Article Date: 3/1/2011

Give A World of Clear Vision

Give A World of Clear Vision

HOW? By prescribing multiple pairs of spectacles to your patients. Here's how.

Donna A. Suter
Chattanooga, Tenn.

Your goal is to give your patients the best in eye care and make sure that every patient eaves your office equipped with as many pairs of spectacle lenses necessary to meet his or her various visual and lifestyle needs.

Ask anyone: “Do you want to see clearly?” and in response, you'll get a hearty “yes.” Ask those patients who have blurry vision if they want to purchase more than one pair of spectacles and you will get … what answer?

Why does this happen? Market research suggests that it may be because consumers do not perceive a need for what is considered a generic product —in this case, spectacle lenses. Therefore, with no awareness of how spectacle lens technology can solve their vision problems, consumers base their decision about how many pairs of spectacles to own on price alone —just as they would a generic product.

Let's put a face on this uneducated consumer. Meet Mrs. Smith. She owns a large company and has three college-level degrees. She firmly believes all spectacle lenses are alike and that she only needs one pair of spectacles. Mrs. Smith says:

“If I really needed more than one pair, the doctor would have mentioned it.”

It is your team's job to communicate the message that new spectacle lens options offer a level of visual comfort and performance that once was only imagined. It really is possible to own a wardrobe of eyewear built around the most challenging visual needs that the patient experiences in a day, or a season or a year, as I'll discuss in this article.

A 2011 Super Bowl car commercial put it this way:

“How do we know things are as good as they can be? What if we always settled for the first thing that came along? Can you imagine a world without all the wonderful things we've discovered while searching for something better? We might never have gotten HD TVs, seedless oranges, North America… ”

… Or, high performance spectacle lenses.

Start at the front desk

Get the ball rolling in the right direction by positioning clear vision as being just as important as eye health. This could be done when front desk personnel return the patient's insurance card. At this time, have them also present the patient with an eyewear lifestyle checklist, which you can obtain for free via the Internet.

Have the staff begin the patient interaction with a confident smile and a statement of purpose:

“Mrs. Smith, our goal is to be the best provider of eye care and to meet your visual and lifestyle needs by educating you about a variety of spectacle lens products. Would you be so kind as to check the boxes that describe how you use your eyes?”

The pre-testing connection

In pre-testing, active listening is as powerful as the results from the tests performed. So, after your tech establishes the patient's chief complaint, he/she should ask her questions that build the foundation for different spectacle lenses. Your tech should develop a rapport with your patients, and listen carefully when they answer questions, such as, “when is it that you notice a change in your vision?”

After taking a few minutes to assess the complete visual needs of the patient, your tech should ask intuitive questions that build on the patient's initial response. For example, the patient may note that her vision changes when she uses her smartphone. When your tech asks when this occurs, he/she reveals patient complaints about glare from hand-held devices and her inability to read the scores at the bottom of the device screen —both problems that can be solved by spectacle lens technology.

This simple, face-to-face conservation establishes the need for more than one type of spectacle lens technology. The tech could then leave the waiting patient with video clips and/or other educational materials, if available, that describe the lenses that could solve the patient's vision problems.

Relying on the expert

Because you, the doctor, are the expert to whom patients entrust their eyesight, it is important that you familiarize yourself with the patient's visual lifestyle before discussing acuity. Communication is a two-way street. Just before the refraction, use the patient's name and repeat back his or her acuity concerns: “Mrs. Smith, it seems that your concern with your vision is …”

Give your patients the opportunity to re-state their concerns. If the patient describes several settings under which she experiences visual strain, mention and note this in the patient's medical record. For example:

“Mrs. Smith, so, you especially notice the vision change in these three situations? The situations are…”

After the refraction, rely on your knowledge of the latest technology as you explain why your recommendations are the best choices for the patient.

“Mrs. Smith, I am going to ask Linda, our optician, to demonstrate three different lenses to you today. Progressive lenses will give you more natural vision and the ability to focus on varying distances. You'll need prescription sunglasses, too, because of your love of golf. And, because I want your putting to improve, the progressive design as well as the color of this lens will enhance your ability to hit the ball and read the green. I also see that you spend a good deal of your evenings —when your eyes are tired —‘Facebooking' on the computer. Computer glasses with a special non-glare surface will give your eyes the ability to keep up with your busy lifestyle and keep up with your friends online without you having to constantly remove and replace your glasses.”

The hesitation many practices exhibit about exploring patient needs and recommending different lens technologies is intensified by the rapid change in spectacle lens options and the professional's need to understand these options before presenting them to a loyal patient base. However, sharp interpersonal skills and a keen knowledge of spectacle lens options are required for a successful presentation.

When asked about price

If the patient asks you about the price or whether “all these options are covered by my insurance plan,” defer to the optician. For example:

“Mrs. Smith: Our optician will be working from my recommendation and explain what options are available and which ones meet your various usage needs. After that, she will discuss how your basic costs are assumed by your plan and what fits your budget.”

While it's the optician's job to understand the details about different spectacle lens technology and vision plan coverage, it is important that you, the doctor, confidently communicate the best acuity modality for the situations in which the patient spends their most visually challenging moments.

With this type of chair-side doctor presentation, the optician, when introducing brands and specific products, will be echoing the recommendation. Because the patient already heard about the need from the doctor, the optician's presentation will be perceived as “tell” not “sell.”

A smooth presentation in the optical

Once the patient enters the optical, she becomes a customer in need of practical advice. The process will go more smoothly if you give the lifestyle/lens guide and your recommendation to the optician face-to-face. This means that patient flow should be designed around the practitioner escorting the patient to the frame-display area. Here, the patient is introduced to the optician while the doctor repeats his or her recommendation to the optician within ear shot of the patient.

The prescription should be handed to the patient, as required by law.

Learning how to close a sale is an art form that can be learned. Selling multiple pairs regularly requires more than just product knowledge and intuition. It means understanding when to stop explaining and end the optical presentation. (Otherwise, the optician can “un-sell” a patient on spectacles that the patient has already planned to purchase.)

The key to selling more than one pair of spectacle lenses per patient is not to sell. It is to educate while being sensitive. Be sensitive to the patient's drama, trouble and difficulty. Here, the old practical wisdom applies: “Learn to walk in someone's shoes for a while. Try to understand where they are.” Answer the question: Why is the patient in this dilemma? Give the patient room by trying to understand while demonstrating the best spectacle lens options.

The patient knows he/she is there to make what is likely an expensive purchase. Use technology in the optical to educate the patient. Educational technology comes at all price points.

Regarding educational technology, we're at the beginning of a paradigmic change in the way in which consumers choose and prefer to buy spectacle lenses. It may be that your optician is old school and demonstrates using a frame that has one −3.50D plastic uncoated lens and a high index and non-glare lens. Or it may be that your opticians enjoy using one of the latest-generation digital centration devices, or virtual spectacle “try-on” software.

The practice can profit by educating consumers using technology options that “smart” service-providers already use in other industries. For example, your opticians have access to the Internet. Leverage your investment of computer terminals by accessing free, web-based consumer education. Brand-specific sites offer product range descriptions and availability, while brief video clips educate and entertain the patient.

Researching expectations

Today's patients expect more sophisticated technology than a common digital-readout pupillometer. In 2010, The Vision Council interviewed 2,903 adults who recently had eye exams. The findings suggest that patients perceive the eye exam as having less value than five years ago, although reported fees are basically unchanged.

As the economy has struggled, consumer studies have shown that consumers are less satisfied with purchases they don't perceive as educated, “smart” decisions. The implication is that if the examination is perceived as less valuable, then the eye care professional is failing to take the time to educate.

Supplementing “tell-manship” with technology entails conversational abilities. As a result, you and your optician must build a narrative with the patient that intertwines the product story while linking it directly as a solution to the patient's visual challenges.

Present lenses before frames

Have your staff make the transition from spectacle lens functionality to fashion with a brief statement:

“Mrs. Smith, we'll be putting each of our lens recommendations into a frame that accomplishes three things: It works with that prescription technology, it will be comfortable, and it will complement your face shape and coloring.”

Because the patient is a wise steward of their resources, be prepared for him or her to say: “Can't I just use my old frame?” Your optician's answer? A confident:

“May I see your frame? I will evaluate it for use and based on its condition, recommend which pair of your fresh lenses it would be suitable to house. By the way, may I assume that you would like the frame to last for at least 12 months of wear?” After the optician gives his or her opinion on the appropriateness using the old frame with the new lenses, offer to replace green nose pads as a service available to all clinic patients.

Answering “how much”

Have your optician begin the “how much” conversation by reviewing the benefits of each pair of lenses and giving a total fee per pair. He/she should explain what features will be paid by a third party and bundle items together that enhance the end product's functionality.

For example: The optician should bundle a high index lens with an AR coating and explain to the patient that doing so will enhance his/her night driving and preclude eye fatigue. The reason: An uncoated high index lens decreases light transmittance. In addition, the optician should further minimize complaints about dirty lenses by automatically including the new scratch, dirt and oil-resistant enhancements that complement a basic no-glare lens.

Because financing is a relatively new option, have your optician mention it, and accept credit cards right after the fee presentation. The optician should move the consumer back to the excitement of seeing clearly by providing an anticipated delivery date.

The patient may say:

“I wasn't expecting to buy more than one pair of glasses.”

Because the optician has listened to the patient and established a rapport with him/her, he or she would intuitively know how to respond. It may be by asking the patient which pair they want to buy first. Or, it might be to repeat the finance options and tell the patient the amount of their monthly payment when they purchase all three pairs.

Training and office goals

The most successful optical may not be the one with a superstar who spends 30 minutes or more completing a nearly flawless presentation while sitting with Mrs. Smith, but a team that uses a spare moment to educate the patient about a specific spectacle lens technology.

“I see the doctor has recommended XYZ lenses. I wear them too, and they've made such a difference when I work at the computer. I can see clearly and work for hours without any eye fatigue.”

As you train your team to present the best to patients, monitor your key metrics before and after implementing change in your practice. For example, after you begin to bundle lens enhancements, compare usage ratios of high performance products with national averages while keeping an eye on the number of sales, gross revenue, cost of goods and how much time the optician spends to close the sale.

The best source of ideas

There are unlimited sources for improvement ideas. But the best, most relevant source of improvement ideas will come from your employees. Think back over the past month, or quarter. Have you encouraged their ideas? The best encouragement is implementation; however, in the average practice, fewer than half of the suggestions made by staff are used. Repeated lukewarm responses by doctors and management sends the message to employees that their ideas are not welcome. Such an environment can kill employee interaction and innovation.

The most important point to keep in mind when developing a multiple pair strategy is that there must be a constant commitment to communicate with both the patient and employees. Be humble.

In such an environment, remember that “wins” belong to the team. “Losses” are yours, alone. OM

Ms. Suter president of Suter Consulting Group, is a frequent writer and speaker on personnel development, sales and efficiency. She offers onsite practice management consulting to doctors in the U.S. and Canada. Email, or send comments to

Optometric Management, Issue: March 2011