Five Things Opticians Should Be Thinking in 2017

By Ryan Commet, ABO-AC February 02, 2017

Ryan Commet is an optician at an independent practice on the VSP network in New York.

The surest way to improve your confidence, sales, and patient outcomes is to stay abreast of the rapidly changing eyewear landscape. As a professional optician, one of the most rewarding aspects of patient interactions is the ability to share my expertise. While this presents an opportunity to differentiate myself, it also presents a responsibility on my part to always seek to advance my own knowledge of all aspects of the eye care industry. As I see it, there are five key things opticians should be thinking about in 2017 to differentiate ourselves and provide a valuable patient experience.

Be different.
There are both subtle and direct ways in which we may differentiate ourselves as trained optical professionals. Now more than ever, alternative eye care options are many. From trendy online “at-home try-on” websites to big-box retailers, alternatives grow more sophisticated and dominant every year. So what is the brick-and-mortar eye care professional to do? I recommend taking a piece of advice from master strategist of the ages, Sun Tzu, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”

The appeal of these online retailers extends far beyond just price and convenience—although these factors certainly play a significant role. These services also benefit from the masterful use of social media marketing and the more engaging visual messaging it conveys. Websites additionally have a perceived “disruptive” nature. This begets the idea that some added value is created by cutting out the so-called middleman. However, services such as in-office finishing, free domestic shipping, advanced repairs, and same-day service create convenience and value unparalleled by our virtual competitors. Not to mention the ECP’s ability to identify and maximize the patient’s insurance benefit to best serve their visual and lifestyle needs.

Stay connected.
Communicating with your patients outside the office is essential in today’s competitive eye care marketplace. This should extend far beyond the generic annual appointment reminder card. The most successful marketing campaigns in the industry tend to be those that aren’t discarded with the daily junk mail. This includes things like social media outreach, local sponsorships and community involvement, and special event notifications by email or postcard. 

Many practices have successfully implemented these and other engagement strategies to improve client retention. In-store art exhibitions, end-of-season trunk shows, and other creative events lend us a rare opportunity to reach out to patients outside of their annual eye care schedule. This encourages more robust buying behavior, and develops patient rapport that extends far beyond the exam lane.

Creativity wins.
Patients’ choice of eyewear is arguably the most significant aesthetic decision they will make. As opticians, our recommendations regarding the shape, fit, color, and ergonomics of the eyewear in our dispensary holds more weight when drawn from firsthand experience. We must lead by example.

When we wear multiple pairs, premium lens options, fashion-forward frames and accessories like custom clip-on sunglasses, we elevate our patient interactions. This yields greater trust in our judgment, bolder, better eyewear choices, and markedly higher multiple pair sales.

We’re the experts, and it’s our job to cast our product in the best possible light—both literally and figuratively. Aside from what we wear ourselves, we must also create a presentation of our products that adds to the customer experience. That could simply mean ditching the old frame boards and bars for warmer wooden shelving, adding softer, more focused light fixtures, or perhaps livening the dispensary up with a few plants. Even if it entails hiring an interior decorator to completely redefine and modernize the space, 2017 is the year to enliven your merchandising efforts.

Build brain power.
To educate others, we must first educate ourselves. Attend public eye care seminars, talks, and colloquia. Ask your frame and lab reps as many questions as you can, and read industry whitepapers, trade journals, and blogs (you’re already off to a great start). The passion we exhibit is quite contagious—and will ultimately spread to our patients and colleagues alike. Perhaps more importantly, it allows us to make better informed decisions regarding the products and methods we use every day.

Write it down.
Opticians commonly neglect one of the most significant tools at their disposal. The simple act of taking notes during the entire patient interaction lends us a tremendous advantage in patient experience and retention. Go beyond just price, explanation of benefits, or discussions about eyewear and lens care needs. Discuss and notate lifestyle, background, professional, and leisure activities. These bits of information are invaluable assets.

Taking note of these details also affords us the ability to improve the patient experience, giving us an opportunity to create a personalized suite of eye care options for your patients’ diverse and active lives. Perhaps more importantly, it conveys to the patient that we are actively listening and thinking critically about how best to improve their visual quality of life. When your patient picks up her every day, office and sports glasses, as well as fashionable, comfortable Rx sunglasses, she will thank you for your attentiveness—as will your bottom line!

As I see it, New Year’s resolutions are notoriously seldom kept. However, as opticians, the prescription for a profitable, productive 2017 is quite clear. Stay connected, flexible, creative, clever and well-organized. Happy dispensing, friends—may your PD rules be straight, and your adjustments true!

What changes are you or your opticians implementing in your practice for 2017?

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