BY Vicki B. Masliah
I have spent the past 25 years in the optical
laboratory business, always in a position of
direct contact with eyecare practitioners.
One thing that has always puzzled me is the
reluctance on the part of many ECPs to fully
utilize their labs’ banks of knowledge. By treating
the lab as just another supplier, rather than
as the full-service resource it is, these ECPs are
missing a significant opportunity to provide
their patients with the best products and service
as well as build their practice.
Any lab can make a decent pair of lenses. But
a lab’s real asset is its ability to develop a close
working relationship with its customers. When
practitioners can call anytime to exchange
thoughts on a particular patient’s requirements,
ask for information, or request help, a lab
becomes an extension of the practice. That’s
what I call a “golden lab.”
I actually enjoy when my phone rings and it’s a
customer with a challenging Rx, or a need for any
assistance with the lab. Not only is it gratifying to
be able to help, but it also indicates a mutual
respect between the lab and the ECP. That
respect and the trust that grows from it becomes
the basis of a strong business relationship.
Lori Treadwell, vice-president/CFO of Precision
Optical, a full-service laboratory in San
Diego, knows the foundation of the lab-customer
relationship is maintaining frequent
two-way communication. “Comm-unication is
the key to success at both ends,” says Treadwell.
“A healthy and growing lab needs to
learn and understand what the ECP likes and
needs, basically the ECP’s area of focus. Is the
ECP concerned about service, quality or
price? Usually it is a combination of the three,
but the priority varies. It is the lab’s responsibility to make suggestions that will help their
customer make product decisions that will set
themselves apart in the marketplace. Both
businesses benefit by the lab encouraging
input and feedback from the dispenser. When
that connection is made, the practitioner
knows their requirements will be met, as well
as those of the patients—the ultimate clients of
the lab. That is why it is most beneficial to
develop a close and open relationship with the
lab. Both the employees and the practice
owner should understand and capitalize on the
advantages with which they can be provided.
Let the lab recommend new lens materials and
styles that will enhance the eyewear. This will
result in a happy patient that will spread the
word to others.” Take the opportunity to
brain-storm with the lab on jobs that might
benefit by special treatment. Keep an open
mind to their recommendations. Often a lab’s
creative thinking and expertise can generate a
pair of lenses that far exceed practitioner and
So, what can a practitioner do to fully realize the
potential of the lab/practice affiliation? First, seek
out labs that can really provide full service.
Choose businesses that offer a large variety of lens
manufacturers, both surfaced and stock. Quality
finishing services are important as well. In-house,
anti-reflective coatings are most convenient.
Then, take advantage of all the educational
opportunities made available from the lab.
Many offer continuing education lectures. They
also provide new product literature as lenses
and treatments are released.
Some labs also offer computer programs that
keep the office staff up to snuff. Diane Strickler,
president of Professional Optical Labs in
Roanoke, Va., finds “employee turnover in a
practice presents a challenge because the
amount of products and applications is colossal.
We have the ‘Jump Start’ series of CDs [produced
by Global Optics] that covers topics
such as progressives, index of refraction, basic
office procedures, among others. There are new
subjects coming out yearly. The information is
extremely valuable in getting new employees
integrated into optics at an accelerated pace.
Labs want to work toward efficiency and practice
knowledge can help us to do so.”
At times, labs will offer tours of their facilities.
Dave Thomas, vice-president of sales at McLeod
Optical in Warwick, R.I. highly encourages visiting
the lab. “Seeing, firsthand, just how much
handling is involved to process an Rx is often an
eye-opener,” says Thomas. “Communications
improve, errors go down and service gets better…
for their practice and the lab.”
Even more beneficial is the lab that has an
informed customer service department and sales
team. These are the people with whom a relationship
should be cultivated. Don’t think of
them as order-takers, but rather as order-consultants.
They know the importance of their
customers and take the time to learn their individual
needs. They can assist in suggesting products
that can result in the best choice for a
patient. They are the main connection to all the
resources of the laboratory and can relate to the
dispenser everything that can be done to aid in
the fabrication process. Customer service reps
also have the input to achieve another practitioner
goal—getting lenses shipped out accurately
Through conversation with the lab team, the
ECP can learn the lab’s procedures and requirements.
The reps will be sure that all the information
needed is provided to complete an
order. When an order is incomplete, the lens
surfacing is held up until callbacks are made
and answers are provided. Customer service will
also analyze the information given to determine
if it makes sense and if there are other options.
It helps to determine from them, how the lab
would like the orders placed. Each lab has its
own preferences in the order in which the information
is provided. By following that pattern,
accuracy is assured and the possibility of missing
information is reduced. Additionally, many
lenses have specific fitting requirements that
must be supplied with the Rx order. The reps
can help in assuring the measurements and prescriptions
are appropriate for the lenses being
ordered. When the order is repeated by the representative,
listen carefully. So many possibilities
of human error are eliminated at this point.
Jennifer Sokolowski, customer service supervisor
at Hirsch Optical in Farmingdale, N.Y.,
knows the importance of an accurate order. “We
make every effort to be sure an order is complete
and correct when it is given,” she says. “We
actually have reps that can enter the order directly
into the computer while on the phone with
our customers. The system won’t allow an incomplete
order. When an order is phoned or faxed,
and something is missing or incorrect, the job can
be held up for some time until we get the proper
information. It’s so important that the ECP gets
back to us as quickly as possible when we call, so
we can move the orders along. We actually
encourage the use of remote ordering software.
The practice computer ‘speaks’ directly with ours.
It greatly helps with accuracy and shaves so much
time off the manufacturing process.”
If it is more convenient for the practice to fax
or ship in their orders, re-read them before sending
them. Be sure the handwriting is legible and
the information is complete. Try to use the laboratory’s
own forms. It very much helps in the
consistency of processing. It is so much more
difficult for the order entry clerks or the lab personnel
to try to follow many different office
forms. When sending in frames for “frame to
follow” orders, take care that they are properly
identified with the correct account and patient
information. This will speed up the marriage of
the frames with the lenses being provided.
Time factors will always be of critical importance
to both the ECP and the lab. Labs make every
effort to expedite all orders, but are always willing
to help out if something requires special handling.
Inform customer service when there is a time factor
and what the deadline will be. It will affect the
way the order proceeds. However, try not to
expect that every order can be processed in “rush
mode.” In that way, the orders that truly need to
be hurried can get the attention they need.
Now that so many lenses are warranted for
patient satisfaction, it has become quite easy to
replace lenses for patients having “issues.” If
the problem is not easily diagnosed, before
ordering replacement lenses, call the lab in on
a consult. They see so many of these “nonadapts,”
they are totally tuned in to what works
to prevent repeat problems.
The secret to good lab service will always be
maintaining two-way communication and working
with the lab’s procedures and policies.
When that service is proven, it surely helps to
reinforce it with loyalty. The reward will be a
connection that could be one of the most
important in the practice.
Vicki B. Masliah is director of professional education
at Hirsch Optical, a Farmingdale, N.Y.-based
independent wholesale laboratory.