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By Tina Lahti, ABOC

Your laboratory is your most crucial vendor relationship. From my perspective, I observe how a lab can be an eyecare professional’s best ally. Because no matter how beautiful a frame is, if you can’t trust your laboratory to make a good pair of lenses, you won’t have a happy customer.

I cringe when I see eyecare professionals treating their laboratory interface as a transactional relationship. For example, when an eyecare professionals’ first question is Where can I get the cheapest lenses? Remember how you feel when a patient’s inquiries center around where they can buy a cheap pair of eyeglasses. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with looking for a laboratory that provides a good value, but value is so much more than price alone. None of us wants to buy or sell inferior quality—it’s never a good value, no matter how cheap.

How can your laboratory support you?
First, your lab should be your best resource for information on lenses. You know that manufacturing lenses is a complex business. Laboratories experienced in lens making can guide you on what works and doesn’t, and which combinations and tolerances are allowed. Working with a lab that has invested in a state-of-the-art free-from production facility means you can offer your customers better vision than ever before. Free-form has improved all lenses, whether single vision, progressive or high-wrap sunglasses.

Developing a solid relationship with your lab means it knows your expectations and what you want for your patients and can help you achieve it. Also, remember that interactions with your patients are not transactional. When patients visit you in person, they expect personal service. You run a service-oriented business. Your laboratory can make or break the service quality you deliver to your patients.

You need a lab you can rely on, especially for challenging jobs.
Yes, there will always be challenging jobs: the glasses needed yesterday because the patient is leaving the country and broke her only pair. Or the dad who needs his new glasses for his daughter’s wedding. Regardless, it pays to have a strong relationship with your lab in these challenging situations to help you solve these challenges. In good times you should have a reliable level of service and quality. If something goes wrong, you should be able to count on the people who work at your laboratory to help you make things right.

Your lab should never be a nameless and faceless.
Whether customer-facing or vendor, supplier or lab interactions, our people-centric relationships are vital to the smooth operation of our brick-and-mortar businesses. The moral of the story is to always be kind to the laboratory representatives who help you.

Occasionally I see a social media post on one of the optician groups or Facebook where someone talks about having “told off” their laboratory. Let’s not do this to each other. We will all be our best by working together to support our patients. We need to value one another, and we need to treat each other with respect. If you get to the point where you’re so frustrated that you feel compelled to call someone at the laboratory and yell at them, I want you to stop, take a deep breath, and think about what happens when a patient does that to you. The lab and practice can have a great business relationship when we nurture it and treat it as a privilege. If you have a great lab, you are privileged to be their customer, and if you are a fantastic customer, they are honored to have your business.

There is no magic pixie dust.
Grinding lenses is a bit of art, experience, science, and technology performed by people who care about your business. You count on your lab to work eyewear miracles every day. You get the best for your patients if you cultivate a great relationship with a great lab and practice excellent communication.

All stories in the IOT Free-Form Insights Series