With the long legacy of “super heroes” in our pop culture, have you ever wondered whether a superhero might exist whose powers would have made them known as the Super Optician? As dispensers, we’ve all certainly experienced situations where we have “risen to the occasion” to repair or otherwise “put right” an errant pair of eyewear. Often, we do so to the pleasant surprise of our customers.
Looking beyond these simple repair situations, what “powers” could we call upon to deliver the best eyewear experience possible? I sought out the Super Optician and asked for some advice.

Barry Santini: I love dispensing the latest lens technologies. But how do I ensure customers will buy them given current economic conditions and competitive pricing?

Super Optician: This is a classic problem as the best in anything will always cost more. When you commit yourself and your business to dispensing the best, you sow seeds for your future success through what I call the “Wow vs. Whoa” factor. We’ve all enjoyed the “wow” our clients exclaim when they’re given their first set of advanced lens technology. And this “wow” factor will support a positive impression of the value of your expertise, the cost of the products you’ve recommended and the wisdom of their patronage.

From a consumer standpoint, though, today’s eyewear market appears to be a literal jungle. There are many reasons to motivate your clients to get their next eyewear elsewhere. Changes in their insurance coverage, friends’ recommendations, perceptions of too-high cost, competitive offers and the lure of saving big money on the Internet all conspire to tempt them away from your practice. This is where the “whoa” factor comes in. Chances are good your customers will receive a downgraded experience in product and service from any competitor that promises low prices. And this “whoa”—the perception their new eyewear is not nearly the same high quality and technology that they received from your hands—is much more persuasive in reinforcing the wisdom of patronizing an eyecare provider like you who is fully and totally committed to dispensing the absolute best lens technology available at all times. They use their eyewear more than any other product they own. In a few years (as mentioned above, this is where you reap the benefits of the seeds you’ve sown), when your clients return to you after purchasing eyewear elsewhere, they’re not only glad to tell you why they’ve come back, they’ll be customers for life.

BS: New customers often turn down my recommendations for certain lens options, such as photochromics and AR, because of a poor past experience with the same. How do I overcome their objections?

SO: First, acknowledge past product problems. Inform them that, yes, older generations of photochromics and anti-reflective coatings did not live up to expectations. But, it is for these very reasons that today’s products are so much better. I tell them companies have listened very carefully to the criticisms and exhibit their confidence in their latest generation through terrific improvements combined with a comprehensive customer satisfaction warranty. Works for me just about every time.

BS: What could I do to ensure my client will absolutely love their new eyewear at first sight?

SO: If you are lucky enough to have in hand the exact frame that’s been selected (style, size and color), try “pre-fitting” that frame in a precise manner to your client’s face and head before you take any measurements. Adjust and/or change nose pads, temple covers, temple length and/or the contour of the same. Then, be sure to mark your work order with the notation the frame enclosed has been “pre-fitted.” Inform your staff and lab that this notation means they should not try to apply a typical bench alignment or otherwise disturb the frame’s adjustment during lens edging and insertion. This can be tricky to fully accomplish with plastic frames. But attention to details made here pays off in big dividends when, to their pleasure and amazement, your client exclaims their new eyewear “fits perfectly,” right off the bat.”

BS: When my client is trying on frame styles, how can I avoid their tendency to make quick misjudgments about a frame’s fit, i.e., “too big, too small, crooked,” etc.?

SO: Try appraising the fitting requirements of their face before you offer up the first style to try on. Using your sharp “eye,” deftly adjust the frame to your appraisal of the right fit. This appraisal should include evaluation of all fitting parameters, including such subtleties as lash-clearance, sinus-sensitivity and general fitting preferences (up-high, down-the nose, off-the-ears, etc.). Try performing these adjustments while you appear to be simply cleaning the frame’s lens templates. It’s a bit of learned slight-of-hand, but this little magical power pays off impressively when you client immediately responds the frame “feels great!”

BS: Sometimes a client will return upset, remarking their new, expensive eyewear has either broken, fell apart or is “obviously” not fitting properly. How do I quickly defuse this potential problem blockbuster?

SO: “First, assure the client you’re sorry they had this experience so soon after purchase and assure them you will take care of the matter right away. Make no accusations of fault, but rather quickly repair, replace or refit their eyewear. In some cases, despite your earnest actions, your client will demand to know how this would happen to a product of such quality or expense so soon after purchase. Be mindful of what is said here, as the words you choose can greatly influence how honest and genuine you appear to them. I’ve learned much from other co-workers quick thinking in such situations. Start by saying, in a calm tone: “Relax. We’ll be able to fix this permanently and have you on your way in a jiffy. Remember, even Mercedes break.” Those three words, “even Mercedes break” often put the entire subject of the eyewear’s cost and newness in an acceptable perspective for an unhappy customer.

Another time, when an otherwise good-performing staffer has made a mistake and the client asked for the manager, gently remind them no one is 100 percent perfect (including myself) and that “even Joe Dimaggio didn’t get a hit every time at bat.”

BS: Time is money. How can I ensure the time and effort I spend helping my clients select eyewear, lenses and options will end in a profitable sale and a satisfied customer, and not get derailed into indecision, or worse, no sale?

SO: “I hate buying eyeglasses. I’m never satisfied I’ve made a good choice and look good in my new glasses.” What optical dispenser hasn’t heard that before? Much of the public finds the whole idea of purchasing eyewear to be overwhelming. They often feel if there was just a little more of the “right” choice, they’d find that perfect frame or lens combination.

But too much choice is the enemy of confidence in any decision making. Behavioral scientists have extensively researched the old saying “choice is good, so more choice is better” and have found it to be dependant on what type of individual is doing the choosing: are they a maximizer or a “quick decider”? Let’s take a look at each type.

A maximizer is someone who’ll spend enormous amounts of time and energy to arrive at the right choice for them. But, as soon as they’ve made a choice, the maximizer immediately feels remorse; they could’ve chosen something else. Who amongst us has not participated in the two-to four-hour frame-choosing marathon, only to have the order held or canceled later that day or the next? And even when they make a choice, they’re never happy. Giving more and more choice to a maximizer is similar to trying to get out of quicksand—you’ll only sink ever deeper.

A “quick decider,” on the other hand, upon seeing a choice that roughly approximates what they had in mind, ends the selection process. Think of a middle-aged man who needs a new pair of eyeglasses. If the dispenser asks, “How do you like this frame—often the first one they try on—the patient might respond, “Great. That’s it!”

Showing a quick decider more choices at this point is totally counter-productive; they’re satisfied with their decision. For both types, interestingly, less choice is better. And less choice can mean anything from better, more organized board management, to reducing the number of frames on display, to being mindful of not discussing every single lens option (try bundling), to simply limiting those lend and frame choices to the ones you, as the dispensing expert, feel are the best suited for your client. The real power is knowing when and what to suggest and discuss. This expertise often only comes with experience and the direction of a great mentor.

However, you can also do more; concentrate on brand names that your clients will recognize. Whether it’s frames or lenses, using recognizable brand names helps to reinforce your client’s choices and convey value and authority about your dispensing expertise. And once you’re viewed as the “expert,” your power to help your clients make the right choice for them becomes even stronger.

: What can I do about those clients who prefer gathering frame and lens opinions from their unskilled family and friends?

SO: The best tactic is to quickly acknowledge most people share similar insecurities about selecting the “right” eyewear. But, be sure to point out that no choice in fashion apparel lends itself to a simple right or wrong judgment. Discuss the idea of developing a personal eyewear wardrobe. Their faces will often contort into an incredulous look and they’ll say “You mean, more than one pair?” This exchange reveals the sad commentary about the state of the public’s current perception about eyewear fashion. While fancy designer pocketbooks and shoes are out of sight during dinners out with friends or family, their eyewear is always seen on their face. Dressing appropriately is not just for your clothing, it’s for your face as well.

BS: So many frames no longer come in different eye/bridge/temple sizes. How can I be sure they’ll fit comfortably?

SO: This is today’s fitting reality. Those of us who dispensed during the time when each frame style had different choices for all the fitting parameters have had to learn a bit of improvisation in order ensure today’s frames fit people comfortably and securely. For eyesize choice, fashion has made it simple: the previous rules have been broken. There really is no orthodoxy about frame sizes currently. We all fit eyesizes ranging from 45mm to 68mm wraps. For bridge fitting, the challenge is tougher. For plastic frames, we’re re-learning skills that have all but disappeared during the 20 year popularity of both metal and rimless styles. Although tools exist for some tasks, bridge modifications on plastic styles require only a little heat, an insulated thumb and practice on a bunch old discarded zyls. Widening, narrowing, pad-flaring and more are skills that are best obtained—literally—at your fingertips.

With respect to metal frames, shortening a long temple required simply removing the tip, cutting the core and reattaching the tip. With plastic styles, this is no longer an option. Luckily, we have Oakley to thank for re-introducing and popularizing the abandoned “occipital” fit. Old timers (like me) used to refer to this as a “library fit,” wherein the earpieces went straight back, without any bend behind the ears. This required the temples to be made of a broad, stiff profile, in order to deliver the requisite holding tension.
When you’re faced with plastic temples that are simply too long to bend around the ears, try straightening them into an occipital style fit. Try to avoid over-bowing them. The temples should go straight back to the top of the ears and stay close to the head. As the skull curves around the back of the head, taper the tips to match this curve and provide the lock. One challenge remains: getting sufficient skull-holding tension. With spring hinge temples, this is easily accomplished in a counter-intuitive way. Simply apply thread sealant to and tighten the temple-pivot screws. Leave enough pivot slack for them to fold, but no more. This will increase the amount of tension the earpieces will apply against the side of the head. If, after lens insertion, wear and subsequent re-adjustment, the splay of temples constantly opens up, consider this quick fix. Drill a 1.3mm diameter, 4mm deep hole in the mating surface of either the temple or the frame front. Using a 1.3mm screw tap, create threads in the hole made. Then, using a 1.4mm screw (5mm long), insert the same in the hole and turn it down to bottom out on the frame. Repeat for the opposite side. By extending the screws evenly, it becomes easy to obtain the skull tension needed for just about any uncooperative plastic frame. This simple set of tricks delivers powerful results.

Barry Santini is a New York State licensed optician based in Seaford, N.Y. Although he is well acquainted with the Super Optician, they have never been seen together.