A reader recently asked me the question in the title after discovering that I have never written about it, so I thought now would be a good time to do so. It is a topic that I pay attention to and that I discuss frequently with my staff. The answer is something like “it depends” or “it varies”, but let’s take a look at the issues surrounding time spent on frame selection and optical ordering so you can improve this area of your practice.
Is spending time with patients a good thing?
Yes and no. I have a love/hate relationship with time. When viewed in the context of your practice, we can say that when optometrists or opticians spend more time with patients, it is mostly a good thing. It is a positive factor until it goes too far and becomes boring or wasteful. How do we know when that happens? It is hard to put into words, but I know it when I see it. You probably do too.
In general, as the CEO of my practice, I’m always looking for ways to increase efficiency. Speed can convert to more productivity and more profit. It can allow us to see more patients per day and it would allow us to get more production from each employee. Of course, I only want a gain in efficiency if it can be achieved without harming the patient experience or technical accuracy.
As you evaluate your preferred general approach to frame selection, consider your market philosophy. If your practice mission is to provide the highest quality eye care, then you should not expect staff to rush patients in optical. You are offering premium service and that means letting the patient take all the time they want. If your practice is positioned as a low-price optical outlet, then more self-service and less personal attention may be quite acceptable.
Monitor staff in optical
Given the ying and yang of speed as discussed above, you should recognize that some opticians are just routinely too slow. Some people feel the need to over-explain everything. It may be an ego-boost for some to try to impress patients with the chemical process of anti-reflective coatings and endless stories about other patients who loved or hated various lens and frame features. A little bit goes a long way. When taken to extreme, the patient has a terrible experience with a staff member who won’t stop talking. The patient may well have bought two or more pairs of glasses, but it took so long to do the first pair, he gives up. One more problem with an overly talkative or slow optician is that she can’t take care of the other patients who are waiting.
I highly recommend that the doctor or manager actively monitor opticians in the sales process. I know it seems a bit awkward and the optician may not like it, but it is too important to stay in the dark. Here is how we do it in my practice:
• Don’t try to make it secretive. Just tell the opticians that you are going to hang out in optical a bit more in order to observe what goes on. Tell them that you think there are many things you can learn about the dispensing process by observing.
• Find a place to work that is within earshot of the frame area, but off to the side enough that you won’t be pulled into the conversation.
• Bring a laptop and some papers and do some work out there; or pretend to do some work. Answer emails or look at reports. Resist the urge to help your optician; just listen.
• Take notes on what you see and hear, including how long some parts of frame selection and optical orders take.
• Use the information to coach your team on what they might do better, but present your ideas later in a private setting. Be very respectful and try to not micro-manage everything. Also, be sure to praise some of the good things you observed.
Tips for employees who are slow
Here are some ideas you can share with staff in your coaching sessions when appropriate:
• If you have an employee who talks too much or seems preachy, tell him that most people prefer a very simple and brief explanation about optical products. Suggest that the employee try asking questions of the patient and then listen carefully. Review that asking questions is the best way to sell products.
• Advise staff to not let the total number of frames being considered to be very large. Ask the patient to eliminate frames as you go along and put them away. There should never be a pile of frames on the table.
• Think and talk about ordering multiple pairs from the very beginning. Ask questions about the patient’s lifestyle and review the recommendations of the doctor. Always mention early that the practice offers a large discount on each additional pair of glasses purchased today.
• Select all the frames needed. I have heard experts say that it is best to do the lens design first and then select frames, but I disagree. The frame styling is more fun for the patient and I let it happen first. Once we lock in all the frames, it is much harder to not proceed with the order.
• If the patient wants to browse and take lots of time, it is fine for the optician to step back and let that happen. I like our opticians to stay close enough to be available to answer questions and doing so also reduces the opportunity for shoplifting.
The right amount of time to spend on an optical sale varies with each patient. The lesson here is to be alert for clues from the patient about that and to adapt on the fly to meet his needs. A great optician is flexible and can be super-fast or happy to provide plenty of detail.