just took a picture of your order,” said one. “He’s probably just going to try to find the same thing online,” said the other. Nick blushed and hoped they were wrong. 

The safety glasses were mixed up with the sports goggles and Nick spent several minutes arranging appropriate choices. He finally emerged from the lab, only to find Dave standing by the flexible frame display. In his hands was a broken frame, snapped in two at the bridge. 

“I thought these were supposed to be flexible,” Dave scoffed. “Good thing I didn’t buy it!” Nick put down the tray he was carrying and took the broken frame, offering a vague and autonomic apology. He asked Dave to take a look at the safety glasses and quickly left to find his coworkers. 

“My patient broke a frame,” he said breathlessly. “What do I do?!”

A lengthy debate ensued and eventually Nick was sent out to get the man’s contact information, but found the showroom empty. A receptionist waved Nick over to deliver a message; the man couldn’t wait any longer and left to see to his car.

The Big Questions
  • Should Dave be charged for breaking the frame?
  • How should walk-ins be held accountable?
  • Assuming Dave was showrooming, does this influence how he’s treated for the broken frame?
  • If you were Nick, would you track Dave down at the repair shop? 

Expanded Reader Responses

Dennis M. Cedar Park, TX

This person is now a criminal if he does not pay for the frame. Call the police and report it. Do not try to track them down. Check surveillance for photo of car license if possible.

Cory S. Las Vegas, NV

The patient should not be held liable. The manufacturer should replace the frame at no charge under manufacturer defect. Not being there to witness the event, you have no proof of negligence or malicious intent. There are other issues at hand here. Why did the lead optician leave? What was the other practice offering? What training did the new individual receive? Any optician experience? Why the disarray in frames? The doc/office manager has some work to do. A broken Flexon frame is the least of this practice’s worries.

Rose G. Columbia, MD

I would send the frame back as defective and re-order another one. As far as the non-selfie picture he took, let him go wherever. If he needs any adjustments or repair, charge him something. At least it would cover your time.

David G. Beckley, WV

He should have been with the patient/customer the entire time. He was unorganized. He could have said that he wanted to give him a price for the first pair and start writing it up to see if the man was serious. The guy was already kind of hinting about not being serious. He did not have his Rx with him.

Martha D. Wheatfield, IN

First of all, we have all had to “eat” frames which have been broken. I wouldn’t bother trying to find him. Second, why wasn’t anyone else in the showroom? I don’t believe anyone should be left by themselves in the showroom. It’s a safety issue. Even if your office is in a good area, no one should have to be working by themselves. I have known of many incidents where things went terribly wrong because someone was working by themselves, including a lady optician being raped. I also have had to work by myself — I hope I never have to again.

Nina C. North Chesterfield, VA

No, Nick should not track the man down. This is a learning experience. Most frame vendors will replace the frame; exchange it. Nick should not pay for the frame.

 

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B.J. C. San Antonio, TX

Nick should not have left Dave alone; if he hadn’t, none of the problems that came up would have happened. Nick should have had another employee help Dave look for a frame. And yes, you could try and get Dave to pay for the frame, but that would be tough to do. I would try and get the frame manufacturer to honor the broken frame warranty. All of the frames we carry have a breakage warranty.

Stewart G. San Francisco, CA

1. You can’t blame the patient. There could have been a defect in the frame. Send it back under warranty.
2. The technician should never leave work product unattended. He should remove the frame and product used, and keep it with him. Hopefully he will have learned the lesson for better sales.
3. The employee should not be blamed. There were other people there who should have stopped him. He was in the back. He can’t be in two places at one time.

Dan M. Rockaway, NY

Patient will never pay. Don’t waste your time on this. Get the manufacturer to replace the frame or eat the loss. Move on.

Robert M. Edina, MN

Frames break. Dave should have offered to pay for it. If Nick was only a couple of days into it he should have been supervised at all times. When writing the order, he should have gotten Dave’s contact information. An experienced optician would know not to talk about frame selection until you know what the Rx is. The mistake here was leaving the customer alone on the floor. The other two opticians should have been helping Nick out and staying with Dave while Nick looked for frames. Nick should not have to track Dave down. If anything, whoever was supposed to be training Nick would be responsible for that. It looks to me like Dave may have been a thief. It is never good to assume anything, but you should also be aware that sometime people steal from optical stores. You should always be diligent about monitoring them while they are in the store.

Craig F. Rushville, IN

No, Dave shouldn’t be held accountable. The frame on the board should carry a warranty from the manufacturer against breakage. Dave shouldn't track down the patient for the broken frame.

Leisa L. Newport Beach, CA

Perhaps a better question is why Nick didn’t already have the patient contact information if he “wrote up the specs on his order sheet carefully.” The cost of the frame that was broken in the office is not the patient’s responsibility unless the office has signage posted stating, “You break it, you buy it.” Why was there a lengthy discussion while the patient was unattended in the front office? Nick should have suggested that the safety glasses and perhaps flex frames be assessed when the patient comes back with his Rx, since that is the best way to start an optical order. The office standards should be the same for all patients and potential patients without influencing how a situation is handled. I do not post signage at our office, however I have seen signs posted at other locations saying, “If you break it you bought it,” and “We don’t mind your kids if you do.” To allow Nick to go out and track the shopper down would just be additional time wasted.

Ben R. Rockford, MI

1. No. Walk-in or not, patients are not responsible for something that they have not purchased. That needs to be taken up with the rep for the line.
2. In my mind the showrooming is far more upsetting than the broken frame.
3. No, there is no point.

Rick R. Girard, PA

1. I doubt you could charge Dave unless he agreed to do so. Which sure doesn’t seem realistic.
2. It shouldn’t make any difference but it would sure feel good to nail him for the broken frame. Showroom that, Dave.
3. Nope, that’s asking for big time trouble.

Vlad C.  Hackensack, NJ

It doesn’t seem like Dave broke the glasses on purpose. When frames break on our showroom floor, we rule it a defect. We treat it as we would treat a defective frame that broke after some light use; it happens. The disheartening lesson that Nick learned in this exchange is that no matter how hard you work on the sale, you must ‘always be closing.’ You need to inquire about their decision-making as the sales conversation progresses. I like to ask questions about when they’re considering making a purchase. Talented sales people craft assertive questions that gain commitment from customers and remove purchase anxiety along the way. It’s up to owners/managers to create an environment where these types of quality exchanges are happening. Talk to your sales staff, and listen in on their conversations with customers, give them real-time constructive feedback. Positive or negative — as long as it’s delivered the right way and consistently — will develop a good sales associate.

Mike M. Syracuse, NY

Unfortunately, that is the cost of doing retail business: win some, lose some. As for the broken frame, if you carry lines backed by a good warranty the sales rep should be able to get you a replacement/credit. Make a note of the encounter in patient file, if possible, and don’t let him handle any frames if he returns!

Marc Z. State College, PA

I would consult with my superiors and follow our company’s standard operating procedure. If there is to be an exception made to the policy I would follow my superiors’ protocol and guidance on how we would proceed outside of our normal parameters.

Kimberly Y. Waldorf, MD
  1. Dave should be treated no differently than any other new patient or client that enters yourpractice. He is a potential long term client that may have family and friends to refer.
  2. In today's world there are more and more "browsers," potential customers that take photos for review at a later time or even to ask a family member what they think. Unavoidable at times and I can tolerate a small amount of this unless someone isblatantly taking notes of style numbers. Years ago, I started advising my staff not to write down model numbers and hand them back to the patient but share that we will make detailed notes in our system under their name for future reference. Most people are reasonable and understand the fact that we put a lot of time and effort into our product selection and have created an "experience" for our clients and that is very different than shopping online. We are not a showroom for online competitors.
  3. Accidents do happen and any reputable frame vendor will give you credit. Don't sweat the small stuff. I have done this myself more than once while demonstrating a frames flexibility. Could only laugh and say they did say flexible not unbreakable, guess I don't know my own strength!     

This article originally appeared in the October 2018 edition of INVISION.      

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