Loyalty Oath

Brad Childs Who is more loyal? Is it your dog or your spouse?

Got ya! Now that we have your attention, here’s hoping you are actually thinking about this question as we take it from dogs and marriage to what concerns you and your opti-pro intentions. Loyal clients are actually the essence of your existence, your survival and your ability to thrive. Your business is virtually built on an oath of loyalty. The biggest worry should not be the 16 other optical shops in a 5-mile radius of your practice. We need not fret about the evolution of the e-commerce platforms that continue to pop up by the second. Stay on course serving your clients. They are your past, present and future.

Research shows that it costs five times more money to earn a new client than it does to retain one you already have. Your money, time and effort are better invested keeping your existing clients happy. A happy client will proudly spread the word for you. Would you believe me if I told you 80 percent of your future earnings will come from 20 percent of your existing clients? I didn’t believe it either until I read it as a metric missive at Forbes.com.

Word: Customer service at all costs. That is how we do it here in Pittsburgh. And that is how we intend to do it at our new ventures in Cleveland. Research also shows that 90 percent of your clients will not return to your shop once they have had a bad experience. If these numbers are not adding up for you at this point, then you have much bigger problems. What is your point of difference? What will you do today that will improve upon what you did yesterday? How do you plan to keep your clients LOYAL?

Here’s my five-point guide to running a practice as an independent optical professional:

  1. Do WHATEVER it takes WHENEVER… and as you let that marinate, think about a follow-up from your perspective, and let me hear your thoughts in the comments section.
  2. How far are you willing to go for a client? Our answer: to the end of the earth.
  3. Never let up on personal and social interaction, and ALWAYS respond in real time to any client request.
  4. Make your mission your story and your story your mission. Your business is basically a service handmade in America. Be proud of that accomplishment.
  5. Always embrace the ability to change even when all systems are running smoothly.
  6. Customer retention equals customer loyalty, which ultimately equals your survival in this ever-changing, exciting optical arena

—Brad Childs, Vice President and COO, Eyetique

PD or No PD

Andrew KarpPD or no PD, that is the question posed by Barry Santini in this month’s L&T feature, “The Power and Politics of the PD.”

Although I doubt Hamlet was on Santini’s mind when he wrote this article, the question he explores—whether or not an optometrist should provide a patient’s PD along with their prescription—arises from a drama that’s almost worthy of Shakespeare. It’s a conflict that plays out every day in eyecare practices around the country, as more consumers ask their eye doctors for their PD measurements so they can then go purchase eyeglasses online.

As Santini notes, tensions build between doctor and patient when ODs are reluctant to release a patient’s PD because it means they are “losing a bit more of their historical control over the sale of prescription eyewear.” Times are changing though, as consumers demand more transparency in all their interactions with health care professionals. Because of this, Santini believes that ODs are bound to lose the struggle over PDs, and he marshals a formidable array of facts to support his argument.

I agree with Santini. Consumers are not going to stop demanding what they believe is rightfully theirs. In today’s consumer-centric world, you swim against the tide at your own risk.

Instead of balking when a patient asks for their PD, why not use the opportunity to talk with them about their pending online eyewear purchase? Perhaps the deal they’re seeking or the eyewear style they want is not so different than what you can offer them, either through your brick- and-mortar dispensary or perhaps your own online dispensary. Don’t be afraid to remind patients that your skilled staff can help them select the best-looking and best-fitting eyewear, and that you can offer them a range of options too.

You may not persuade every patient to abandon their online purchase, but you’ll certainly get some to think twice about it. More importantly, they’ll see you as an ally, not an antagonist.

We hope “The Power and Politics of the PD” will get you thinking about how you can do better to serve your customers, even if meeting their needs may feel uncomfortable at first.

Andrew Karp, Group Editor, Lenses and Technology

When Buying Glasses, Price Isn’t Everything

Andrew KarpIf you’re like me, you’re probably getting tired of the consumer media telling eyeglass wearers they are being overcharged for their eyewear. From respected publications such as Consumer Reports to award-winning television programs like “60 Minutes,” consumers are hearing a rising chorus of mainstream media voices advising them to cut their eyewear costs by buying online or from discount stores.

Although price is always an important factor in any buying decision, it’s just one element, something this one-dimensional reporting overlooks. The other element is quality. It is the balance of these two elements that creates value for the consumer.

The latest ones to jump on the “eyewear is overpriced” bandwagon is ABC News. In a special report by ABC’s “Real Money” team, reporter Paula Faris offers this pearl of wisdom: “Shop around with your prescription. Don’t get stuck buying glasses at the optometrist’s office.”

I guess it never occurred to Faris that some optometrists might offer good deals on glasses, not to mention a comprehensive eye exam and advice about which lenses might best suit a patient’s visual needs. The OD might even have a well-stocked dispensary run by an expert optician where the patient can conveniently be fitted with those lenses. What a concept!

Shortly after the ABC News report aired, VSP Optics blogged, “There have been a lot of stories counseling Americans not to buy eyeglasses from their local eye doctor. This is not only bad from a personal health perspective but also from a personal finance perspective.” VSP went on to list various reasons why consumers should buy their glasses from independent eye doctors. In addition, VSP Vision Care president Jim McGrann stated in a video posted on the company’s website, “You really want to stay involved with your eyecare professional to make sure you’re getting the medical side of this experience, and couple it with the cool fashion side.”

Nicely put, Mr. McGrann.

Andrew Karp, Group Editor, Lenses and Technology

We’re Not Doing Our Job

christyAs the roving photographer shooting 20/20’s Upfront Street Seen feature, I experience first-hand what consumers everywhere are wearing in the way of sunwear and eye protection as they go about their lives. Once a year, I have a special assignment to photograph your younger patients. I’ll wander an outdoor shopping mall, hit the local beaches or a tourist destination on a Saturday afternoon, photographing kids with their parents.

This year I had to go to three different locations in order to find enough kids wearing sunglasses or even ophthalmic eyewear to fulfill my assignment. There were plenty of kids to be found… that wasn’t the problem. The problem was they weren’t wearing glasses. I’d see an entire family coming down the street, both parents wearing sunglasses and three kids with no sunglasses. For every 10 children I encountered, only one was wearing glasses of any kind, and only two-thirds of those were sunglasses.

We as an industry are failing these children. Somehow, the sunscreen message has made an impression on parents, with youngsters being slathered with sunscreen at the beach. But those same kids are building sand castles in the glaring sunshine without sunscreen for their eyes. It could be because there is an immediate and visible consequence to forgetting sunscreen for your arms and face… a wicked and painful sunburn. But the accumulative damage from a life without sunglasses will wreck more permanent damage than the occasional sunburn. And yet, over and over again, my camera documented families of adults and kids where the adults all sported sunglasses while the kids’ eyes were left unprotected.

I’d like to throw out this message and see if we can make it stick: “You wouldn’t send your child outside for the day without sunscreen, would you?” Well then don’t forget sun protection for their eyes either. If we do a better job getting the message out to parents, maybe next year my assignment to photograph kids in glasses will be easier.

—Christie Walker, LabTalk Editor, 20/20 Contributing Editor

Wobbly Parker

The high profile online eyewear entity Warby Parker has decided to test the brick-and-mortar scenario of dispensing with a flagship shop in Soho, NYC. So 20/20 decided to do some testing of our own with an unidentified secret shopping excursion. This blog entry was positioned as an ongoing editorial column encompassing two consecutive monthly issues of 20/20. The quest was indeed… wobbly at best.—James J. Spina, 20/20 Editor in Chief

Eye Love Shopping (Part One?)

Hello and… Good Buy. I’m product addicted, and even though I’m aware there’s a spot reserved for me and other oversatiated consumers in Dante’s inferno, nothing’s ever going to stop my pursuit of material goods. So with the opening of an actual Warby Parker optical shop in Soho within sight of 20/20, it was a destined venture.

If you’re going to start complaining about WP and their e-commerce, and online PDs and cheap product, and their marketing and PR… STOP right there. Eyewear is currently at a super high-profile level and more-than-some of it has to do with WP, and THAT’s a good thing for everyone in optical right now. Consider it a blessing your retailing doesn’t involve PCs or cupcakes (with both those markets tanking and mobile devices and doughnuts surging).

Strongly committed to the dispensing process that partners an eye exam to the acquisition of well-fitted glasses, I’d hesitated doing online “secret shopping” for frames but the opportunity of an actual store pushed my button.

Subsequent parts of this story will be further animated about the actual store (with its library setting, great music and consumer-friendly product displays) but the main issue here and now is the opportunity of an eye exam by an OD. When I initiated my interest in a purchase, the WP sales associate (NOT an optician) asked for my Rx. I declined. She then offered to actually call my doctor for it. I noted THAT was equally creepy and asked for an exam. Initially told the wait could be very long, I was put face-to-face with a receptionist who gave me a specifically timed appointment two days away with a qualified OD at a cost of $50.

I gave my name and e-mail address asking if I should pick out eyewear in advance of the exam.

Nope. That whole “pick ’n’ choose” process could follow the exam but I was invited to stay and browse, trying on any of the hundreds of frames (from a surprisingly limited number of styles) on the wall displays. The displays also held books, some for sale and some a bit too preciously color-coded, reinforcing the lounging theme. Prices were clearly marked at $95 for a completed single-vision frame with lenses.

So now I’m asking you to lounge with this 20/20 for the next month. I’ve had my exam. I’ve picked out my frame. Delivery is expected in two weeks. Full reports next month. Be assured, we’ll chat more about your new brick-and-mortal competition… next month.

Hopefully we are ALL in this with open minds, much to learn and cooperative teamwork as everyone takes time figuring out how to keep eyewear as a respected “need” and “want” product and experience.

—JJS

Wobbly Parker

Last month’s column was devoted to the beginning of my experience purchasing eyewear from the new Warby Parker store in Soho just a few blocks from the 20/20 edit office. I also had an eye exam at the store, turning down their offer to fulfill a provided Rx from my own OD. The thorough and careful exam was $50 as detailed by a Dr. Esther Kim at the terrific exam room in the store. At that time I was also presented with my personal Rx for use anywhere I’d like in or beyond the WP store.

So far so good. I picked out frames with the help of an attentive sales associate, and my PD was taken by an eyecare professional who informed me my eyewear would be ready for pickup at the Warby Parker distribution center in the Puck Building a few blocks from the store in eight to 10 days, and that I would be notified by e-mail when the eyewear was ready for an in-person fitting. I called twice after the allotted time and was informed that because this was a progressive diagnosis, it was taking slightly longer. I already knew that the cost would be $225 as compared to the widely signaged price of $95 in the store. The lower price was explained as being for single-vision glasses.

It is now over a month since this experience started, and I just made the call to cancel noting that it was taking far too long. Very pleasantly I was told the order would be cancelled, and there would be a refund on the charge.

Somewhere down the road and in some other part of 20/20, the Warby Parker story will certainly continue but space on this experience in my editor’s column is at an end. From my experience it would seem that WP’s attempt at brick-and-mortar has become brick and mortally wounded. It’s looking like they might be custom-made for online ordering by younger single-vision hipsters but when it comes to (potential candidate for) hip-replacement baby boomers, the story radically changes. The customer service treatment when I did actually cancel was superb, although I’ll feel even better when the refund is noted on my credit card account.

I sure hope they haven’t written me off as over-the-hill and not worth stepping up to the challenge. I looked forward to asking some key questions about my new lenses. I was equally curious about the actual frame fitting and adjustments that might take place. But with a turnaround of over a month, nothing at this point can compensate for the breakdown of THIS particular experience.I want the world and I want it now. AND… I want to see that world perfectly in frames that fit my face with a custom-made look and feel. And since I’m devoted to the art of communicating and engagement, I await comments and feedback from the readers of 20/20 AND Warby Parker.

—JJS

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