Article Date: 9/1/2005

Scenes from the Optical & Beyond
There's a world of customer service lessons available for the taking.
Jim Thomas

Mystery shopping has become a hot topic. The information reported by people who pose as customers (or patients) and visit businesses often proves invaluable, most notably for marketing and staff training. Yet personal observation is a powerful tool even if you don't mystery shop. You can mine a wealth of information by observing a variety of service-oriented establishments (retailers, restaurants, service centers, doctors offices, etc.).

The office visit

Here's an example: On a recent visit to an optometrist's office, I witnessed the following discussion between an optician and an aggressive patient. After the greeting and a handshake, the patient started:

"How much are you going to take me for this time?" he asked.

"I'm sorry?" she answered.

"Oh you know. How much is this going to cost me?" he replied.

"Well, let me look," she said. After taking a few moments to look over her paperwork, she looked directly at the patient and calmly said, "Based on the prescription and the doctor's recommendations that you agreed to, your glasses will cost about $300."

The optician broke a "rule" by discussing costs before explaining benefits, but her approach worked. The patient interrupted the optician five other times to ask about price. Each time, she answered. He ultimately agreed to a pair of glasses with high-index lenses and AR coating.

Before he left, the patient told the optician, "Sometimes I feel like I'm buying a car — folks try to change the subject or won't answer my questions about price. But you listened and answered honestly."

Beyond the office

Lessons can be gleaned from leaders in any industry. In the highly competitive automotive repair industry, top shops sell products and services to customers who would rather spend their money elsewhere. Some use the Internet for education as well as marketing and promotions.

The best-of-the-best rely on personal care. After receiving a call from a customer who burned up a rear differential (translation: "a serious problem"), a car shop in California arranged for customer pick-up some 30 miles away. Not only was transportation arranged to a car rental facility, but when the motorist discovered that she left her license at home, the shop provided transportation home and then back to the rental center. The shop manager later commented that he learned some of his earliest service lessons by observing the service at Nordstrom.


Optometric Management, Issue: September 2005