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Turn Patients from Shoppers to Customers With Education

By Johnna Dukes, ABOC, FNAO

Release Date: April, 2013

Expiration Date: February 6, 2018

Learning Objectives:

Upon completion of this program the participant should be able to:

  1. Understand why educating the patient is necessary to ensure the health of your practice.
  2. Identify the consequences of the uneducated patient.
  3. Learn the plan that ensures all employees are educated and can teach patients.

Faculty/Editorial Board:

Johnna DukesJohnna Dukes, ABOC, FNAO is currently the owner and operator of an optical boutique, with experience in both the private practice sector as well as the retail chain setting. She has a wide range of experience varying from optical support staff to dispensary management to practice ownership. She lives in Okoboji, Iowa.






Credit Statement:

This course is approved for one (1) hour of CE credit by the American Board of Opticianry (ABO). Course #SWJMI502-1.


1The patient asks: "Why should I buy my eyeglasses here when I can buy them over the Internet for $9.95, $49 or $99?"

Have an answer?

Is the above scenario happening in your office? Do you want to keep it from happening? The only way to ensure patients will return again and again is to ensure that you are providing your patient with the proper education so they know what they are purchasing, why it is important for their particular needs, and what the alternatives might be.

Think about it; most consumers know that a Mercedes is a premium car, right? Car companies invest heavily in educating the customer. Yes, it costs a lot of money but the auto industry markets directly to the customer either through television advertisements, magazine marketing or the pamphlets you pick up at the dealership. We don't have enough television commercials or 20-page full color pamphlets about eyewear!

Essentially big industries market to and educate their customers directly. The optical industry has been different because we expect the doctors and the opticians to be marketing to and educating the patient rather than it coming directly from the various companies. Herein lies the question: Are you educating your patient properly or is it possible your patient is receiving mixed messages?

THE DANGER OF MIXED MESSAGES

Oftentimes optical professionals have a hard time spending other people's money. While presenting the options for the patient's eyewear, the optical professional is silently judging the patient and deciding what to present based on what they think the patient can afford. Is the optical professional so afraid of the patient saying "no" or "wow, that is expensive"?

Choose the best products to suit the patient's needs, rather than products that will be "just good enough" or are "cheap enough." The problem with letting price be the driver is that the patient will no longer come to the optical professional for their product knowledge; they will come in for products based on price because they have never been taught differently. The optical professional hasn't properly educated the patient on why products have varying costs or even what it is they are buying. Patients can get the same cloudy information online.

The consumer today is squeezed between your chance at an education about great eyewear and the everyday search online or the messages of two pairs of glasses for $99 with a free exam. What are they to believe?

When we don't take the time to educate the patient on what they're buying and why, the patient gets a mixed message on the importance of price within the equation. When price becomes the factor that defines eyewear and product selection, the need for an optician becomes minimized.

When the patient comes in and says, "I need an invisible bifocal," this is the opportunity to take them by the hand and walk them through the selection process, always with the focus on meeting the patient's needs first and foremost.

WASTED OPPORTUNITIES

The patient often finds himself or herself wandering through the dispensary trying on every frame in sight and doing the frame selection alone. This is a missed opportunity and the perfect time to educate the patient on their options in terms of frame materials, frame manufacturing processes, frame shape, and proper sizing and styling. For example, this is the time when a patient who doesn't know anything about frame materials would choose a monel-based frame over that of titanium because the monel frame costs less, and the uneducated patient would assume both pairs have similar durability.

Take the time to ask the patient about their needs and lifestyle, otherwise it is virtually impossible to provide the proper products to suit their needs.

RxImagine a patient with a PD of 29/30 and more than a -6.00 prescription just entered your office. The patient had picked out a frame that has a 58 mm A measurement at another office and is asking, "Can you adjust my glasses so they're not so uncomfortable? They slide down my nose." This is a recipe for an unhappy patient. Just by knowing the factors of this case we know we're going to have a thick edge profile and likely a very heavy and uncomfortable pair of eyewear. In fact, in this frame, the previous office used a flat front curve in what was a 6 or 8-base plano fashion sunglass.

Now imagine taking the time to look at the prescription and facial measurements. Then imagine taking the patient by the hand and walking with them through the selection process. This allows a chance to discuss the fact that we will be dealing with weight and lens thickness issues, and that we should proceed with a frame that has acceptable decentration to minimize thickness and weight. We know these things; share that knowledge with the patient.

Discuss activity level and the types of things they do while wearing their eye-wear. This helps to further decide which type of frame material best suits their needs. For example let's say this same patient is a young lady who plays varsity basketball and wears her glasses while competing. This is a perfect opportunity to discuss durability and safety issues. Do you think this patient would get this specialized information online for $49?

Step into the position of being the "expert." If you don't, you are failing your patients each and every day. Share your knowledge with the patient even if you think they won't understand what you are saying. If you don't educate your patient, they will assume you don't have any optical education. When you allow the patient to pick his or her own products without giving your advice or expertise, you are in effect saying, "You know as much about this as I do." It's doubtful any optical professional believes this, however, it is the message you are giving to the patient. When this is the mindset they have, it makes it all that much easier for the patient to go online and think they have enough knowledge to order their own products without a consultation with an optician. Think about what this does for the optical profession as a whole. It's like telling the public that it is not important to rely on an optician to make the best product for them. It is our job to do better as the patient deserves better.

OPTICIAN: TAILOR OR ORDER-TAKER?

Style consultants will tell you that customization is the key to making things fit properly so why else would clothing manufacturers bother to make their clothing in 15 different sizes? Let's use this same mindset. Each patient has different needs, and you need to present products based on their specific needs. Think of it as being the "optical tailor." The optical tailor works to make products that fit exactly the needs of the patient: no more "one-size-fits-all" dispensing. Here is an example of a conversation you might consider using in order to tailor the eyewear experience to fit your patient.

Asking the right questions and responding properly to the answers
give you the opportunity to become the expert rather than just the
order-taker. The educated optical professional drives the conversation,
asks appropriate questions and responds with recommendations
based on the information the patient has given.

 

PATIENT: Woman, 47, Rx about a +1.00 distance, +1.50 add

Optician: Tell me about your average day in terms of how you use your eyes.
Patient: I get up and go to work. I use my computer for about eight hours a day, and then I go home and make dinner for my family. I do like to read books on the weekends when I have more time.

How are your current lenses working for you?
I have a hard time because the area I use to read in my current lenses is so small. I feel like my eyes are tired all of the time.

It sounds like you do a lot of close work. We can choose a lens for you that will make it easier for you to read and have an easier time when your vision needs are for near tasks. Also, we should make sure to choose a frame that will allow for enough room to accommodate your progressive lens properly.
Really? I didn't know that the frame size mattered at all. I also didn't know that there are options for the lenses I received. I just always said that I need the no-line bifocal, and this is what they gave me.

Has anyone ever discussed an anti-reflective coating with you?
I'm not sure what you mean by anti-reflective coating.

I'm sorry that no one has ever discussed these with you, but for progressives or no-lines, there are currently dozens of progressive lenses on the market so we definitely want to find the one that best meets your needs. I want to know how you use your eyes, then I'll know which lens will be the best one for you.
Wow! I didn't know that there were so many options. Which lens do you think will be best for me?

Well, we should start by addressing your eight hours of computer work per day. Tell me about your workday and your computer; is it a desktop or laptop? How high is the screen if it's a desktop monitor?
I sit at my desk and all day, I answer phones and update my company's data base. The screen is a large one; I guess the middle of it is straight ahead.

Let me tell you about a lens that might be perfect for you while you're at work. It's called a small environment or office lens, and it's designed for people just like you. The top portion of the lens is designed for you to see your computer screen, and the bottom of your lens is designed for you to see the keyboard and paperwork, and it comes with anti-reflective coating to combat the reflections from your computer screen. Now, this lens isn't made for distance correction so it will be something you put on when you are at your desk. You'll need to switch glasses when you drive home. Studies show that this small environment lens helps reduce eye fatigue especially while at work. In fact, you might find that using them when reading for extended periods of time will also be much more comfortable.
That sounds great! Are you saying I will need two pairs of glasses?

Yes, I am suggesting that a second pair of glasses will make you really comfortable. How many pairs of shoes do you have? You wouldn't wear flip-flops when jogging, would you?
I think I understand what you are saying. I should wear the right glasses for what I'm doing.

Exactly. We should make a pair of glasses for your work needs and another pair for your everyday needs and also, how are you protecting your eyes from the sun?
I don't have any sunglasses. I had the lenses that get dark one time and I didn't like them. Do I really need sunglasses though?

Sun protection is so important. I don't care if you get your glasses somewhere else, but you do need to have them. Let me ask you this, do you wear sunscreen?
I do wear sunscreen; I'm very careful about never going outside without it. And if you think I need sunglasses, I would rather get them from you since you know what I need.

OK, let me just describe how those lenses that change have changed since you last had them, then describe the protection that polarized lenses provide and the filter colors available.

Asking the right questions and responding properly to the answers give you the opportunity to become the expert rather than just the order-taker. The educated optical professional drives the conversation, asks appropriate questions and responds with recommendations based on the information the patient has given.

Here are some valid questions you might consider using with every patient:

  1. How do you use your eyes every day?
  2. What are your hobbies?
  3. How active are you on a daily basis?
  4. Do you have any allergies to metal?
  5. How much computer work do you do on a daily basis?
  6. What are you currently doing for sun protection?
  7. How are your current glasses working for you? Tell me what you don't like.

If you ask questions and let the information you gather guide your selection, you will ensure a happy patient interaction as well as ensuring that you are providing the products best suited for the patient who is directly in front of you. It's a win-win, right?

Even though it seems the optical professional is being kind by not wanting the
patient to spend too much money, in fact, they are doing just the opposite
by not giving the patient the option to choose what they want for themselves.

 

ALL HANDS ON DECK

Sit and listen to the interactions between each optical professional and patient in your practice. Are they driving the conversation or are they falling into the trap of letting the overall price drive their recommendations?

Consider having staff meetings where you discuss how you want to be treated while shopping, and if you would want the sales staff judging whether or not they thought you could afford the item you are considering buying. It doesn't feel good, does it? In essence that is the very same thing they are doing to the patient. Even though it seems the optical professional is being kind by not wanting the patient to spend too much money, in fact, they are doing just the opposite by not giving the patient the option to choose what they want for themselves.

What, Why and Price

 

Practice asking pertinent questions of each and every patient as well as providing all the options; then discuss the benefits of each recommendation and let the patient choose how they wish to proceed. Consider using the table below to help you organize the information given to the patient.

As you write down recommendations along with the reason you chose that specific product, the patient is going to understand that they are receiving a product based on their needs. It certainly isn't a one-size-fits-all process. This creates the trust between the optical professional and the patient, which of course, is the reason patients return again and again.

CONCLUSION

If the patient gets a product they only "sort of" like versus feeling like you took the time to get to know them and fulfill their needs, you run the risk of losing that patient to whomever can provide the glasses at a lower price. After all, if you don't educate the patient and they go somewhere else that does provide them education, the patient will likely leave thinking your office didn't know as much. Even if you do have just as much education, if you don't pass that along to the patient, how are they supposed to know? Don't leave yourself saying, "I don't understand why Jane left us to go somewhere else."

Take each patient interaction seriously. Don't underestimate that the patient has the right to choose where they go—give them a reason to choose you. Provide patients with the personalized service and education to know what it is they are purchasing, and why it is important for them, and you can forever put to rest the worry that your patients will leave you for the Internet or another office.