Connect with us

Handling Tough Talks

Your employees keep coming in late. Your sales rep can't seem to get orders right. Your managed care provider keeps screwing up your reimbursments.

mm

Published

on

With additional reporting by DEIRDRE CARROLL | Illustrations by MAR JEFFERSON GO

These days it’s hard to escape Donald Trump. Open a paper, turn on the TV and there the presidential hopeful is. But let’s not forget how he became a household name:

“You’re fired!”

THERE IS SOMETHING “succinct and very beautiful about the words … they’re so definite and final,” he once told Newsweek of the signature line of his former reality TV show, The Apprentice.

He may find those words beautiful, but there are very few others who do. For most of us, those words are almost unutterable, no matter how badly they need to be said.

Much more likely is a rambling speech that starts off something like: “Listen John, I’m not quite sure how to put this to you, but I’m afraid we’re probably going to have to let you go. I hope you can understand. Sales are down, and it, um, doesn’t look good. And then there’s my wife. She said we need our employees to show up on time, be polite to customers, make sales, you know, that sort of thing. As for me, I’d love to give you another chance, but you understand, right? My hands are tied …”

So how’d you do there? Well, you blame-shifted, told about three lies, all whoppers, and were barely coherent to boot. And this is probably after spending weeks or even months, dwelling on the issue and thinking of ways to approach it.

Let’s face it: As a species, most humans are not very good at managing difficult situations. No matter what the situation — dealing with an irate customer, a partner we don’t believe is fairly sharing the load, a longtime supplier who is no longer price-competitive, a repair man who always charges more than his quotation, or even an employee with a body-odor or chronic tardiness problem — most of us will do nearly anything to avoid these little conflicts.

Advertisement

But in business, such avoidance comes at great cost. It leads to what consultant and author Susan Scott calls a “culture of terminal niceness.” Everybody evades or works around difficult employees, problems don’t get tackled, and mediocrity is tolerated.

There are also personal and psychological costs for managers and staff when issues aren’t addressed effectively or honestly. Trust diminishes and misunderstandings multiply. Festering problems consume huge amounts of emotional energy and sap creativity.

In some cases, when the situation finally becomes unbearable, we do take action. But we invariably go about it the wrong way. We vent, point fingers and lay blame, leaving hurt feelings and the seeds of a new misunderstanding in our wake.

In contrast, when conflicts or difficult conversations are managed well, better decisions are made because goals are clear, teamwork and productivity increases and workplace morale surges. Conflict resolution, done effectively, also helps foster a climate of learning that allows people to learn from their mistakes and encourages managers to provide critical feedback.

But how to do it?

Dr. Tim Ursiny, author of The Coward’s Guide to Conflict, says there are seven ways of dealing with a difficult situation:

Advertisement

1. AVOID IT.

(Bad, for the reasons stated above.)

2. GIVE IN.

(Bad, because we don’t permit our- selves a chance to properly remedy the problem. We let someone else win the argument and then we feel bitter about it. Sometimes the other per- son knows we’ve surrendered, but most of the time they don’t have a clue and go about their business as always. Grrrr…)

4. BE PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE.

(Like when you huff and puff and scowl when someone uses a mobile phone in a movie theater. This is about as effective as giving in, even if we do make an effort to ensure the person knows our feelings.)

5. COMPROMISE.

(Now we’re getting warmer! But still, compromise suggests that neither party got what they really wanted. After all, the focus of compromise negotiations is what you are pre- pared to give up.)

6. HONOR THE OTHER PERSON.

(Sound sappy? You’re right, and this is a solution best saved for situations involving family and significant others. This is where you make a choice to give up something and enjoy the sacrifice — say, you decide to forego a disputed bit of parking space to help out a neighboring businessman.)

Advertisement

7. PROBLEM-SOLVE TOGETHER.

(You’ve probably guessed; this is the best way to go.)
Now, suggesting that you “solve the problem” might seem excruciatingly obvious — but what Ursiny, who is an executive coach and psychologist by training, is really advocating is the use of a technique that invites mutual analysis of an issue, takes into account the emotions on both sides, and results in a win-win situation.
Easy to say, but surprisingly hard to achieve. And that’s because most of us are thoroughly inept at doing the basic things required to achieve such a goal, oh like listening properly, understanding the other person’s point of view, and refraining from making critical judgments.

We’re here to help you better navigate your way through difficult conversations, but first we need to address the 800-pound gorilla in the room. And its name is … fear.

Our behavior in times of looming confrontation is invariably driven by fear. Fear of physical harm, fear of rejection, fear of losing a relationship, fear of anger, fear of being seen as selfish, fear of saying the wrong thing, fear of failing, fear of hurting someone, fear of getting what you want, fear of intimacy, fear that people will think less of us.

Sometimes these fears are rational or based on experience. You may have tried confronting someone before and it went badly. Or maybe you worry that talking will only make the situation worse.

And sometimes our fears are irrational. She’ll be crushed and kill herself if I tell her our clients hate her coffee. He will hire a Cessna and drag a 200-foot sky banner over my neighborhood telling everyone what a cheapskate I am if I don’t give him the pay rise.

Or maybe the anxiety wells up because of something that happened way back in your formative past — something at the very core of your identity. You’re afraid what the looming conflict will reveal about you as a person.

One of the things about the problems life throws at us on a daily basis is that we know deep down inside that the best way to deal with them is to put aside our worries and tackle the situation head-on. Don’t believe us? Think about your reaction the first time you saw Nike’s old “Just Do It!” ad campaign. You probably went out and did something … didn’t you? With that campaign, Nike proved that they knew the shadows that lurk deep in our hearts. Everybody wants to act forcefully, without restraint. Few do.

And “just doing it” is still one of the best ways to summon the courage. No, that doesn’t mean that you should simply jump right into your difficult conversation without preparation. But you should commit to doing it as soon as possible, and then start taking the necessary steps to make it happen. Weigh up the pros and cons and focus on the long-term benefits. Recall a case where you confronted a problem and it worked out well. Except for those cases where there is the genuine possibility of a physical harm, tell yourself that the conversation won’t destroy you, that you
can handle it, and most important, that it is the right thing to do. The relief you stand to gain will be permanent — as opposed to the temporary respite avoidance provides.

To give you that extra edge for your upcoming difficult conversation, we’ve compiled some expert advice from masters of the art of conflict resolution. Using it, you’ll find that disagreement is not only nothing to fear, it can be healthy. You’ll grow from it. Trust us.

But first, let’s examine the nuts and bolts of the conversation you are about to have.

 

PREPARING FOR THE MOMENT OF TRUTH

The first thing to do when preparing for a difficult conversation is to pick the right time and place. It’s pointless to start such a conversation if you don’t have the time to do it properly or are going to be constantly interrupted.

Then, ask yourself some questions:

Why are you having the conversation? What do you hope to accomplish? If you think, “I just want to get something out in the open,” or “We just need to talk,” that’s not good enough. Your purpose is too vague, and vague goals almost always mean disappointing results. Your purpose needs to be forward-looking.

You also need to question your objective. You may think your motives are honorable, like educating an employee. But as soon as you start talking, you notice yourself lapsing into language that is highly critical or condescending. (And believe us, the employee does as well.) This is also a good time to think about how you contributed to the problem.

Work on yourself so that you approach the conversation with a constructive aim and see it as an opportunity to learn about the other person’s point of view. Think “I wonder why he keeps doing that?” instead of “That’s it. I’ve had it with the way he keeps doing that and I’m really going to let him know it!”

Second, investigate what assumptions you are making about this person’s intentions. You may feel intimidated, disrespected, or ignored. But you shouldn’t automatically assume that this was the other person’s intended aim.

Third, start thinking about the other person’s viewpoint. What might they be thinking about this situation? Are they even aware of the problem? If so, how do you think they perceive it? What fears and needs could they have? What solution do you think they would suggest? Stop looking at the other person as an adversary — instead, see them as your partner in solving the problem at hand.

Finally, ask yourself what reaction the other person might have that is most likely to throw you off balance. What if they accuse you of picking on them or acting unprofessionally? Identify which reactions would be the toughest for you to deal with and plan how you might respond if the other person breaks down in tears, gets angry, or withdraws. Don’t just “wing it.” If that’s your approach, you won’t be very effective.

 

GRABBING THE BULL

The best way to start is much the same way you would for a meeting: Set out an agenda. This outlines the problem to be discussed, establishes that you want to hear the other person’s perspective, that you want them to hear yours and that you would like to do some joint problem-solving. Use the opening part of a conversation to be upfront about why you’d like to talk and what your main point is. You’ll engage the interest of the other person and help them understand what follows.
When describing the issue at hand, state it neutrally, the way a mediator might. For example, instead of saying, “I want to know why you insist on making the staff wear these silly Santa hats,” you can begin with, “It’s obvious we both care about the business. And we both want to do what we think is best. But you and I have different approaches to marketing. Let’s see if we can talk about that and find some middle ground.” This approach includes bits and pieces from both sides and seeks to close the gaps between your two perspectives. No one will feel attacked and you’ll be off to a smooth start.

Then, invite the other person to share their side of the story first. Don’t feel compelled to dive in with your perspective. You’ll actually be more persuasive if you let your counterpart get their side out first.

This way, you get to learn what they care about, how they see the problem, and you can respond accordingly. Also, until the other person feels heard, they don’t have the mind-space to hear you. It’s infinitely harder to persuade someone who hasn’t felt heard than someone who has.

Remember too, as Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, says, “to listen to understand and not to reply.”

Often one of the things blocking our pursuit of the truth is that we think we not only understand our own point of view, but we also believe we know for sure what the other person did, said, and thought on the subject. He always does that because he knows it irritates me. She intentionally came in late to make me mad. She knows exactly what is expected of her, but doesn’t want to do it.

The problem is, such tough discussions are not about things that can be shown to be right or wrong, say Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen, authors of Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most. They involve facts, but they are not at heart about facts. They are about conflicting perceptions, feelings and values. They’re not about what a contract says, they’re about what a contract means. They’re not about which sales technique is most popular; they’re about which sales technique the store should employ. Finally, they’re not about what’s true, they’re about what is important.

If you automatically think you’re right, the conversation becomes one of trying to get the other person to admit he’s wrong. As strategies go, this is a poor one — the other person immediately becomes defensive and closes down.

The mistake of assuming we’re right leads to a second common error: We don’t ask enough questions. Studies have shown that about 90 percent of what is said during a failed conversation is advocacy, and only 10 percent inquiry. That means, the two parties find a lot of different ways to state their own views over and over again. Understanding is never reached. And too often, poor decisions result.

One of the first things you’ve got to do to get through a tough talk is to understand how the two of you see things differently. And doing that requires questions, questions and more questions.

 

YOUR TURN

When you sense that the other person has been able to unlock some of their energy and express the essence of what they want to say on the topic, it’s your turn.

From what they’ve told you it should be clear what they don’t understand about your position. Start by trying to clarify your view without minimizing theirs.

Be quick to identify the problem areas that remain. Be authentic too. There is something in us that responds to people who level with us, who speak from the heart.

Regularly summing up what you’ve said can boost the quality and accuracy of the dialogue — and eliminate many of the problems caused by misunderstandings.

Use words that reflect the other person’s meaning as well — “What you’re saying is that you feel that when I’m busy, I’m prone to treating people like they don’t exist. Am I understanding you right?” This way you demonstrate empathy and also get the chance to confirm that you’ve got it right.

If the conversation becomes heated or adversarial, go back to asking questions. Asking for the other person’s point of view usually neutralizes emotions. The challenge is to reframe the conversation from “whose fault is this” to “where did the misunderstandings occur, and how can we correct them so we can move forward?”

If the other person keeps saying everything is your fault, you can say, “I know I’ve contributed to this problem. Let’s talk about that, and we should also make sure to discuss ways that you’ve contributed to the problem as well.”

Be persistent in your efforts to keep the talk constructive.

 

FIX THE PROBLEM

Once you know what the other person wants and they know clearly what you want, then it’s time to find a solution. There is no guarantee this will be easy but at least both sides now are aware of all the factors in play.

Remember to keep asking questions. Ask your colleague what they think would work. Whatever they say, find something that you agree with and build on that.

Often such discussions get caught on the question of what’s fair. But, remember, fair is a subjective matter. What is a fair salary when the economy is doing badly? What is a reasonable vacation policy when the company is under-staffed? Your opinion and that of your counterpart are almost certain to differ. Of course, this scenario is specific to employee conflict, but the underlying principles remain the same.

The best, most straightforward way to approach any issue is to put on the table what both sides want and then brainstorm to see what is doable. In this instance, maybe a higher rate of commission based on achieving a new sales target would better reflect the economic conditions and the employee’s performance.

BREAKING BAD HABITS

Start by knowing why your brain acts the way it does.

They often don’t seem it, but almost all conversations are incredibly complex.

“Lovely day outside,” the cashier says as she rings up your toothpaste.

Was that sarcasm, you wonder. Why was she smiling at the cereal I was holding? Maybe she was flirting?

And that’s an easy conver- sation. difficult ones are so much more complex.

In their book Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most, Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen theorize that each difficult conversation is really three simultaneous communica- tions.

There’s the standard “what happened” conversation, with the two sides’ competing ver-sions of the “facts” and their significance.

Second, there’s the “feelings” conversation, with unacknowledged emotions running amok.

And there’s the “identity” conversation, which affects our sense of self in the world.

The question of how to deal with feelings in the workplace is complicated. Some conversations are at heart about feelings, and the only way to communicate efficiently is to acknowledge them. If you don’t raise feelings of fair treatment, for example, morale drops, and more “positive” feelings, like passion and respect, fade away. This is significant. Studies suggest that almost 50 percent of people who leave jobs quit because they feel underappreciated.

The other thing about feelings is that no matter how hard you try to suppress them they will be heard, either in your tone or body language or some other way.

Obviously, you can’t spend time processing everyone’s feelings. But be aware the “check your feelings at the door” ethos can be harmful.

“Identity” conversations are hard because they pose a threat to how we see ourselves. One mistake many make when they feel their identity is being impugned is to take the criticism as absolute. But criticism is not all or nothing. A manager who makes a mistake is not a bad manager. The store owner who says “no” to a day off is not an evil slave driver. Becoming familiar with the identity issues that are important to you allows you to look out for defensive reactions.

The psychology of tough talks is that they tend to expose us for what we are: complex beings riddled with competing emotions and conflicting needs.

It is because we lead our lives according to “Big Assumptions,” say Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey, psychologists and the authors of How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: Seven Languages for Transformation.

“Big Assumptions” are ideas we accept as truths. They once may have been true, but now it is no longer necessarily the case. Nevertheless, these assumptions are difficult to change because they’ve been reinforced so many times.

The authors suggest the answer lies in reflection and experimentation. Once you become aware of these patterns, try to transform using a three-step approach.

First, be on the lookout for when a Big Assumption is guiding your actions. Secondly, explore its validity, and finally, test it. Refuse a small request and see what happens. Then try a bigger one.

 

PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE

A successful outcome will depend on two things: how you act — centered, curious, persistent — and what you say. Don’t expect to handle every difficult conversation with ease and poise. At the beginning, you may be tongue-tied, scared and inarticulate. That’s OK. Your goal is not eloquence. It is openness and honesty. As with any other skill, you will get better with practice. Keep in mind that failure is the best teacher.

It is also worth noting that there are times you should walk away from a difficult conversation. There isn’t enough time to confront your partner, boss, staff or clients every time they annoy you.

But if walking away ends up being your response most of the time, you’re on the wrong track. Your feelings will fester. And in the long run, if you don’t raise important issues and have those difficult conversations, you will damage the relationship you were hoping to protect.

 

TOUGH TALK TIPS

Here are some more tips and a few conversation starters to help you:

Don’t aim for perfection. Difficult conversations are tough for a reason. Aim for gradual improvement each time.

You don’t win a difficult conversation. Your goal is not to get the other person to capitu- late and admit that you were right all along. It’s to express your feelings, allow the other person to express theirs and hopefully reach an understanding you both can live with.

Need to deliver bad news or fire someone? There are no magic words that will somehow make it less upsetting. The best you can do is be honest, to the point, and sympathetic. You can’t take responsibility for the other person’s feelings. If your accountant is inept and messed up your books, you need to let him go. His feelings are immaterial to the outcome. It is only the facts relating to his poor performance that matter. The success of a conversation should not be judged by whether someone gets upset or not. (And don’t try to trick the person into accepting blame first.)

Don’t waste time and energy defending the weak parts of your argument. In any tough conversation, no one is 100 percent right or wrong. Each side has weaknesses, and it is wise to acknowledge the problems. Take responsibility for your share and focus on a solution.

Controlling your emotions is crucial to avoiding a destructive argument. You need to look forward — not try to defend a position or win an argument. If a conversation is getting heated, use silence to slow it down, says Scott.

Stay with the issue; straying will always sabotage your mission. You’ve had a great year and you would like to discuss bonus levels with your sales manager. But he notes how two years ago, he didn’t get a bonus when (he believes) one was promised and doesn’t feel he can trust you in this discussion. Suddenly you find yourself debating your role in the conversation. In such situations, refocus on the future.

Use “I” statements rather than “you” statements when discussing your thoughts and feelings. “I” clarifies for the other person what you think and feel while “you” can make them feel criticized. “I” reduces defensiveness and fosters communication. Good “I” statement: “I feel uncomfortable when you interrupt me during meetings. I feel it shows a lack of respect.” Bad “you” statement: “You always interrupt me during meetings. You have no respect for me!”

Say “and,” not “but.” The word “but” has the power to erase everything good said before it. For example, “Joe, I really liked the way you closed that sale, but next time don’t spend so much time talking about how bad insurance reimbursements are.” Far better to say, “Joe, I really liked the way you closed that sale and I think it would be better if you didn’t mention our issues with the patient’s insurance provider.” This is something improvisational actors are taught. The basic premise is not to reject what is proposed and focus instead on elaboration, to create new ideas and move forward.

Similarly, avoid negatives and absolutes as they shut down communication. Example: Negative: “Why can’t you …” Positive: “What if we …” Absolute: “We must do it this way.” Non-absolute: “Here’s a good idea to consider…”

Avoid judgmental words like “bad,” “ugly,” “wrong,” and any that imply fault like “unprofessional” and “inappropriate,” Ursiny recommends.

The same goes for you. Many misunderstandings arise from faulty assumptions. So when in doubt, say what you mean. Hinting isn’t good enough. Don’t rely on subtext.

Remember that acknowledging the other person’s feelings is not the same thing as agreeing with them. Saying “I can understand this is really important to you” indicates an effort to support the other person, but doesn’t mean you’re going to go along with the decision.

In cases where you find yourself poles apart, use the “100+1 approach.” Find the one percent of the other person’s position you can agree on and endorse it 100 percent. That suggests that you are committed to finding middle ground.

Research shows that we spend a lot less time talking to people close to us than we imagine. These same studies also show that many of our more challenging dialogues could be avoided by staying in more regular contact.

Blaming the other person for not understanding you — or for you not understanding them — is pointless. Be willing to recognize when you don’t understand or need to know more. If you don’t have a clear understanding of what the other person is saying, keep trying until you do. It could be that their thoughts are unclear. Encourage them to be specific.

What if it’s someone you’re going to have to work with again — for instance, a high-performing sales associate who is suddenly suffering a five-alarm case of body odor? Same deal. Take him aside and let him know his new antiperspirant isn’t quite up to the task. Of course, he’ll be embarrassed but eventually he will thank you. Knowing that you can’t control the reaction of the other person in a conversation can be liberating, say Stone, Patton and Heen.

The best decisions are the ones that people reach themselves. So be lean on the advice, but generous with help and support.

Don’t just listen to the words, listen to the “music” as well, including body language and voice quality. Also, look for clues in what is not being said. Ask yourself and the other person, “What is it they really want, really mean?”

Being genuine is at the heart of all worthwhile communication. Don’t be afraid to share your feelings. Author Scott recalls a conversation with a friend who said: “I notice I’m becoming defensive, and I think it’s because your voice got louder and sounded angry. I just want to talk about this. I’m not trying to persuade you in either direction.” The acknowledgment helped the two to re-center, she says.

Not sure how to open the conversation? Consider some of these lines:

  • “I need your help with something. Can we talk about it?”
  • “I think we have different views about [insert topic]. I’d like to hear your thinking on this.” “I have something I’d like to discuss with you that I think will help us work together more effectively.”
  • “I’d like to talk about the recent changes to our compensation structure with you, but first I’d like to get your point of view.”
  • “I’d like to see if we might reach a better understanding about our store’s dress code. I really want to hear your feelings about this and share my perspective as well.”

Final tip. Realize difficult conversations are part of life. They aren’t going away, but they can become easier, less anxiety-causing and more constructive if you work on it.

STORIES FROM THE OPTICAL FRONT LINES

DAVID W., DALLAS, TX:
One of the tough discussions we had with an employee was about getting involved with our patients in personal matters — selling/buying cars, planning play dates, making social plans, etc. She did not understand why it was inappropriate and was indignant at first, but we explained that if anything “went wrong” in her personal relationship/dealings with the patient, then it might negatively affect the doctor/patient relationship and possibly our bottom line. She eventually understood, and we now have a “WWDD” (What Would Doctor Do) policy.

STEVE N., WESTLAKE, OH:
Our tough talks are most often with a ven- dor. We took on a lot when we opened, including frame lines, labs, etc. Sometimes you nd a line or company simply doesn’t t your vision and you have
to say goodbye. The toughest part of all is that you truly build great personal relationships with people. So business decisions are made but in the end you can feel like you hurt someone’s feel- ings. Nonetheless… we must do what is right for our shop.

KEVIN B., KALAMAZOO, MI:
I called a doctor out on his chronic tardiness starting the day. He asked if I always saw my doctor on time. I told him this wasn’t my doctor’s of ce, it is our patient’s doctor’s of ce, and we see our patients on time. He was never late again. People are unreasonable only because no one has ever told them they are being unreasonable.

RICK R., GIRARD, PA:
When I was the manager of a large retail chain store, a married-with-children associate and a lab tech had an affair. None of our business until it started to affect work. It was interrupting our customer flow as well as causing other associates to complain. The lab tech was an exemplary, invaluable associate. We carefully explained the facts that were affecting his performance, careful not to mention the relationship, although he had to know that was part of his problem. I didn’t think it went very well. I honestly thought
we would lose him. We were lucky. The retail associate had been making the rounds and the problem corrected itself.

SELINA M., EDMOND, OK:
I fired an employee. I sugarcoated why and said that she would be a better off elsewhere. I needed to be more honest that she couldn’t do the job and show her all the times that we tried to train her to, because she sued me for age discrimination. Being honest and direct could have avoided this. I now follow this guideline, “To be kind is to be clear, and to be clear is to be kind.

SIOBHAN B., NEW LONDON, CT:
Telling a potential vendor you aren’t interested in their product is always tough. I recently had someone come in and while showing me trays asked me if I wanted to start writing up my order. I was so shocked that I said what I always want and never do: that I was allowing them to show me their product but I never said I would be taking it on.

KRISTY S., REYNOLDSBURG, OH:
Had several talks with a new optician. She was sloppy and kept dropping the ball. She was a hard worker, but made mistakes that added up. We decided that she would work closer with me. We worked like that for five weeks. Now, she is a great optician with a huge following!

ANGIE P., JOHNSON CITY, TN:
I had a frame rep that was very disrespectful to my optician. I called and spoke to her personally. She was not remorseful, so I dropped the line. I was professional and gave her the opportunity to make things right. Since I felt that I handled myself well, I did not regret phasing out the line.

BRENDA S., BUCHANAN, MI:
We had a patient that was very rude to the staff every time he came in and no one wanted to assist him. I addressed his attitude, asking if we had done anything to anger him or if there was a way we could serve him better because we wanted his experience to be great with us. He apologized to all of the staff, has remained a patient, and has developed a great relationship with all of them.

TED M., TIFTON, GA:
I’ve had so many difficult conversations with our team over the years. I’ve not always been good at it. I came to the realization after listening to an episode of the Dave Ramsey Entreleadership podcast, that by not confronting the issue there would still be tension. By acknowledging the issue (and the tension) at least everyone knows where everyone stands. So, I have been embracing the 800-pound gorilla. The main issue is communication. I know that gets a lot of lip service, but if you are committed to truly communicating it means having those difficult conversations.

RICHARD E., ENGLEWOOD, FL:
I once kept a lab tech around for a long time thinking I had to have him due to our high volume. My instincts kept telling me he was a problem. He was very confrontational. One day in my absence, an associate asked him how long a single vision job would be, and it set him off. He threw trays and yelled while customers and staff watched. I had to terminate him. My lesson was to follow my instincts and document any issues with staff no matter how uncomfortable you feel.

 

 

 

 

 

Chris Burslem is the Group Managing Editor of SmartWork Media.

Advertisement

SPONSORED VIDEO

SPONSORED BY REICHERT

When You’re Passionate About Eye Care, the Right Technology Matters

Lisa Genovese, O.D., strives to give her patients the very best. At Insight Eye Care’s multiple locations, Dr. Genovese provides optimal care for her patients using the Reichert® Phoroptor® VRx Digital Refraction System. In this second Practice Profile Video from Reichert’s “Passionate About Eye Care” series, take a closer look and see how this eye care professional achieved a better work-life balance with equipment that’s designed and engineered in the U.S.A.

Promoted Headlines

Best of Eyecare

Finish Strong, Start Stronger

mm

Published

on

How you finish the year has a major impact on how you start the next one. Year-end is a tricky, busy time. You need to be maximizing the long holiday season and flex spending, evaluating your performance for the year, assessing inventory and store needs and setting new goals, all while rewarding your team for a job well done and inspiring them for the year ahead.

We asked four industry experts (see bios on page 43) to break down the remainder of 2019 for optical business owners and offer some advice on what they should be thinking about in the weeks and months ahead. We also collected some hot takes from our Brain Squad members, who gave us a sense of their fall and winter plans. Here’s our three-month guide to kick-starting a new cycle of success.

Advertisement

90 Days Out…

Planning and marketing late-year events, reaching out to clients, drafting a 2020 strategy and capturing flex dollars should be on your mind.

MICHAEL KARLSRUD
founder, Karlsrüd Company

Before you set about planning for peak performance, Karlsrud says it’s good to set a few ground rules:

Any business or practice without a plan is like a ship without a rudder. Think through opportunities and challenges in the areas of business performance, managing employees, and serving patients through what can be a very chaotic time. Also, remember to keep score. Establish key performance indicators (KPIs) that measure the behavior required to accomplish the goals laid out. They should be easy to track and easily understood. Post them for all to see and keep score on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Reward accordingly for earned success. Finally, when it comes to major business goals, limit them to three. More than that significantly increases the likelihood that you won’t achieve any of them.

Now is the time to communicate to employees your expectations about time off, performance and serving patients. The end of the year is especially stressful on everyone, so have this conversation well in advance while cooler heads prevail.

BRAIN SQUAD TAKE:

Steven Nelson of Eye Candy Optical, Westlake, OH: “As much as we love to be busy, we have to be ready for the ‘back to school’ slump in September to mid-October. This means right-sizing inventory, getting the team to take their vacation time, and getting the ad campaigns ready for ‘the season.’” Jen Heller at Pend Oreille Vision Care in Sandpoint, ID, also uses this time of year to run her annual inventory check, “to clean up all the loose ends and have everything accounted for, but not so close to the end as to stress us out.”

It’s vital to start marketing for late-year events now and get your message out through direct mail, email and on social media. Set your appointments as early as possible as an indicator of patient flow and staffing requirements. Offer end of the year specials on high-end sunwear, specialty lenses and the most profitable frame and lens packages you offer.

Finally, “Don’t forget to update your phone messaging and front desk scripts to promote sales, multiple pairs and additional family member appointments.”

BRAIN SQUAD TAKE:

Michelle Wright at DePoe Eye Center, Stockbridge, GA: “It’s time to start planning our Black Friday. We have to: 1.) Choose a theme; 2.) plan advertisements; 3.) planogram; and 4.) purchase eyewear and decide what eyewear we currently have will be a part of the promotion. Last year was our first year with our Black Friday event. It was a success and set the tone for the end of year sales… We all also had a great time.

TRUDI CHAREST
co-founder, Marketing4ECPs

For most optical retailers and optometry practices, if the tail end of the year could be condensed into four words, they would be “Capture that flex spending!” Charest takes this as a starting point in offering these points to focus on in October, which should also be a key month for working out 2020 strategy, she says.

Launch Q4 “Use It or Lose It” campaign.

Finalize 2020 objectives. For example: Fill new associate schedule with 30 new patients per month, 30 return patients per month; grow optical sales by 20 percent. Bring in 10 new dry eye patients per month.

BRAIN SQUAD TAKE:

Dr. Blake Hutto at Family Vision Care, Alma, GA: “The year’s end is mostly about perfecting policy and our business format. We think we’re on to a way of treating patients and conducting business that works well, so now it’s putting it to paper. We’re planning a big push for 2020 (the year of the optometrist).”

Build a 2020 campaign strategy. Example:
1 Q1 2020: Fill schedule — “Accepting
New Patients” campaign.
1 Q2 2020: “50% Off 2nd Pair Sale.”
1 Q3 2020: “Are Your Eyes Irritated?”
campaign.
1 Q4 2020: Fill schedule — “Book Appointment” campaign.

Create a promotions and execution calendar for 2020.

Develop a social media strategy for the quarterly campaigns for 2020.

Advertisement

60 Days Out…

As we move into November, a re-focus, a few recalls and a team refresh are in order, along with a progress report—and we need to talk about your systems.

PAULINE BLACHFORD
founder, Pauline Blachford Consulting

Now is the time to revisit your year-end targets and goals. Review with your team what targets have been met, which ones are close to complete and which ones need to be adjusted. If a certain target is far out of reach, set a more reasonable expectation for the last two months of the year — one that can still be celebrated if met and counted as a success.

Focus your recall efforts on patients who haven’t visited your practice in 2019.

It can be easy to lean into the holidays and let your targets slide. Don’t underestimate how much your team can accomplish if properly motivated. Start planning ahead for your year-end staff celebration. Include additional bonuses and surprises for staff if your practice meets its targets for the year.

BRAIN SQUAD TAKE:

Maureen Garbis Compass Eyecare, Oak Park, IL: “We have a sales goal. If it’s met by Dec. 20 we get the whole holiday week off with pay. We’ve met it for the last four years and are on track for this year also.”

MARK HINTON
CEO and president of eYeFacilitate

Review last year, same time, to understand opportunities and missed opportunities; it’s a trip back in time.

Revisit systems of process and procedure. After all, people don’t run the business, systems run the business, and people manage those systems. Practice Management Systems (PMS) alone is a bunch of reports to sift through; and PMSs are like viewing your business through the rear-view mirror, it already happened. Check out industry data-mining software products like Glimpse or EdgePro by GPN; using these types of systems gives you the ability to examine your business through the “’windshield” and evaluate trends to navigate in an easy and nimble strategy.

What other family members need exams? Get Care Credit dialogs solid.

(And in case you skipped it last month…) Begin planning first quarter 2020; whiteboard ideas, including what, when, who.

BRAIN SQUAD TAKE:

Dr. Robert Easton Jr., OD, Oakland Park, FL: “We are doing updates in our office of older equipment to better link to our Compulink EHR. We just updated our autorefractor/keratometer from the ARC 900 to the ARK 1e. We’ll also update our Humphrey VF unit to the latest Humphrey VF technology for our growing Glaucoma practice.”

CHAREST

Time for a flex check — and time to get creative, says Charest:
Analyze Q4 2019 “Use It Or Lose It.”
Hire graphic designer to create Q1 2020 campaign.
Schedule out the rest of the graphics you will need to have created throughout the year.
Plan any additional events you may have in 2020 such as trunk shows.
Add to the marketing calendar.

KARLSRUD
After setting out the plan and establishing the scorecard to determine success factors, it’s go time!
Hold a launch meeting with the team and take the time to explain where you’ve been as a practice, where you are currently, and where you are heading. Don’t forget to focus on “why” you are putting these plans and goals in place. Explain how each member of the team contributes to the success of the practice. Start keeping score. Create excitement around accomplishing goals and roll out your incentive program!

Advertisement

45 Days Out…

Six weeks till Santa: Time to think about cards and customer appreciation. (Oh, and did we mention flex spending?)

BLACHFORD

Start preparing a customer appreciation plan. Have your staff prepare cards or e-cards that thank your customers and wish them well during the holiday season. This can include some light holiday marketing, such as offering patients discounts on eyewear purchased as gifts. Go the extra mile by planning holiday giveaways that require patients to call or visit your practice to enter. This is a great way to get your patients on the phone, when staff can ensure their contact information is up-to-date, and ask them about booking an appointment in 2019 or early 2020.

HINTON

’Tis the season (almost) for gift certificates to make holiday shopping a snap; who wouldn’t love another set of eyewear, or a gift certificate for contacts — or to give to contact wearers to buy glasses they’d actually be seen wearing, “For the cool yule in you!”
It’s HSA and FSA “Use it, don’t lose it,” time.

Social media bump time.

BRAIN SQUAD TAKE:

Deb Jaeger at Eye Center of the Dakotas, Bismarck, ND: “We strive to keep staff fed and happy as we get through the year-end rush to use vision benefits. Always a busy time with holidays and year-end flex-spending, we try to keep our days flowing normally to reduce stress. We encourage gift certificates and send thank you notes each week to vendors, patients, customers, and friends of the practice we are thankful for.”

Advertisement

30 Days Out…

OK folks—it’s time to execute!

BLACHFORD

Implement your customer appreciate plan early. December is a busy time for postal services. If your practice chooses to send e-cards, emailing patients around Dec. 1 gives them time to benefit from any discounts, coupons or goodies you send their way.

BRAIN SQUAD TAKE:

Kim Hilgers, Monson Eyecare Center, Owatonna, MN: “I’ll get postcards designed with our rebate money from our billing group ready in October and Solution Reach email blasts prior to it. Basically, I get inventory built up starting this month into the end of the year and have a promotion on our discontinued/dogs/unloved frames (free frame with the purchase of lenses). Pre-inventory checks so that we are prepared to do final inventory on the 31st of December.”
ECPs looking to end the year strong and drive more traffic to their practice can try drumming up more business in December with attractive and cheery holiday displays. Holiday-themed products, giveaways, activities or a holiday open house are a few ways of attracting patients and potential patients into your clinic. (And remember, offering something with no strings attached is a great way to start building a strong, trusting and loyal relationship with a new customer.)

BRAIN SQUAD TAKE:

Dr. Adam Ramsey at Socialite Vision, Palm Beach Gardens, FL: “I am changing my window displays to attract more customers. Curb appeal matters and I want to draw their eye to my store.”

HINTON

One month out, Hinton urges ECPs to start by revisiting his tips for the two-month and six-weeks marks.

Keep an eye on that white board; are you accomplishing the pre-determined goals? I advise all readers to read “The Checklist Manifesto.” Another tip: Who has time to read all these recommended biz books? Solution: The Blinkist app. This is a book summary app and it’s quite good.

Don’t forget those stocking stuffer ideas.
Play big with sharp focused communication to patients who don’t picture eyecare and eyewear as a perfect gift for the holidays.

Social media, emails and signage for eyewear and contact lens gift certificates.

CHAREST
Execute the last month of “Use It Or Lose It.”

Review ROI on all marketing initiatives for 2019 including website conversion, traffic, paid advertising, email marketing, recall cards/calls, and any other marketing and compare year over year.

Finalize your promotions calendar for 2020 and tasks.
Get everything ready in your Q1 2020 campaign: website updates, paid advertising new campaigns, social marketing, social media, email blast, etc. — and ensure you have a set schedule for the end of December, beginning of January to transition to the new campaign.

KARLSRUD

Hold an update meeting and review the KPIs and the results thus far. People only respect what you inspect, so if you pass on this meeting you will likely pass on hitting your goals. Celebrate areas that are going right and ask what prevents success in areas that are not. Adjust the plan accordingly but do not abandon it.

BRAIN SQUAD TAKE:

Annette Prevaux at The Visionary Inc., Allen Park, MI: “This has been a really challenging year so I am hoping to end on a high note. We fired Eyemed so revenue is down until my patients go elsewhere and realize it’s not like us. Also, cleaning up and moving out inventory that is sold online at a discount, bringing in more private/exclusive frames.”

Focus on the importance of accomplishing the goals set and ways to improve processes or best practices.

Review the expectations of your team in terms of time off and navigating the holiday seasons. Communicate clearly and often with your team. Motivate! Motivate! Motivate!

21 Days Out…

Time to check in with your team on the past year, with an eye on 2020.

BLACHFORD

Hindsight is 20/20. Reflect on your 2019 goals, where you thrived and where you didn’t. What worked? What didn’t? What changes do you need to make in the year ahead?

BRAIN SQUAD TAKE:

Dawn Christman at Munoz North Valley Eye Medical Group, Indian Hills, CA: “I will be looking over our current stock and our sales reports for the year. I have a few objectives. First would be to identify frames that are not selling. With these I will either try to exchange out for better styles or identify as a sales item. I will put together frame and lens packages and frame only pricing to increase sales while reducing stock. I will take a look at the frame lines that are not selling well to determine if we are going to go forward with the lines in 2020 or replace them. I want to identify lines I don’t already carry that may fit well in our office. This way I can put together a list to work from when selecting new lines for 2020. As for best-selling lines I will consider if we wish to increase, or leave as is, the number we carry in stock. I will also work on identifying what areas our opticians need or want assistance in to develop educational goals for 2020.”

Don’t do this alone: schedule staff check-ins now through the end of the year. Ask for their perspective on what is working, what isn’t and how your practice can be improved. Your frontline employees will no doubt have insights about the technology they use and what they’ve heard from patients.

Ask your staff about their personal and professional goals in 2020. Consider how your practice’s goals align with those of your employees. This can help you identify mutually beneficially training opportunities, as an example, that will engage an employee who can contribute new skills to your practice.

HINTON

Strategic, matched communication between departments to encourage patients to include the additions prescribed by their doctor. Often what I note when working with practice teams is the doctor will prescribe a specific product for a patient solution and the team member forgets to follow through. At such a busy time of year specifics sometimes get missed; it’s important for the team to stay focused.

14 Days Out…

Stay motivated, finish strong and go into 2020 with your plans in place and armed with as many “lessons learned” as you can.

BLACHFORD

Intel and insights are really only useful if acted upon. With two weeks left in the year, begin your preparation and planning for 2020. What issues were identified by your staff, and what needs to be purchased, discussed or clarified to address those pain points? Develop solutions and set a plan in place for ensuring you build on your strengths and shore up your weaknesses as a business. If you need to hire more staff or provide additional training to your team, do your research and legwork now.

Right before year-end, finalize all of your numbers for the year and analyze them. These will be your baseline figures for 2020 — ones you’ll use to develop your goals, such as reducing your number of unbooked appointments by a certain percentage.
Set your 2020 targets, share them with your team and keep them accessible and visible. Everyone should be on the same page and reminded every day of what they’re working towards (which should include some kind of compensation or reward for meeting a given target).

HINTON

At this point, Hinton urges a review of his tips from 1 month and 6 weeks out.

And right before the year ends… Review your white board, first-quarter goals with “what,” “when” and “who.”

Write and rehearse new dialogs to engage patients into first-quarter goals.

New Year multiple-pair strategies: “Who” and “when.”
To finish strong, try daily huddles with specific focus; all hands on deck; end-of-day outcomes from the huddles.

KARLSRUD

Don’t let up and keep the focus on your KPIs! The year is ending soon and so is the opportunity to earn the incentives put forth on day 90! Motivate right to the end.

BRAIN SQUAD TAKE:

Selena Jachens at Urban Eyecare & Eyewear, West Des Moines, IA: “We are planning a huge 2020 party! We are also bringing in a new line and featuring one of our best brands in our fall trunk show.”


EXPERT BIOS

PAULINE BLACHFORD consults with optometrists across North America on how to reduce un-booked appointments, increase eyewear sales, and improve employee engagement and productivity. She writes regularly for the Canadian Journal of Optometry and is a frequent speaker at industry conferences and events. For more information, visit paulineblachford.com.

MICHAEL KARLSRUD is a 20 year optical industry veteran. He currently runs a coaching consultancy focused on executive development, leadership, management and sales. He is the author of Selling By Design, A Field Guide to Selling, and hosted “On The Road Sales Coach” and “The Customer Service Download” supported by The Vision Council. In addition to coaching and speaking internationally, he is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of Wisconsin, River Falls Business School. For more information, visit karlsrudcompany.com.

TRUDI CHAREST is the co-founder of 4ECPs, a business resource company for eyecare professionals. 4ECPs has six divisions: Training, Marketing, Social Media, Payment, Jobsites and Events. A licensed optician with over 25 years of extensive eyecare experience, she is well known for designing, developing and facilitating training and marketing programs for ECPs across North America. For more information, visit marketing4ecps.com.

MARK HINTON is a practice owner, as well as CEO and president of eYeFacilitate, a private practice consultancy. A sought-after ABO/COPE approved practice management expert, with eYeFacilitate he helps practices drive optical efficiencies, maximize managed care revenue and profit, improve capture, and increase revenue through simple systems with a focused process. Contact him at mark@eyefacilitate.com.

Continue Reading

Best of Eyecare

Very Important Patron

mm

Published

on

Now let’s be clear… All customers are important. And all customers should be treated as such… but when we asked our readers about their most important customer, we didn’t mean it generally, we wanted specifics. Eyecare is an intimate undertaking and as such sometimes there are people who just become extra special. Second families, friends, lovers … sometimes “Can I help you?” can be the start of a beautiful relationship. And if none of these stories resonates with you, just remember the words of Kyle Kravick of Davis Duehr Dean in Portage, WI: “Most important? The next one through the door.” Because, hey, you never know!

I reconnected with an old schoolmate that later became my husband … for about three years anyway! – Julie Uram, Optical Oasis, Jupiter, FL

My most important patients have been members of C ongress and state senators. It gave me a chance to provide comprehensive eyecare and demonstrate how valuable optometry is to Americans. It also created a relationship in Washington and Tallahassee that helps the profession. – Robert M. Easton, Jr., OD, FAAO, Oakland Park, FL

In 1970, a patient told me about a commercial building that was going up for sale. I now own that building and it houses my practice. Best $12,000 I ever spent. – Texas L. Smith, OD, Dr. Texas L. Smith & Associates, Citrus Heights, CA

I have a family — a grandmother, mother, and three daughters — that have become like family. I’ve done all their glasses and took time getting to know them. Over the years we’ve become closer and closer. There’s nothing like having a second family when your own is far away! Frances Ann Layton, – Eye Associates of South Georgia, Valdosta, GA

About a year after I opened my optical shop, I went through some heartbreaking life changes. Several of my customers rallied and promoted my business, invited me to join the local Rotary Club, and supported my shop. All those things took my life in a better direction; I will be forever grateful! – Jennifer Leuzzi, Mill Creek Optical, Dansville, NY

We did sports vision training for years, and still do occasionally, so there are a handful of athletes we keep in contact with. About half have made the big leagues and the other half are great people who have become some of our biggest advocates.” – Josh Bladh, Dr. Bladh OD, Diamond Bar, CA

Had a patient who lost both eyes during WWII. He lived every day to its fullest with a sense of gratitude and humor that always lifts my spirits, reminding me of the amazing gifts in my life. Thinking of him always makes my day! – Dennis Iadarola, OD, Center For Vision Care, Monroe, CT

Actually, we’re a customer of theirs! My lab rep from Luzerne, Bernie Kastan. I met Bernie on one of my first days over six years ago. The relationship has developed into a friendship. We play golf and we don’t live across the street from each other. There are golf outings that focus on business, but this one will be filled with great conversation. – Rick Rickgauer, Vision Associates, Girard, PA

My most important customer was my husband! I had not seen him for years — we went to high school together — and he came in as I was finishing for the day. He asked for an exam because he was wearing old contacts (they were the dirtiest lenses I have ever seen). I stayed and did the exam. He asked me out and we just celebrated our 25th anniversary! – Kimberly Riggs, OD, Ligonier, PA

I have a nycz patient who has become my go to office handyman. My staff calls him for everything from changing light bulbs to patching cement. (His name is actually Nycz!) – Marc Ullman, OD Academy Vision, Pine Beach, NJ

My most important patient ever was actually a whole family of five children that did vision therapy. I quickly became attached to them as if they were my own. I eventually got invited over to their house and it turned into a great friendship! – Jade Kowalick, Ryczek Eye, St Petersburg, FL

I’ve developed many friendships with customers through the years simply from taking an interest in them and filling their needs. I know the staff thinks they are actually personal friends, but that’s just how I treat them when they come in. – Pam Housley, Texas State Optical of Nederland, Port Arthur, TX

My most important customer became my wife. We met years before we ever dated in the practice, one day it clicked. We’ve been together for 13 years. – Kevin Count, Prentice Lab, Glenview, IL

Continue Reading

Cover Stories

How To Do Everything

We challenge you to implement one of these 23 ‘How To’s in your practice before the year is out.

mm

Published

on

We recently consulted members of the eyecare community and a handful of business experts, asking them to tell us about some aspect of the business they’ve got down really well, and to boil that activity or practice down to its key components. What started out as a list of standout skills soon blossomed into an ECP’s guide to … pretty much, everything! Well … to a whole lot of really cool stuff, anyway. We’re pretty confident that reading this you’ll learn a few new tricks, and see at least a few of your current methods in a new light. We challenge you to implement one or two of these 23 practices — at least in some form — before the year is out.

HOW TO ENGAGE AUTHENTICALLY WITH YOUR COMMUNITY

Julie Kubsch, Specs Around Town, Bloomington, IL

Julie Kubsch, owner of Specs Around Town in Bloomington, IL, believes that if you engage with as many people as possible you’ll find someone who needs or wants your services — or who will know someone that does. Among the groups and events she has found most rewarding are: Bloomington-Normal Sunrise Rotary (“‘Service above self’ is the motto of Rotary and if you live it, it’s amazing what you can accomplish,” she says.); McLean County Chamber of Commerce (networking events); local radio station WGLT/NPR (“a perfect avenue for reaching clients that are fun, unique and love supporting local businesses”); and the downtown Bloomington business owners group’s monthly happy hour, hosted by a different business each time (“Nice resource to discuss downtown concerns, learn of other businesses in our area and creates a sense of family in regard to small, independent businesses.”) While financial benefits are the ultimate goal, Kubsch says, “hearing a comment like ‘Every time I ask someone where they got their glasses they say Specs Around Town!’ is good for the heart and soul.”

HOW TO MAKE THE BEST SANDWICH BOARDS


Heather Harrington, Elevated Eyecare, Denver, CO

By her own estimation, Heather Harrington at Elevated Eyecare in Denver, CO, makes the best sandwich boards in the business. We took her at her word and asked her to break down her approach — and the feedback.

  • INSPIRATION: Harrington gets hers from patients, the time of year, “and our office’s love for the overall health of the eye and clarity in vision.”
  • KEEP IT FRESH: She changes hers up twice a month or so.
  • MATERIALS: Harrington prefers chalk, with everything drawn in freehand.
  • LOCATION: In addition to placing them outside the business, she always posts all boards to her socials. “Of course!” she says. “Lots of hard work and thought goes into the boards for the month.”
  • RESPONSE: “Nothing but great things!”

HOW TO MAKE YOUR WEBSITE SERVE YOUR BRAND AND YOUR BOTTOM LINE

Selina McGee, OD, Precision Vision, Edmond, OK

Dr. Selina McGee at Precision Vision in Edmond, OK, has an eye for design but not the skills to translate that into a website. For that, she relied on marketing partner Gunnar Hood at WSI-Summit. (See what you think here www.pvedmond.com). She focuses her advice thus:

  • Find a web designer who can translate your ideas into reality.
  • Choose an appropriate platform: Precision Vision’s site is hosted on an SaaS platform called Duda, selected by Hood. “We like it because it is hassle free, supports SEO really well and accommodates all of our design needs.”
  • Use web analytics tools. Google Analytics, Google Search Console, heat mapping and other tools help monitor site performance, search engine optimization and social media reach.
  • Set goals. McGee’s were for the site to function as an extension of the office experience; to be phone-friendly; and to educate.
  • Include educational content. This captures views from beyond your area. “An article about bumps on eyelids is ranking well nationally.”
  • Don’t tinker constantly, McGee says, but consider a change if your site no longer reflects your brand and message, or isn’t meeting patients’ needs.

HOW TO KEEP YOUR WINDOW DISPLAYS FRESH

Jenni Leuzzi, Mill Creek Optical, Dansville, NY

At various times, the display windows at Mill Creek Optical in Dansville, NY have been graced by stuffed cows wearing shades; chickens eggs hatching kids’ glasses; a tipped-over picnic basket full of suns; and a vintage Fisher Price display. Here’s what owner Jenni Leuzzi focuses on:

  • For inspiration, in addition to holidays and seasons, Dansville has a full calendar of festivals and events. Check your town for something similar. She combs magazines and Pinterest, while some occasions suggest themselves: On Harry Potter-related dates: round frames in the window.
  • She stores a lot of props for re-use. Among these are old wooden boxes and crates, which can be draped in material. Items are found everywhere: “Garage sales, antique shops, Home Goods, Amazon, my basement…” Always be looking for something that can be used… or re-used.
  • The goal is to draw attention to your shop; don’t let your display become part of the unchanging scenery of the street. Leuzzi redoes her windows every three or four weeks.

HOW TO DEMO PRODUCTS & SERVICES ON FACEBOOK LIVE

Nancy Rausman, managing editor at EyeCarePro (eyecarepro.net), a consultant for the optical industry, says Facebook live is a great way for practices to build relationships, share expertise and products, and show the personal side of their business.

DO:

  • Provide value. Keep the focus on demonstrating services or displaying eyewear.
  • Write a compelling description. Before your audience decides whether to join you, they will read this.
  • Test lighting, sound and picture by selecting the privacy setting “only me” (in the “share with” section select “more” and scroll down).
  • Interact with your audience. Tag friends and patients to let them know the talk is happening; respond to chat; welcome people by name.

DON’T:

  • Forget to publicize your talk in advance.
  • Be overly promotional. This isn’t a commercial. No one wants to listen to 10 minutes of self-praise.

 

HOW TO EFFECTIVELY COMMUNICATE CHANGES TO CUSTOMERS

Marc Ullman, OD, Academy Vision in Pine Beach, NJ

During summer, Academy Vision in Pine Beach, NJ, takes off every other Friday. Here’s what Dr. Marc Ullman and the team do to keep people from driving all the way there only to find them closed.

  • Two or three weeks in advance, a message is posted alerting customers on Facebook, Google, the front door and website, and the phone message is updated.
  • The message itself is typically worded along the lines of: “Hello our amazing patients, the staff at Academy Vision will be taking time to enjoy our families this week.”
  • Messages are pinned along with all events to the top of social pages.
  • The door signage is professionally done. “It’s important to show we care about how you view our office, and the importance of spending time with family.”
  • Ullman reminds ECPs that “not everyone is on social media” — be prepared to field a few complaints.

HOW TO HIRE RIGHT EVERY TIME

Diana Canto Sims, OD, Buena Vista Optical, Chicago, IL

“Bringing new staff on board is pricey and time consuming; we have found our system works wonders funneling in the best candidates,” says Diana Canto Sims, co-owner of Buena Vista Optical in Chicago, IL. Here’s her rundown of the process:

  • A link is posted to an application with an invitation to schedule a phone interview at a day and time chosen by the candidate from a number of pre-determined slots. The slots are chosen ahead of time with a program called Acuity Scheduling. The application functions as the candidate’s resume.
  • For those who pass the phone interview, a face-to-face interview with a tour of the facilities. When they are also given a “logic and reasoning written test.”
  • Paid working interview. Conducted after they have passed the face-to-face. “We see their work ethic, reliability, team-playing ability and how they treat patients.”
  • Lastly, a candidate is selected from those funneled to the top. Some final advice, allow for trial and error, says Canto Sims. “It took us 11 years to perfect.

HOW TO START AN ABO TRAINING PROGRAM IN YOUR AREA

James Armstrong, Alberta Eye Care, Portland, OR

“Since opening our optical almost seven years ago, the most obvious challenge has been finding and retaining staff, particularly qualified opticians, and our office was not alone,” explains James Armstrong of Alberta and Cathedral Eye Care in Portland, OR. The shortage in the labor market has led to higher turnover and overhead costs, so Armstrong reached out to Portland Community College, and pitched the formation of an ABO training program in their medical career training department. “The idea was met with enthusiasm, but obstacles also presented themselves.”

  • Be able to demonstrate the demand in our local market.
  • Find an instructor. “It took two years of networking and reaching out to industry partners before the connection was finally made that led to finding Andrew Bruce, a master optician with decades of optical management experience, as our instructor,” shares Armstrong.
  • Know how to navigate the classic optometry vs. ophthalmology politics. “PCC has had an Ophthalmic Medical Technician program for years. I argued adding the ABO training program could only strengthen the college’s position in the eyecare field but those running the OMT program were concerned our program would potentially steer candidates away, or lower the future job prospects of the OMT graduates.” It took six months for Armstrong to convince everyone involved that opticians are not technicians and vice-versa. “What seemed like an obvious argument to myself and everyone else in our industry proved to be a very challenging hurdle for this program to overcome.”
  • Be patient. “Three years after I approached PCC about this program, Optician ABO Prep is officially a go and accepting students for January 2020!”

HOW TO WORK FASTER

Caitlin Wicka, San Juan Eye Center, Montrose, CO

Caitlin Wicka of San Juan Eye Center in Montrose, CO, isn’t sure why her ability to work with multiple patients at one time is so rare. Here’s what she does know about squeezing the most out of a workday:

DO:

  • Give trays to customers shopping for frames. “This allows them to look while you help change a nose pad or dispense.”
  • Offer guidance on store layout before a customer begins browsing.
  • Use the Ultrasonic cleaner as a way to make time to help someone else.
  • Look up insurance and patients before you sit with them.
  • Know your inventory and what you can order relative to the Rx you’re looking at.
  • Slow down, if it means making fewer mistakes.
  • Get your workspace set up with the tools that you most commonly use.

DON’T:

  • Chat with patients. “Let them talk to you, don’t talk at them.”
  • Deal with vendors/reps ahead of customers. “If a rep comes in, get them to help your patient look for glasses.”

HOW TO ANNOUNCE A FIRING TO THE REST OF YOUR STAFF

The basic rules of firing apply here. Firstly, do it quickly. Secondly, provide enough information to demonstrate the decision wasn’t arbitrary, but not so much detail that you look like you’re trying to embarrass someone. Be low-key, brief, stick to the facts and avoid emotion. Alison Green, author of the “Ask a Manager” blog, offers the following sample script for an email that she recommends be sent to the whole staff on the day of the firing.

”Unfortunately, Jane’s last day with us was today. We wish her the best of luck, and we’ll be moving quickly to hire a replacement. Until her replacement is hired, please see Fergus with questions about teapot research and Lucinda for any other questions.”

Green adds that “Your staff will generally understand that you’re not going to share every detail with them in cases like this,” while reminding managers that the key is to ensure that your staff understands how performance problems are handled.

HOW TO HANDLE AN EMPLOYEE WHO WON’T TAKE THE HINT

Back to “Ask a Manager” blogger Alison Green for this one: She advises that in fact it’s not your job to manage an employee’s reactions; if they don’t get it, it might be time to show them the door. “If an employee’s refusing to hear clear warnings, you don’t have to keep hammering the point home.” But before you pull the trigger, she does advise that you revisit the language you’ve been using with the employee. Have you been clear? “Sometimes managers think they have, but when we dig into exactly what they’ve said, it turns out that their wording has been mushier than they thought. In particular, managers are sometimes reluctant to say words like ‘If you don’t do XYZ, I will need to let you go.’” So, don’t be fuzzy. A manager/owner’s responsibility in this situation isn’t to keep issuing warnings — it’s to ensure that their warnings are clear. If not, Green says, “It’s time to move to a conclusion.”

HOW TO GET WHAT YOU WANT, AND NEED, FROM A SALES REP

Lorie McBroom, Bakersfield Eye Care, Bakersfield, CA

5 Bakersfield Eye Care in Bakersfield, CA, had tried several colorful frame collections that didn’t do well, so adding Etnia Barcelona felt like a bit of a gamble. Optical manager Lorie McBroom recalls telling the rep, “‘I love the brand, but it would be amazing if we could have 90 days to try it out to see how it would work. And the rep said, ‘Let’s make that happen.’” The line was a hit. “It’s worked out for us, as well as for our vendor, just to ask for the things that you want.” Something else McBroom has learned is that reps are a great resource for recommendations beyond their own brands. A good example of this is Matsuda, one of the first high-end lines they added. Its rep wasn’t familiar with Bakersfield, but another salesperson — who’d already brought Etnia Barcelona and Garrett Leight to the shop — vouched for what Bakersfield Eye Care was up to. By the time the Matsuda rep finally visited in person, “we had already sold through most of our Matsuda we bought at Expo, including a show-stopping frame that retailed for over $1,500,” says McBroom.

HOW TO SELL FROM THE CHAIR

Chris Lopez, OD, Roberts Eyecare Associates, Vestal, NY

To the eye docs reading this: We get it — you’re NOT salespeople. But there are ways to boost eyewear sales from the chair without feeling like you’re selling, and without dragging discussions of fees/costs into the exam room. Here are a few, provided by Dr. Chris Lopez of Roberts Eyecare Associates in Vestal, NY.

  • A key point from a sales point of view comes after refraction. Says Dr. Lopez, “If there is a moderate-significant refractive change, I demonstrate the change for the patient using their current prescription and the new one with the phoroptor. That’s a main selling point.”
  • Ask patients about their lifestyle. What recommendations present themselves? Says Lopez: “A prescription is what I deem necessary to provide the patient with the sharpest and most comfortable vision possible. A recommendation is what I think the patient could benefit from but which is not necessary.” ODs are within their rights to make both, he says. Discuss your recommendations as you walk patients to the handoff.
  • Ask all presbyopic patients if they’ve heard about multifocal contact lenses, an option that can get them out of reading glasses or bifocals/PALs. Many Baby Boomers and younger presbyopes are very conscious about their appearance. Being able to solve their near vision problem and helping them look young will make you a hero.
  • Raise the potential benefits of anti-fatigue lenses and daily disposables with appropriate patients during the exam. “With more and more patients reporting eye strain or tired eyes towards the end of the day, anti-fatigue lenses have earned a spot in my patient education armamentarium,” he says. “And I put any young patient (children and teenagers) into a daily disposable contact lens if it’s a new fit. It’s best to start healthy habits from the get go.”
  • “Always. Always. Have I said ALWAYS yet? I always ask patients at the end of the exam if they have any questions for me, or if there is anything that I haven’t answered for them. It gives them an opportunity to express all of their concerns and it allows you to once again educate and solve problems.”

HOW TO OFFER FREEBIES THAT MAKE YOU MONEY

Nancy Revis, Uber Optics, Petaluma, CA

“We are known to have fun free stuff,” says Nancy Revis, owner of Uber Optics in Petaluma, CA. She studied graphic design and marketing, so fun giveaways come naturally. “I had matchboxes made with our logo. Nice pens with our logo. We had beer coozies made that say ‘For your beer goggles.’ We always have fresh red vines and have a kitchen-size fridge full of beer and sparkling water. We have mints and chocolate all over the shop … especially mints because we are all in each other’s faces, so that is important.” Revis isn’t above setting the occasional sugar trap, either: “Now the little kids remember that I have red vines on the coffee table so they drag their parents in when they are walking by. I have totally sold sunglasses from them being dragged through the store for candy.” Selling suns doesn’t get any sweeter.

HOW TO BOOST WORD OF MOUTH BY DELIVERING A ‘WOW’ EYE EXAM

Robert M Easton, Jr, OD, Oakland Park, FL

Dr. Robert Easton in Oakland Park, FL, offers comprehensive eyecare and, when indicated, topography and a wellness OCT at no extra charge. Patients are shown the results in the exam room on flat screen HDTVs. He points out that topography is an excellent way to pick up a range of disorders. And “if a patient has a family history of glaucoma and/or deep cups, and/or high normal eye pressures, I want to be sure their Ganglion Cell Thickness is normal and I’ll run an Optovue Wellness exam. Furthermore, before I refer a patient for cataract surgery or Lasik I run an Optovue Wellness exam to rule out any retinal issues prior to surgery.” He adds that patients are more likely to accept treatment recommendations when he blows up their tests on a flat screen TV. “Because I do this as part of the comprehensive eye exam, I do not charge the patient. Many patients have referred their family members because of our thoroughness.” Business is so good, in fact, Easton doesn’t advertise.

HOW TO MANAGE FIRST TIME PRESBYOPES/PROGRESSIVE WEARERS

Kim Hilgers, Monson Eyecare Center, Owatonna, MN

A “no surprises” approach for first time progressive wearers is advocated by Kim Hilgers at Monson Eyecare Center in Owatonna, MN. Here’s her advice:

  • “I start by explaining that the ground won’t be clear when they look down because the viewing area is only 14-18 inches in the distance. I talk about steps and curbs (and vacuuming) being a challenge. I like to make a drawing to show them the reading area isn’t all the way across the lens.”
  • “The OptiKam has an amazing virtual lens demonstrator that the patient can hold and see more realistically what to expect.”
  • “Varilux Physio and Physio Drx are my go-tos. I’m kind of obsessing about Varilux X series right now for higher presbyopes.”
  • “I would say 95 percent of first-time progressive wearers are first-time presbyopes. I implore my doctors to speak to them about this as early as possible in their journey of presbyopia, to make MY job easier.”

HOW TO FIND/MAKE THE BEST USE OF AN OPTOMETRIC EXTERN

Mark Perry, OD, Vision Health Institute, Orlando, FL

Whereas internships are usually narrowly focused, months-long paid arrangements involving an employment agreement, and specific duties, externships (the word combines “experience” and “internship”) last a day to a few weeks, are unpaid, informal, have no major deliverables and often involve a student shadowing a doctor or simply observing what goes on. Dr. Mark Perry at Vision Health Institute in Orlando, FL offers the following advice to those thinking of bringing one (or more) on board:

  • Be dedicated to the profession, willing to instruct and help them adapt to patient encounters — lead by example!
  • Make sure your office is accommodating (and busy enough) to the optometry school, as well as the student (medical model of practice, latest equipment, etc.).
  • Start with your alma mater — contact the director or manager of the externship programs.
  • Be prepared to spend time with them.
  • Get staff to embrace and engage with the students.
  • Be prepared to learn from them!

HOW TO HANDLE VERY YOUNG CHILDREN

Nikki Griffin and Sara Mabie, OD, EyeStyles Optical and Boutique, Oakdale, MN
Nikki Griffin, owner/optician at EyeStyles Optical and Boutique in Oakdale, MN, fits babies as young as three months, so she knows a thing or two about doing it well. Her advice for opticians:

  • Fit them for now. Not yesterday, not a month from now.
  • If you don’t have the right size, admit it and refer to someone who does. Otherwise you’ll drive those people online.
  • Watch for endpieces that stick out too far.
  • Fit a frame to sit high.
  • Toddler tip: Use two penlights to get a PD. One to shine on their eye and another for them to shine at you.

Lastly, for optometrists looking to work with more kids: “Think like a kid,” advises EyeStyles’ OD, Dr. Sara Mabie. “A toddler might see a symbol of a rotary phone in a turtle. Be flexible — sometimes even getting on the floor for the wiggle worms. Have a variety of bright flashing toys to pull out, not a creepy puppet. Their attention span is short so change objects often. Oh, and keep moving!”

 

HOW TO GIVE AN EDUCATIONAL TALK

Taylor Little, OD, Eye Care Center of Colorado Springs, CO

According to Bob Levoy, author of 201 Secrets of a High Performance Optometric Practice, “the average optometrist has all the qualifications needed to become an effective public speaker. It’s really just an extension of in-office patient education.” By getting on the speaking circuit, you’ll be harnessing the power of your knowledge to bring in new patients. One doctor who’s already using this approach is Dr. Taylor Little at Eye Care Center of Colorado Springs, CO. Dr. Little urges other ODs to:

  • Decide on your expertise and have a direction before you start organizing your lecture.
  • Look for smaller events that need volunteers first.
  • Practice aloud beforehand.
  • Utilize pauses.
  • Choose a way to increase engagement with questions or surveys.

Levoy reminds ECPs not to turn the event into an advertisement. “The optometrist whose only motivation for public speaking is to obtain new patients will come across as self-serving … Establish yourself as an ‘authority,’ not as someone who is ‘looking for business.’”

HOW TO TELL A JOKE

Sometimes the route to “Yes” is through a customer’s funnybone. But before you clear your throat and dust off your knock-knock jokes, here are some thoughts from the guys in white jackets who know how to be funny:

  • Be self-deprecating, but don’t overdo it. In his sales blog at yesware.com, a sales productivity platform, Lou Carlozo counsels that sales humor at your own expense is safe, but don’t make yourself appear incompetent. You can joke about your hairline but don’t undermine your product line. He adds that self-effacing humor builds trust to show the real human being behind the salesperson; it creates a sense of authenticity.
  • Queens, NY-based standup comic Hari Kondabolu had this to say to The New York Times’ tip columnist Malia Wollan on the topic of joke-telling: “People should not be able to telegraph where a joke’s going.’’ Kondabolu says stock or street jokes — the kind you read in a joke compendium — are almost never funny. So, work on your ability to slip jokes naturally into conversation (i.e., don’t start with “Want to hear a joke?”).
  • If you must tell a joke involving an animal, ducks make for the funniest quips, according to a global survey done by scientists at the University of Hertfordshire, Wollan reports.

HOW TO BANISH BAD VIBES

Morgan Bartel, Collins Diamonds, Liberal, KS

Morgan Bartel, the owner of Collins Diamonds in Liberal, KS, told our sister publication INSTORE that “It’s store policy that we have no bad attitudes, conversations regarding politics, religion or anything that could cause any negative vibes. We believe in the law of attraction, which means that whatever thoughts/words we put out there or allow to be said within our store bring about either good or bad feelings. We have given numerous customers the opportunity to step outside and rethink their attitude. Some have immediately changed their tone, while others took their given opportunity, started looking at the bright side and then re-entered our store with a much more positive spirit!”

HOW TO FIRE A CLIENT

Tania Sotelo, Balfour Vision Optix, Brentwood, CA

It’s smart to set and maintain a chain of command and have a policy on what to do with people who disrupt your business. Staff tasked with carrying out the order should make it clear to the patient that it’s the doc’s call, and invoke their name, ideally in a brief conversation or call, but it can be done in an email. “Dr. Smith feels it’s time for you to find a new doctor, as we don’t seem able to meet your needs in our office,” Tania Sotelo of Balfour Vision Optix in Brentwood, CA, says. “We have a letter we mail to them stating we unfortunately have not been able to meet their needs and feel it’s best for us to terminate the business relationship,” she says. “We give them a 30-day notice for emergency services only and offer help finding another doctor if needed.”

HOW TO DEAL WITH A NATURAL DISASTER WITH HEART

Texas Smith, OD, Dr. Texas L. Smith & Associates, Citrus Heights, CA

Northern California’s Camp Fire killed 85 people and destroyed nearly 19,000 homes last year. Survivors who made their way to Dr. Texas L. Smith & Associates in Citrus Heights, CA, were seen and given Rxs for free. The idea began when VSP started providing vouchers for eye exams and glasses after the fire. “Several patients came in with the vouchers and I would ask them if anyone in their family needed eyecare,” explained Smith, who later reached out to VSP for more vouchers, and eventually just began providing survivors with needed care and Rxs at no charge. Smith has a history of quietly giving back. He has volunteered eyecare for homeless veterans, which, as a Vietnam vet himself, he says is “a no brainer.” He also volunteers with the VSP Mobile Clinic at Loaves and Fishes in Sacramento. “Optometry has been very good to my family so I need to pay it forward. Just doing my best to make a positive difference,” he says. Fires, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, it seems Mother Nature has no shortage of disasters. Are you doing your part?

Continue Reading

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Subscribe


BULLETINS

Get the most important news and business ideas for eyecare professionals every weekday from INVISION.

Instagram

This error message is only visible to WordPress admins

Error: API requests are being delayed for this account. New posts will not be retrieved.

There may be an issue with the Instagram Access Token that you are using. Your server might also be unable to connect to Instagram at this time.

Error: No posts found.

Make sure this account has posts available on instagram.com.

Error: admin-ajax.php test was not successful. Some features may not be available.

Please visit this page to troubleshoot.

Most Popular