Inform, Educate, and Convert [Andrew Bruce]

With the increase in online eyewear sites, and the huge tv advertising campaigns by the eyewear chains, patients are continually exposed to rock bottom prices for eyewear - even some with free eye exams thrown in!  How do we in private practice re-capture these patients?  How do we let our patients know there are differences, in both the product quality, and service?

With these questions in mind, I would like to share a piece I originally wrote for Jobson's online Optician's Handbook entitled, "Inform, Educate, and Convert."  Reproduced with their kind permission.

Like the majority of my colleagues, whenever someone tells me they purchased glasses online I silently cringe inside and respond with a disapproving “Oh!”  In my opinion, our profession, and that of optometry, has unfortunately allowed itself to be de-valued in today’s society.  We’ve helped create a mindset that our patients can get the same products, service and value online for much less than from a trained and skilled eye care professional (ECP).  We have dug ourselves a deep hole and it is a steep climb out, but climb we must.  

Patients are constantly besieged with offers from our competitors for complete eyewear whose prices range from $10 to $1000.  While most consumers are skeptical of both ends, there appears to be little explanation as to why such a disparity.  This makes our job even more challenging.  

Such an unexplained disparity in price has created the need for us to step up and increase the “perceived value” of our services and products to our patients through education, ultimately increasing their awareness of what we can do for them and what we have to offer.  After all, without better information about the real value and benefits of the products and services we offer, the patient only has price to compare.

A recently conducted research study revealed that the number one health concern amongst consumers is the fear of losing their vision.  ECPs provide services every day to help prevent this and yet consumers don’t see value in what we do.  Every time we recommend UV absorbing lenses, impact resistant materials, or photochromic lenses, we are helping our patients take steps to protect their eyesight. Fundamentally, we must take the time to educate patients at every opportunity as to how eye exams vary in complexity and detail, and make them better informed about why the fees for an eye exam can fluctuate dramatically from one office to another.  We must also increase society’s awareness about how frames, lenses, and lens treatments differ from manufacturer to manufacturer – and why fees for such also vary when comparing between private practices, chain store locations, and online merchants.

On that note, I want to share an opportunity I recently had with a patient.  The patient had, according to him, received a very short 10 minute eye exam at a chain store eye clinic and was less than impressed with the service he had received.  Regardless, he proceeded to take the prescription and fill it online purchasing a pair of photochromic progressives in a Silhouette frame with Trivex material and an AR coat.  He called me after receiving his new eye wear, first of all pleased that he had saved himself $300 over my prices, but secondly commenting that he could not use the glasses because they gave him headaches, made him nauseous, and most of all, he couldn't see clearly through them at any distance.

We chatted for a few minutes over the phone during which he revealed his disappointment with the exam he had received: he hadn’t been dilated, the technicians did most of the exam, he was in and out within 10 minutes, and he said, “all the doctor did was the “1 or 2” test!”  Based on our conversation, I suggested he have the prescription re-checked but he had no desire to return to his previous eye clinic.  After describing how detailed our examinations are, and the importance of detailed, dilated eye health screenings, especially as we age, I proceeded to schedule him an eye exam.  He fully understood it would be an out of pocket expense since he was currently ineligible through his insurance.  I asked him to come in 30 minutes prior to his appointment time to give me the opportunity to verify whether, or not, his glasses had been made to the specifications of the written prescription.  

The patient arrived early as requested not wearing his new glasses and I proceeded to evaluate them.  I was pleasantly surprised to find the lenses verified exactly as ordered, even down to accurate PDs. However, my verification and evaluation did reveal the progressive used was unidentifiable.  The engraved brand ID seemed obscure and was not found in my current “Progressive Identifier” reference book. This suggested to me it was either a new, or private label lens.

After informing the patient about this and discussing how there are many different types of progressives on the market and educating him as to how they vary, I proceeded to have the patient put his glasses on.  Well, saying they were not fitting well, is an understatement.  They were crooked and the nose pads were squeezed together causing the glasses to perch high on his nose.  When asked  if he would like me to adjust them to fit better to see if that would improve things, he eagerly accepted my offer.  After having him sign our office’s liability waiver for adjusting frames purchased elsewhere, I went to work.  

In a few minutes I had his glasses fitting perfectly, and, lo and behold, he could see well at all distances!  He was blown away by the revelation that how well the glasses fit determines how well they work.  He could not stop talking about how he had no idea how the involvement of an optician has such an impact on the eyewear’s performance.  The patient happened to be accompanied by his wife during our exchange, which gave me the opportunity to also make her a better informed consumer.

At this point, I suggested that re-checking the prescription with the doctor was probably no longer necessary due to the results we had achieved.  However, because he was dissatisfied with his previous eye exam, I did recommend he schedule a complete eye examination with us after he becomes eligible again through his insurance, which turns out was in just a few weeks time.  He and his wife proceeded to both actually schedule exams.  

During our extensive conversation throughout this exchange, which was mostly casual filled with open ended questions about his lifestyle, he also revealed that he could use prescription sunglasses, but did not want a separate pair at this time.  I presented the polarized clip-on option for his frames and demonstrated how they work; he immediately jumped at the idea.  He also purchased some eye wear cleaning supplies.

All in all, I spent approximately one hour with this patient and his wife, but there is no doubt in my mind that it was time well invested.  Our office now has two new patients, who, most importantly, have a better respect for our profession and an increased perceived value of how we differ from online merchants and chain store eye clinics.  This patient happens to be a local police officer, and obviously one who likes to talk – something I quickly determined during our meeting.  I am pretty sure that he is going to spread the word amongst his colleagues and friends.  

While I don’t know for sure whether he and his wife will online shop for glasses, or use a chain store eye clinic for their eye exams in the future, they are both better informed consumers now and have the increased awareness that all things are not equal when it comes to eye care.  Of course there is always the risk that a patient such as the one described here will be a “repeat offender” -  purchase his glasses online again and then come to me to make them fit well.  All we can do is inform, educate, and try to convert the consumer, knowing we probably won’t be 100% successful, 100% of the time, but the percentages will hopefully improve.  

Continuously faced with the difficult task of raising society’s awareness about eyecare, eyewear, UV protection, and the importance of children’s eye exams, to name a few, it’s time to embrace each opportunity we encounter as a perfect time to spread the word and educate the consumer, one by one.  Online merchants should become a motivator to always keep our standards high, and to continually inform, educate, and convert by offering the best services and products to our patients.

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