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Understanding the Customer-Focused Approach to Earning Trust

It all comes down to something known as the ‘familiarity principle.’

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ANY BUSINESS OWNER will tell you that it can take years to earn trust amongst your customers and potential customers. The optical industry is no different; the patient wants to go to an eye doctor who is precise and confident in their measurements; the optician wants to buy frames from a reliable and available rep; and the frame company wants to use a fast and accurate factory. No matter the level of engagement, it is trust that solidifies the relationship.

Earning trust among your customers is the best way of retaining them and seeing repeat business. This comes down to something known as the ‘familiarity principle’ — we are attracted to, and trust, what is familiar to us. For example, I know that I prefer my burgers cooked medium-well, so that is what I’m going to order. I am ‘familiar’ with it, and I trust that I will like it. By using the customer-faced approach to earning trust, we will find out what every single one of our customers likes to eat off that metaphorical menu. If you figure that out, you will often have a customer (or friend) for life. There are three broad areas to consider:

1. Create value proactively. By preparing with them in mind it shows the customer/patient that they are valued and important. Simple things such as pulling a couple of frames for them in advance, prior authorizing their insurance benefits, or even offering to clean their glasses are all nice proactive things to do. A favorite of mine is when a patient comes to collect their eyeglasses and I already have them in my hand (as I saw them through the window).

2. Share yourself during conversation. Familiarity can be gained by showing your customers who you are on the inside. They learn that you are not just a sales robot; perhaps you have kids, you love soccer, or have a shared hobby. I have had the absolute blessing of knowing so many fun stories about my clients, many of which I wouldn’t be privy to without first opening up. Granted, there’s an appropriate time for everything, so please don’t hassle Mrs. Brown about your coin collection when she is trying to get to work.

3. Be open and honest about your abilities and limitations. One of the most disappointing things is when we fail a client. I have made the mistake before where I have promised something but was unable to pull through. In hindsight I would have preferred to have lost a sale by saying ‘no’ than by losing their trust with an ambitious promise. So, don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ to the customer who wants their glasses made in an impractical time frame. Doing so can command more respect and make your value explicit. Only promise something when you know 110 percent that it is a sure thing.

The customer-faced approach is a mix of things we do to keep the sales discussion and customer relationship in tandem. Show your customer that they are important, open yourself up as much as is appropriate, and tell them what you can and can’t do. By being proactive, attentive, open and honest, we help the discussion about their needs and wants flow in a way that lets us accurately read (and predict) the customer’s state of mind in that moment. By encouraging the relationship with the customer, and making this the focus of the sales discussion, we earn their trust. Since trust is fragile, the above steps should not be used nefariously, as it is excruciatingly hard to regain from a scorned client. Ask Mrs. Brown about that one time I broke her beloved Cartier frame…

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David Greening holds a degree in ophthalmic dispensing from Kent, England. With 19 years experience in the industry, he is a British expat living in California for the last six. Currently, he is the optical manager at Astorino Eye Center in Newport Beach, CA. He can be emailed at [email protected].

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