Get Your Message Out There - Lab Communications

By Liz Martinez, ABOC, NCLC
It’s a fact in today’s market that you could have the best lab in the world, but unless potential customers know about you, you won’t have any business. Likewise, if you don’t keep in regular communication with your existing customers, they’ll never know about new products and services you offer.

There are different ways of getting the word out about your lab. Advertising is one, of course. It works especially well for large laboratories, but smaller, regional labs don’t get as much bang for their buck. After all, what’s the point in advertising around the globe if you’re only servicing clients in, say, the greater Houston area?

Public relations efforts are also a great way to tell your clients about your lab. Labs that are mentioned in articles that appear in trade publications have instant credibility. But again – unless you’re a large lab with many locations, is reaching out to every geographical area really doing you any good?

DIRECT COMMUNICATION

The real question is, are you realizing increased sales from your efforts? The most effective way for labs to reach potential and existing customers is through one-to-one communication. Even as recently as five years ago, direct communication was a costly proposition. (Think printing and postage for every customer and potential new client!) Now, however, technology has made reaching out not only inexpensive, but practical as well. Costs have come down dramatically, and communication has become instantaneous. In addition, it is a simple matter to fine-tune each message so that it is personalized and targeted in just the right way.

According to Joe Savarese, vice president of sales and business development at C.D.I., the Web marketing and consulting group of Jobson Optical Group, this form of communication has become more practical because in the last four years the company’s database of eyecare practitioners with e-mail addresses has increased 400 percent. Plus it’s simple for Savarese to market to just the right target audience. “For example, we can segment the list by job title or type of eyecare practitioner,” he says. “Regional labs can choose to target customers by state, region or even by demographic information.”

TYPES OF COMMUNICATIONS

Newsletters – “We can build a dedicated e-marketing campaign for wholesale labs to reach out to eyecare practitioners on a one-to-one basis,” Savarese explains. “If the lab has a regular customer base, we can create a newsletter that goes out on a monthly or quarterly basis.”

Newsletters are effective tools to keep the industry updated about the lab or to offer tips on the hottest products, services and processes that the lab offers. Jobson can also assist in putting the newsletter content together for the lab.

Web Sites – “A sophisticated Web site is a great tool to showcase products and services,” Savarese says. “It can also provide a place for customers to order online.”

Customers can reorder stock lenses via a Web site. They can also use the site to place Rx orders. It’s faster than picking up the phone, and there’s no chance that verbal communication errors might lead to processing the order incorrectly.

Continuing Education – “Some labs offer education online through their Web sites,” Savarese points out. “Many practitioners have to take a certain amount of continuing education, and they love it when it’s paid for.”

Some labs will offer continuing education to customers based on the amount of business they do. The more the customer spends with the lab, for example, the more free CEs the lab offers. With this program customers can be rewarded with free CE, something they would have had to pay for elsewhere.

E-mail – According to Savarese, e-mail marketing is quickly becoming a preferred method of communication between optical industry suppliers, including labs and eyecare professionals and retailers. “It’s one-to-one, it’s dynamic (both parties participate), and labs can send a dedicated message to an ECP,” he says.

E-mail is a means of sending a dedicated message – in other words, a single advertiser is sending a single message to a single person. It’s also a quick, efficient means of communication. Plus, it’s faster and much more cost-effective than sending out a team of sales representatives to call on accounts.

Web Casting – Web casting is a means of providing education or a dialog to many people in different places at one time. Participants log onto a Web site, where they can see streaming video or a PowerPoint slide show while simultaneously listening to a moderator or speaker. Participants can also engage in a real-time question-and-answer session after the presentation.

“Web casting is done live, but it can also be archived so that participants can go back later on and review it,” Savarese says.

Teleconferencing – Michele Barrett, a regional sales manager with Jobson, says that teleconferencing is another fast and efficient way that labs can deliver continuing education. “With teleconferencing, there’s no video,” she explains. “The participants just call in to a number at a certain time. But teleconferencing could also be set up to work with video,” she adds. “While the participants are on the phone, they can log onto a Web site and watch streaming video or a PowerPoint presentation at the same time.”

Teleconferencing is time-efficient, Barrett says, especially for doctors. The teleconferences are often set up at 10 p.m. on the East Coast (which is 7 p.m. on the West Coast) so that everyone is finished with the workday and the East Coast doctors can participate once they’ve put the kids are to bed. Teleconferencing has the added advantage of providing live education without requiring the participants to spend time and money on travel.

EDUCATION FOR OPTICIANS Many doctors appreciate the availability of online education for their opticians. To the doctors, it means that their employees don’t have to spend time away from work, nor do they have to foot the bill for the opticians to travel. When the education is available free from their lab, that’s a bonus.

Savarese says that the education that labs offer doesn’t always have to be in the form of accredited CECs. “Practical, product-based education, such as the benefits of AR, how to fit progressive lenses, and things like that can be offered as non-credit CEs,” he says. According to Savarese, educating the opticians is a wonderful way to expand business for labs. “The doctors are sometimes hesitant to recommend specific products to patients,” he points out. “They’re the professionals – they’re the ones doing the exams – so the optician plays an important role in dispensing a particular lens, product or treatment.” The CECs can play a large role in informing the optician of what the lab offers.

There are many opportunities for labs to reach customers and potential customers directly. Electronic means are the preferred mode of communication these days, and these technological advances translate into spending less time and money on reaching customers as well as a greater return on investment.

Liz Martinez, ABOC NCLC, is a licensed optician and an instructor at Iterboro Institute in New York.

CURRENT ISSUE


May/June LabTalk 2017