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Article Date: 7/1/2014

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Mix it Up
MIX IT UP

  retail

Mix it Up

The missing ingredients to creating a valued customer experience.

JAY BINKOWITZ, HUNTINGTON, N.Y.

Recipe for Success

1. Create curbside appeal.

2. Update your space.

3. Extend a warm welcome.

4. Dress the part.

5. Flip the script.

Combine to impress customers and retain patients.

Are you tired of providing great care only to find out that a patient left your practice to spend money elsewhere? Do you take it personally? Well, you should.

It’s not about you; it’s about them. And, quite frankly, it is a clear indication that your patients/customers do not understand the value of the products and services you provide.

It is not that they do not want to spend money. They have simply chosen not to spend it with you. And your prices are not why they go somewhere else. They leave because of the environment and the perception of value they will receive elsewhere.

So what can you do? If your current approach isn’t working, it’s time to mix things up and try something new. Change what you say and how you say it, and, in many cases, it may be necessary to refresh the environment in which you reside.

Here are a few simple ways you can develop a better customer experience in your practice today that will allow you to grow tomorrow.

Create curbside appeal.

A good first impression is vital to any business. The outside of your building is the first reaction consumers have to your business, so it’s important to put your best foot forward. A few small changes to the exterior of your business can make a big difference:

Signage. Do you provide the right type of signage? If you’re using the same old, tired sign you’ve had for the last 20 years, it is time for a new one. Be sure your signage is clean and easy to see.

Storefront. Is your parking lot clean? Providing a receptacle can help to keep your space tidy. Is your doorway welcoming? A few easy-to-care-for plants placed near the door can go a long way toward creating an inviting storefront.

Self Evaluation

Years ago while visiting a client, I asked the entire staff and the doctors to leave their office. While everyone waited in the parking area, I asked each person, one at a time, to walk into the practice. Without the pressure of the others hearing him or her, I asked each person while standing in the entryway, “Based on what you see, hear and smell, would you be a consumer and make a purchase in your own office?”

Have you guessed what the answers were? Every member of the staff, including the doctors, said, “No.” Ouch. The answer hurt, but at least they were honest.

It’s amazing how different a business looks from a customer’s perspective. Consider performing this exercise with your staff in order to identify areas of improvement.

Display windows. Display windows are an excellent way to grab the attention of passersby by letting them know what you have to offer inside. Use this prime real estate to highlight new products, such as a new line of eyewear or lenses. Many company representatives offer parallaxes and window clings of branded merchandise free of charge.

When designing your window, choose a select few items to showcase that make the most sense. For example, products designed for outdoor activities, such as sunglasses, would make for a great summertime display.

Keep the display window fresh, which provides a reason for customers to stop in frequently. For instance, rotate your window displays at least once every two months, but preferably more often.

Set up a calendar and assign months to each of the brands you carry. Then, plan out your displays ahead of time with your brand reps. They love to get involved and support initiatives like this. And be sure to clean your windows regularly.

Update your space.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to makeover your space. In fact, a few inexpensive upgrades is enough to “wow” your patients.

Wall color. When is the last time you painted? Freshen your space with a new color scheme, and you’ll be surprised at the reaction.

Lighting. Lighting is critical to the optical’s success, yet most locations use old blue or yellowish lighting that makes eyewear look bad on the shelves, as well as on the patients’ faces. Lighting dramatically affects the color of frames on many skin tones and, as such, patients think the frame does not look good when all they needed was better lighting.

Furniture. Have you ever moved around or added to the furniture in your home? It is the same for your office. You must change things up, rotate the furniture and add new pieces, as well as get rid of some of the older stuff.

Displays. New display philosophies are widely available, and many practices are long overdue for an upgrade. My father taught me well, and one of his gems was the expression: “It doesn’t owe you any money.”

For business owners, this means that after 10 years, your current optical displays have paid for themselves many times over, and they do not owe you anything. It is time to re-invest and provide a new experience for your customers — or risk losing them.

Extend a warm welcome.

Once customers cross your practice’s threshold, how are they greeted? Do they receive a friendly welcome from someone who anticipates and appreciates their visit? Or, do they come in contact with someone who is so overwhelmed she barely has time to say “hello” before handing over forms and telling them to “Have a seat”?

If you want to retain your customers, they need to feel as though they are arriving at your home for a nice gathering and that their presence is appreciated, not that they are an inconvenience or a bother. Engage them as soon as they walk through the door with a warm, genuine welcome. If busy helping other customers, something as simple as, “Hi! Thanks for stopping in. I’ll be right with you!” will do the trick.

Dress the part.

Scrubs at the office are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Do you and your team wear scrubs and lab coats? It is time to rethink your dress code. A polished, professional look adds to the overall customer experience. There are many websites on which to purchase nice, button-down shirts for the whole team with your logo embroidered on them. Pair them with business casual slacks and nice, comfortable dress shoes for a professional touch.

Cast a Wide Net

With more patients searching the web for doctors, services and products — often before ever entering your practice — it’s as important as ever to keep your practice website current. This means updating information and upgrading functionality to keep up with the times. Specifically:

Designate a point person. Who is responsible for posting new information and updating it? If you haven’t already, appoint a staff member to manage your website and online channels.

Set a schedule. If you want to attract site visitors, give them a reason to visit. That means providing new content on a regular basis. Aim to refresh your content at least once per month, if not more frequently.

Your site is the perfect place to highlight new products and services, sales or any other special announcements. From new arrivals to new happenings to recognizing your team and your patients, there are many ways to make your site more engaging. And, please don’t use a picture of your building and your team in scrubs to represent you on your home page. That is a major turn-off.

Perform regular maintenance. When is the last time you revamped your practice website? If it’s been more than five years, it’s ancient. Set the stage for a great shopping experience, and support it with the technology you use to provide great patient care.

Consider adding social media. Do you have a Facebook page or a blog? What about a Twitter account? Is it active and engaging? Social media is a great supplement to your online presence and helps to build and strengthen your relationship with your patients — and attract new ones. Find which channel works best for you, and be sure to post regularly to keep your audience engaged.

Flip the script.

We know that the longer customers have to wait and the longer it takes to get them through the clinic, the less they spend and the more likely they are to leave without making a purchase. However, as much as you try to minimize wait time, it will never be completely eliminated.

So, instead of working against the current, use it to your advantage by flipping from a patient-consumer experience to a consumer-patient experience. Specifically, what if when patients arrived you had your team complete their frame and lens selection and had it entered in the computer and paid for before they were even pre-tested? That would mean that after they completed their visit, patients could just leave.

Now, I know this cannot happen all the time, as both frame and lens selections are dependent on examination results. But, what if it could happen 40% to 60% or more of the time?

What if you ask your patients to arrive 20 or 30 minutes early, and because their history, old eyewear and insurance plan information are on file, your staff can come pretty close to selecting everything they will need before you start your refraction?

Imagine how much pressure and stress this would alleviate for the perfect handoff, not to mention eliminating the need to buzz for an optician who cannot keep up with the flow to begin with. Better yet, imagine how appreciative your patients will be when you are able to get them in and out and accomplish their goals, so they don’t have to spend more time going elsewhere to get their eyewear or contact lenses?

Forward thinking

This type of “radical” thinking is exactly what your business needs today. Without it, you and your team are not equipped to support the experience your patients demand.

If you and your team are still maintaining routines and systems from yesterday because that is what is comfortable, you are not allowing yourself or your business to achieve your true potential. OM

Mr. Binkowitz is the president of GPN, an optometric consulting company. He has had extensive experience in retail operations, merchandising and marketing. E-mail him at jay.gpn@gmail.com or visit him at www.gatewaypn.com. Or, send comments to optometricmanagement@gmail.com.



Optometric Management, Volume: 49 , Issue: July 2014, page(s): 14-17

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