Article Date: 6/1/2011

Create the Dispensary of the Future Today
optical

Create the Dispensary of the Future Today

Use design, technology, premium products and unparalleled customer service to create a highly personalized patient experience.

Tara Rosenzweig, Philadelphia, Pa.

While there are those who fret over increased competition from any number of bricks-and-mortar dispensaries and online spectacle sellers, other practices are looking to the future and developing plans to keep patients loyal, attract new patients and increase optical sales. How? Through state-of-the-art optical dispensaries that offer “the best of the best”—that is, the latest lenses and designer frames, cutting-edge equipment that provides measurements for high-clarity eyeglasses, innovative patient education systems and attentive staff working in a unique, stylish environment. In essence, these practices are developing a highly personalized experience for the patient, one that can't be found among their competitors. Here, we take a look at the key elements that create this patient experience.

Presentation is half the battle

From modern décor and furniture to lighting and displays that present frames with style, these practices use their dispensaries to make a unique statement. Why?

“The presentation of the product is half the battle,” says Gavin Cohen, O.D., who owns two practices in Atlanta, Ga., including the upscale Optique at West Paces, which features a European design. If the dispensary design isn't attractive, then customers “don't see the value in the product that you're selling,” whether frames cost $10, $100, or $1,000, says Dr. Cohen.

Millennium Optical, in Ormond Beach, Fla., also features a modern, European design, which was chosen to complement its high-end European frame selection, says Mark S. Rubin, M.D., the optical's owner. The furniture and the setting go along with the idea of “a high-end, attractive store,” he says.

The décor at Millennium also includes a stylish tile floor, modern pendant lighting and a unique archway, specially crafted with bricks from a local hotel that was demolished.

While redesigning an optical dispensary can get costly, consider it an investment that pays dividends in sales, patient loyalty and increased referrals, says Dr. Cohen. It's also an investment in which size may matter.

“In today's market, you have to have a large optical to compete with some of the commercial opticals,” says Craig Bedinghouse, O.D., of Lakewood Family Eye Care, Lakewood Ranch, Fla.

Dr. Bedinghouse says Lakewood's optical is decorated with a retail flair—“sort of like a Banana Republic”: muted gray tones on the walls, timeless black-and-white cabinetry and a tile floor.

The décor of Millennium Optical in Ormond Beach, Fla. was chosen to compliment its high-end European frame selection.

The unique optical experience

Millennium Optical offers highly individualized attention to those who seek it, says Dr. Rubin. The practice gathers information from patients before they come in so the staff can be ready to present hand-picked frames. The practice “can set up a personalized consultation or showing [of products] by appointment” to demonstrate features and benefits that address patients' needs, says Patrizia Rubin, Millennium's frame buyer and optical manager.

For example, Millennium will present frames “not only [based on] style but also needs and lifestyle,” she says. So, Millennium will identify a lifestyle characteristic—say, spectacles for computer work—and offer a specific selection of frames and lenses based on this need, as well as the patient's sense of fashion.

Steven Chander, O.D., clinical director of Primary Eye Care Associates in Chicago, who says his dispensary offers a vast array of frames spanning two floors, says his patients don't have to peruse the thousands of frames. Instead, the optician brings a personalized frame selection to the patient, who remains seated throughout the dispensary visit.

“After we've asked what they like and dislike about their current eyewear, we bring selections that our frame and lens experts feel are a good fit based on [the patient's] hairstyle, eye color, skin tone and most important: facial shape,” Dr. Chander says.

At Lakewood Family Eye Care, patients are encouraged to browse the optical, says Dr. Bedinghouse.

“We give the patient an overview of the optical in terms of where to find things—men's, women's, sports, sunglasses,” he says. “And then we like to take about five minutes to get to know them, what's important in their lives. Patients like to try things on—just like they like to try clothes on—so we leave them alone to browse.”

Dr. Bedinghouse says the optician then returns to answer questions and assist the patient with frame selection.

The presentation of the final eyeglasses is another opportunity to set a practice apart. For example, optical shops may present finished spectacles in an attractive gift bag and may include “extras” like chocolates or special coupons for future use, says Gary Gerber, O.D., president and founder of The Power Practice, a practice management consultancy, in Franklin Lakes, NJ.

Dr. Chander's practice takes advantage of such a presentation: “At dispense, we bring the patient's frames on a velvet tray, with a small, fancy, wrapped chocolate and bottle of eye glass cleaner with a cleaning cloth,” he explains.

The patient leaves with a package that also includes the business card of the optician who assisted and a description of the practice's lifetime complimentary adjustments policy.

Regardless of the type of presentation, it's critical to congratulate and reaffirm the patient's purchase decision, says Dr. Gerber. He says the Power Practice encourages O.D.s to have another staff member who's not working with the patient say, “Wow, those frames look great on you” because it gives the customer affirmation, he says.

Beyond the high-end

Consider expanding the personalized optical experience beyond the high-end customer, say those interviewed for this article.

“We offer good service at any price level,” says Ms. Rubin.

Likewise, Dr. Cohen says his practice serves high-end clientele, but carries frames that range in price from $99 upward.

Dr. Chander agrees you should have a wide range of prices, but advises the presentation of frames “start at the top.”

“Have all patients try on a $1,500 pair of glasses—no matter what—just so they can ‘feel what it's like to sit in a Bentley,’” he says.

By setting the bar high, you remove the sticker shock of a $600 frame, Dr. Chander says. Many practices mitigate pricing issues by offering financing through a financial institution.

On the other hand, “the O.D. can't be all things to all patients,” says Dr. Gerber. “You have to decide which segment you want to draw the most, cater to those, and in doing so be prepared to lose some patients.”

A highly personalized experience must also account for patients' purchasing habits. Therefore, you should consider online dispensing.

“Online ordering is the future,” says Dr. Chander. “There are many ways to make money from online sales, and so I recommend the high-tech office embrace the online optical. Don't get left behind because you don't believe in it.”

There are several approaches to developing such an e-commerce site: You may opt to create your own e-commerce website, enlist the services of a website developer, or use one of the e-commerce solutions offered by ophthalmic vendors.

Cutting-edge lenses and equipment

New refraction technologies have the potential to revolutionize the way refractions are performed and the quality of vision that will be delivered to patients, says Mile Brujic, O.D., who is in private practice in Bowling Green and Lima, Ohio. With these technologies, “we can now refract patients to higher levels of accuracy (down to 0.05D) so that we can deliver a level of accuracy to the patients' vision that matches digital surfacing technology capabilities,” he says.

These technologies provide superior optics in both single vision and progressive lens designs, says David Kaplan, O.D., owner of Family Eyecare of Glendale in Arizona. The technology allows the practice to customize the prescription based on the frame fit selected, effectively minimizing higher-order aberrations, “which degrade both contrast and night vision performance,” he says.

“The net result is an extremely precise and customized product, which provides the patient with an unsurpassed visual experience,” Dr. Kaplan says.

He says that Family Eye Care shows patients the benefits they're reaping. Specifically, the practice uses a review software to demonstrate the difference between the visual outcome of a standard prescription vs. a prescription compensated with computerized measurements, “which truly ignites the patient's enthusiasm,” Dr. Kaplan says.

The right equipment can also help to boost multiple pair sales, according to Dr. Chander. For the past eight years, he says his practice has used its refraction system's point spread function analysis to physically show patients their glare deficiencies.

“It certainly has helped with second-and-third-pair prescriptions sold in our clinic,” Dr. Kaplan says. He says his practice also commands higher fees for the refraction because it educates patients on the value of the technology, which none of its competitors use.

Senior optician Jason Whitten of Baxter Eyecare in Woodlands, Texas, calls his practice's measurement system a “multitasking tool” that provides patient education as well as the exact spectacle measurements required for today's most sophisticated digitally-surfaced lenses. In addition to traditional measurements, such as pupilary distance and seg height, the system measures eye position, visual behavior and frame measurements as well as eye rotation center and natural head posture—both of which are unique to each patient.

“This allows us to mold a progressive to fit the needs of the individual patient—not just a cookie-cutter progressive that you put on everybody,” Mr. Whitten says.

Patient education and marketing

Devices are also available to help educate patients and boost sales by providing both information and visual feedback. For example, the measurement system at Baxter Eye care includes a display that takes video of the patient wearing the new frames. This is especially helpful for those patients who can't see how the frames look “without their own eyewear on,” says. Mr. Whitten.

He adds that the system captures still images, which can be viewed immediately or e-mailed to the patient if they prefer to make a selection at home. And, it can also account for features, such as AR and photochromic lenses and lens type. So, for example, a patient can compare the look of a polycarbonate lens to a CR-39 lens. “It gives patients a very good idea of what their lenses would look like in a frame,” says Mr. Whitten.

Communicating new technologies and their benefits to patients is critical for a successful dispensary, says Dr. Brujic. He says he explains to patients that he'll be able to obtain the best prescription for their eyes by utilizing a new technology that most patients say is easier than the traditional way of measuring vision.

“I also describe that it will measure the highest accuracy of vision, and we will be able to make lenses that will deliver the quality of vision from the measurements that we have taken,” he says.

Staffing and training

Of course, staff must be trained to both provide stellar service and communicate product benefits. Providing scripts for their interactions with patients is an effective way to achieve this. “Essentially, our staff learns a script,” agrees Dr. Chander. “The script [we use] is: ‘Christine is one of our frame and lens experts. She knows all about the lenses we were talking about to help maximize relief after many hours on the computer screen.’ I then ask the optician, ‘Christine, can we get the no-glare lenses on the high-index lenses,’ knowing fully that we can. Now with this empowerment, it facilitates the personalization/trust factor.”

Training opticians to select frames based on a patient's facial shape and features, hairstyle and coloring doesn't have to be complicated, says Dr. Chander. “Over the years, we've put together a training manual from a compilation of journal articles and education seminars we've attended,” he says. “We have a small binder of items we've added and taken out of over the years; it's constantly being updated.”

Dr. Chander says they also train staff to do a thorough patient interview to understand patients' style goals. For example, the staff asks patients if they're looking for a bold statement vs. a subtle look.

O.D.s may think that providing such highly personalized service requires additional staff, but Dr. Gerber says technology is likely to cancel that out. “You probably should be able to hire a smaller staff, because whatever this technology of the future is, most technologies create staff efficiencies,” he explains.

Dr. Gerber adds that O.D.s need to hire people who not only can understand and use the new technologies, but also understand the importance of their interactions with patients.

“It's not the technology per se, it's how it's presented to the patient that's going to differentiate one practice from another,” explains Dr. Gerber. “It behooves the practitioners to make sure that the personalities of the people at their organization are still aligned with the core values of the practice. The human touch piece has to be first and foremost regardless of the technology.” OM

Contributor Robert Murphy provided assistance with the interviews in this article.

Ms. Rosenzweig is a freelance writer who lives in the Philadelphia area. E-mail her at Tara.Rosenzweig@verizon.net. Or, send comments to optometricmanagement@gmail.com.


Optometric Management, Issue: June 2011