The many changes that online optical retailing and now online “eye exams” create for optometry practices can cause ODs to worry about their futures. Will the improvement in technology make us obsolete? How do we combat these changes and stay relevant in this ever-changing market?
Convenience and price
To answer this, we must first look at why patients want to buy glasses and contact lenses online. There are many reasons, but two of the most common are convenience and price.
As private practitioners, ODs may or may not be able to compete on price, but I don’t know that we want to try. In our offices, we refuse to provide cheap products and materials. We want our patients to have the best—just like we want for ourselves, our families, and our staff.
ODs are able to offer convenient ordering to compete against onlinesales. For example, the patient is already in your office—if we make the purchase process enjoyable and easy, then it is just as convenient for the patient to buy from us as to buy online a few days later. Often patients cite cost as a barrier to purchase, but many times patients have vision care plans that contribute to their purchases. Yet they still go online to buy. I believe it is ODs’ processes and presentations that hinder patients from buying from us. ODs and staff do not educate patients on the differences between what we sell and what is sold online.
Customer service important
We have established that ODs are able to compete on convenience and sometimes price, but we prevail—as compared to online retailers—with customer service and relationships with our patients. ODs must cultivate these relationships and improve customer service. Developing these areas of the practice will create the distinction ODs need to survive in this market, and staff is key to success.
We are able to create distinction within our offices so patients do not want to go online to get an “eye exam” or purchase glasses and contact lenses. We create distinction by being different, and this is achieved by creating an experience that shows patients how we are different.
Many times patients do not know the difference between an online “eye exam” and the comprehensive exams ODs perform. This disconnect occurs because ODs rarely explain to them what we do or why and what critical information these tests provide. Many patients also do not know the difference in the frames and lenses available in the optical vs. the pair purchased online.
Patients have problems, and ODs offer solutions. However, frequently ODs simply fail to educate patients on how we can provide these solutions.
A service example
While pondering this problem of creating distinction, I visited my hometown of Tuscumbia, AL, and toured the office of good friend Barry Basden, OD. He has an amazing operation of five offices in northwest Alabama. In his offices, team members stay with the patient throughout the exam from check-in to check-out.
I was amazed at how efficient and productive his staff was in guiding the patient through the exam and office. I went back to our offices and realized this was what we were missing. No online retailer can compete with global customer service. This model provides patients with an advocate in the office—when they rip a contact lens or break their glasses, they have someone to call. Patients also have a personal shopper, someone who knows their vision and health concerns and can utilize the doctor’s recommendations to solve these problems.
Consider this from a patient’s point of view. Who wouldn’t want such an advocate at her doctor’s office?