I met with a top executive with a leading frame company last week and he estimated that 80% of optometrists in the U.S. have little or nothing to do with their optical dispensaries. My own experience with practices agrees with that. Most ODs delegate everything optical to staff members and really don't monitor it for years. Or decades. It's almost like we have a phobia about it.
While I'm not implying that staff members don't do a good job in the management of the optical departments, I strongly recommend that the doctor/practice owner spend some time observing and listening to staff members as they care for patients in optical, especially when performing frame selections.
You will be shocked
I think optometrists naturally tend to think our staff is carrying out our vision in various aspects of the practice. After all, the OD probably trained the original staff on how to do it, or at least discussed it at a staff meeting. And if that original staff trained the others then of course things are going well. I'm kidding, of course, but there is a difference between optical and the rest of the practice. If operations get off track at the front desk or in the clinic, the OD probably becomes aware of it at some point. He or she is close enough to that part of the office. But frame selection is often more isolated. It is semi-private and doctors are too busy to hang around.
Here are some things you might observe:
Starting with poor frame choices. There may be no rhyme or reason to how the process is started, but it is actually very important. How many times is the first frame tried on the one that is finally ordered? Consider a tour of the entire frame area first, including a look at sunglasses before starting the frame selection. Come back to them.
No enthusiasm. Enthusiasm sells. How many designer frame upgrades would you sell if your staff member said “Mrs. Jones, we just received the newest frames from XYZ Designer and I would love for you to try them on! I think they would be perfect for you!” More likely you will hear “Did you want to look at frames today or are you staying with your old one?” Or you will see a rather serious, matter-of-fact approach that implies the office is busy and let's get this done.
Lack of patient education. Do you think your staff members are actually discussing all the lens options and frame design choices that are available? I'll bet not in many cases. I think many staff tend to pre-judge what they think patients will want and what they can afford. I tend to think of the Julia Roberts character in the movie “Pretty Woman”: Mistake. Big mistake.
Incorrect explanations. When staff members explain lens features like premium free-form progressives, high index materials, antireflective and Transitions, how accurate are they? You might be surprised at what they say. And why not use demonstration items? Your office is not the internet.
No recommendation of second pairs. Your staff can sell second pairs by just asking the patient questions. “Do you participate in outdoor activities? Do you have any hobbies? Do you use a computer?” Another good way to dramatically increase multiple pair sales is to make the additional complete pairs 50% off. Your staff will finally bring up the idea on a regular basis.
Mistakes on pricing.
How to observe
I mention this because I know it is a bit awkward to try to observe and listen to staff while staying in the background. Here are some tips, but practice makes it easier.
Watch from a distance or behind glass. The disadvantage is you can't hear this way, but you can still learn a lot and it is more discreet.
Act busy nearby. Work on a computer or paper work.
Walk through the area rather slowly on several occasions. You will see and hear a lot.
Install security cameras with audio. This is the best way. Watch from your office.
What I saw
So you don't think I try to give the impression that my practice is perfect (trust me, it isn't), I'll share with you what I noticed recently in my office. Two different staff members on separate occasions did a poor job of managing frame selections. The patient was walked directly to our budget frame display to begin the process. These frames are not in the area of our nicest frame styles. These patients had not indicated any need or desire for low-priced frames. The optician simply presumed it. I was shocked. I thought we had covered this!
I recommend you take some notes about what you observe that could be better and discuss the issue in detail at regular staff meetings. Staff will actually open up and share their best sales techniques and communication skills. I would not criticize any individuals at a group staff meeting. There may be value in working with specific staff on specific issues, but do it in private.
I understand that optical dispensing may not be your favorite activity as an optometrist, but as CEO of your practice, it should interest you very much.