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The Optometrist Manifesto: Ask Questions, Listen, and Earn a Patient for Life

Patients just want to be heard.

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I KNOW WHAT I look for in a general practitioner. I want to be heard. I want to know that I have the attention of my doctor and feel comfortable that my treatment plan isn’t based on generalities and assumptions. I want to be able to ask questions and get honest answers. I like when doctors dig into my concerns — ask pointed questions and make connections. I like when a doctor can speak directly and with confidence but still understand that decisions I make about my healthcare are mine to make. Guilt trips break trust. “I told you so” rarely works.

I know a lot of this sounds trivial but I feel that as optometrists we tend to get into a routine and think we have the answers even before doing the exam. I’d argue we need the entire length of the exam to gather data and win the  patient’s trust. They may decide to wait until the end to tell you something or not feel comfortable until then or not find relevance in something quite important because they were not asked. They have to trust us and we them. That can only happen with candid conversation, relatable experiences, and genuine interest.

Talk. It’s not rocket science. Ask your patients questions — not just for the sake of coming to a diagnosis or selling glasses. Really ask them what they do, what they want and what they may struggle with. Be inquisitive. Be interested. Make eye contact. Don’t type and listen at the same time. Ask follow up questions. Show empathy when you can. Be relatable. Identify your own weaknesses and passions. Be human. Are there challenges they face that they don’t want to do anything about? They should feel comfortable talking with you about them and knowing that you hear them and can put those concerns on a shelf until they’re ready to address them. Let them know that everything discussed is a decision you will make together. Make sure they’re comfortable knowing you will always make your educated recommendations but are open to other treatment strategies depending on what works for them.  Really convince them that you are on their side and you are not interested in just making a buck. They need to feel safe. Then, they will ultimately know that what you suggest is genuine, informed and relevant because you took the time to talk to them. That is all they want. They want to feel that during their time with you, the only thing on your mind was their situation and concerns.

Ask questions like you would of a friend or a family member. Be their advocate. Revel in their successes. Join them in their setbacks. What they are telling you usually has to do with more than just their eyes.  Talk and listen. In the end, you’ll have a patient for life.

Dr. Shimul Y. Shah graduated from the University of Michigan in 1994 and The Pennsylvania College of Optometry in 1999. Currently settled in Columbus, OH, she has owned Marysville Family Vision in Marysville, OH, for the last five years. Follow the practice on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter (@MFamilyVis) to get an inside look at the optical and Quincy the hedgehog.

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Robert Bell

Stop Educating Your Customer!

You’re just doing it wrong anyway.

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JUST TO BE UPFRONT with you, I want to destroy the concept of educating your customer. Why?

Because it’s likely you’re doing it at exactly the wrong time and your product knowledge and expertise can be intimidating when used at the wrong time.

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Think about this: Have you ever been in front of a customer and felt they were starting to get uncomfortable when you began telling them about your products or expertise? I know you’re an expert at what you do but people tend to get a little uneasy when you start using technical language and optical jargon when describing products.

This leaves your customers in a situation where they really only have a few options:

  • They can stop you and ask you to explain, in layman’s terms, what you’re talking about … (this rarely happens.)
  • Their eyes glaze over, their listening stops, and they just nod their heads waiting for you to give them an opportunity to say “no” when you mention the price, or
  • They begin to feel so uncomfortable that they look at their watch and say, “Oh, look at the time. I really have to run back to my office (or pick up my daughter from soccer practice, etc.)” and they get the hell outta Dodge! Where do they go? Probably online, maybe to a Big Optical store but they’re definitely not coming back to you. Ouch!

C’mon, you’ve seen this happen … more times than you care to admit. It sucks! But, you keep on doing it. Why? Well, let’s take a look at that and see if we can’t turn this around for you.

When I ask ECPs why they do this, I’m told it helps establish them as the expert, and builds credibility and trust with the patient/customer. But something else, entirely different, is actually happening.

Look, it’s great to finally get to the point when you truly are an expert. It comes from years of hard work. In truth, it’s incredible and you should be proud! So, when you start talking about your expertise and product knowledge, it actually feels good. It’s actually meeting some kind of inner need … your inner need. Yes, it’s important to know your products; it builds your confidence. But, this expertise of yours should enable you to ask the appropriate questions to determine your customer’s needs … and that’s the part that usually gets lost in the shuffle. But, guess what? That’s the most important part of being an expert!

What I’m saying is you tend to shoot yourself in the foot, from a selling standpoint, when you start to use your product knowledge, technical terms, jargon and expertise to make yourself feel better about you. Don’t feel bad about this, it’s common in the selling process. But, now that you’re aware of it, you can correct the situation.

Your value, as an eyecare professional, is in the information you gather from your customers, not about the information you dispense. Once you gather all that info on your customer’s needs, then, and only then, is the right time to “educate” your customer.

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John Marvin

Customer Experience Isn’t About Bells and Whistles But Simplicity and Convenience

Espresso bars, large screen TVs and foot massages just distract from what customers really want.

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ATTEND ANY CONFERENCE about retail these days, and you’ll hear the phrase “customer experience.” Well-intentioned speakers talk about creating a differentiating “customer experience.” They say people don’t buy glasses, contact lenses or exams, they buy a “customer experience.” All this talk of “experience” is trendy and meant to convey insight into what it takes to be successful. But what is it? How can we create or improve something we can’t define?

To provide an experience, some ODs add espresso bars, large screen TVs, foot massages or X-Box stations to offer this ubiquitous and ever-elusive “experience.” I submit that emphasizing ancillary activities to create an experience distracts from what customers really want. Yes, I said customers. Part of the problem has been our reluctance to discuss those who purchase our services and products as customers, preferring the term patients.

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Words matter. They convey a certain perspective to our employees and to ourselves. We associate patients with hospitals, clinics and health care institutions. The practice of optometry does have a significant clinical element, but it’s also a retail business selling prescription glasses and contacts. A full two-thirds of the revenue generated for the vast majority of optometry practices is from the retail side. Understanding the customer is critical to being successful. Taking customers for granted provides an opportunity for disruptors to give them what they want, how they want it. There are three keys to demystifying and creating a successful customer experience:

SIMPLICITY. Everyone is busy and bombarded with too much information. We wake up with digital assistance that tells us the news and weather and what our commute time will be. We are flooded with information. Then customers are overwhelmed with decisions when they schedule appointments: What insurance do you have? What is your group number? Which plan are you on? What is your deductible? What does your insurance cover? Followed by purchasing decisions… Do you want the best lenses, better lenses or good lenses? Do you want anti-glare? Lenses that protect from blue light? What is blue light? Do you want computer lenses? What are they? Do you want a protection plan for your glasses? What does the plan cover? And that is just for the first pair of prescription eyewear … what about multiple pairs? People crave simplicity. How can you provide it?

CONVENIENCE. People make purchase decisions based on convenience; not just of location, but also of experience. Amazon sold over $232 billion worth of goods and services in 2018 due to convenience. Open the browser, type www.amazon.com and voila, the retail world is at your fingertips. In most cases, it arrives the next day and the shipping is free. How convenient is it to shop with you?

PERSONABLE. You may be thinking, “Wow, I don’t know how I can compete,” but we can all be personable. One of the advantages of brick and mortar is social interaction with people. We like interaction that is meaningful and rewarding. We want attention and assistance. We love places that are welcoming and pleasant. This is an advantage optometry practices have that cannot be matched online. This is the game changer if you focus on customer service. Hire enough people to provide personable service; it is a worthwhile investment. Equip employees with the knowledge and confidence to make the experience simple and easy to understand. Make sure your delivery processes of services and products are designed with customer convenience in mind.

Creating loyal customers who refer friends, family, and co-workers isn’t about espresso, movies or massages. It’s about giving customers what they want in a way that is simple, convenient and personable.

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Columns

Having the Appropriate Education and Information is Just Polite

Proper etiquette can result in a major boost to your office’s retention rate.

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ETIQUETTE CAN BE DEFINED in many ways, but for the purposes of this column, let’s say it’s best described as a set of rules about behavior for people in a particular profession. As opticians or eyecare professionals, proper etiquette means conducting ourselves in a manner that best suits our patients. I have found, when talking to patients, it is best to strike a balance and do my best to be simple … with just a hint of complex at the same time.

Our office has found that doing this and educating patients can result in a major boost in retention rate. For example, we don’t just tell a patient: “I need to take your PD.” The puzzled look on their faces should be enough to let you know they have no idea what you are talking about. Instead, we advise the patient we need to take a Pupillary Distance Measurement (see, this is the complex), then explain that the Pupillary Distance is acquired to ensure proper optical alignment for their eyewear. Or to simplify it even further:

“We do this measurement to line up your new lenses with your eyes.”

Using medical terminology in its proper form is the best way to educate your patients, but I caution, please be sure you know what you are talking about. We all share what we think we know about something … just to have someone else come after us and say it in a different way. This can confuse the patient and create a sense of mistrust. If you don’t know, don’t fake it! Research, find the answer, and it will mean more to you and your patient. Some of my favorite resources are Dr. Tim Root’s “Root Eye Network” YouTube videos for the medical side of optics and Laramy-K Optical’s YouTube channel for my technical optician needs.

Holding staff meetings and developing productive solutions for issues can establish a uniform way to engage patients by coming up with consistent phrasing that creates confidence and trust.

Take time to learn the basics: hyperopia, myopia, astigmatism, presbyopia. We see these diagnoses every day. Doctors don’t always provide clear explanations or provide answers to follow up questions. Having this knowledge ourselves will give our patients more confidence when ordering eyewear. Learn how these conditions affect your patients so you can relate to them and provide the best solutions.

Your knowledge, confidence and drive to serve your patients with the best care possible is the “proper etiquette” all our patients deserve.

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