By Preston Fassel

In an earlier column, I talked about dropping in on dispensaries without identifying myself as an optician and “mystery shopping.” It’s a fascinating way to learn how other opticals function, as well as a way to get a look at how to sell and not to sell to different patients. I discussed a recent trip to a mall-based dispensary that proved enlightening on two fronts. The first was in the sale of photochromic lenses. In this column, I’ll discuss the other topic, one we may not always consider: persistence.

I had checked my phone just before going into the dispensary, so I knew exactly what time it was. I was almost immediately greeted by an optician, who I told I was simply browsing. Within a matter of minutes, a second optician approached me and also asked me if I needed help. I told her that I was just browsing and she let me be. Within a few more minutes, the first optician returned. This pattern repeated itself. It became such a pattern, in fact, that I took count of how many times I was approached. When I was asked for the eighth time if I was “still doing OK,” it was enough. Upon leaving, I checked the time.

Twenty minutes had elapsed from when I entered to when I left.

I was approached eight times by three different opticians in the course of 20 minutes. That’s an average of once every two-and-a-half minutes. That to me—and I’d think most people—is problematic.

If I were an eager patient in need of a new pair of glasses who had come to make a purchase, I would have the same reaction: Frustration, a sense of being pressured and the feeling that the opticians were vultures circling. Again, three different people approached me in that time. In dispensaries where I’ve worked, there’s usually a system for determining who will sell to a patient, with a given optician having responsibility for that patient and that sale. It prevents infighting, especially where commissions are involved and keeps the patient from feeling overwhelmed.

We hear a lot lately about “learning to read the room,” and it applies to opticians too. It’s true that some patients feel uncomfortable asking for help and need to be prodded. It’s also true that some patients are independent and really do just want to browse. There’s a technique for separating A from B and approaching the situation appropriately. Does the patient seem confused, hesitant or tentative in his or her body language? Do they seem to be looking around a lot? Then you should approach them. If they seem a bit diffident, softly prod them—are they looking for anything in particular? If they respond positively, proceed. If they don’t, back away. On the other hand, does the “I’m just browsing” patient actually seem to be browsing? For example, trying on different frames, studying himself or herself in mirrors, moving around a bit. Let them be—they’re really just browsing, and they’ll approach you when they’re ready. Being too aggressive will almost certainly torpedo any potential sale.

Especially if it’s eight times in 20 minutes.