No More Spray & Pray - Educating Your Customers

By Christie Walker
When it comes to educating your customers, do you use the “spray and pray” method? Spray them with tons of information and then pray that it sticks? According to lab owners and managers, spray and pray just doesn’t cut it.

Educating the eye care practitioner and his or her staff in many cases has fallen to the optical laboratory. Optometrists come out of school knowing how to conduct an eye exam but not how to run a business. When your business depends on how well they run their business that can be a problem. Many optical laboratories have embraced this challenge and turned it around to their advantage.

“Our account loyalty has improved tremendously since we began providing the ECPs and their staff with education,” said Alex Yoho, Hawkins Optical Laboratory. “The relationship building process and branding of our lab is strengthened by our educational meetings.”

Each lab has developed their own programs for educating their customers. From “lunch-and-learn” sessions, to special events, to bringing in outside trainers, educating your customers is second only to actually producing the lenses.

When deciding what type of educational programs to provide to your customers, there are a number of approaches you can take. Here are some of the questions to ask yourself before you get started:

• What is the focus of your education? Product information, business skills, basic optometric knowledge for opticians?

• Will you charge for your classes? Charging a nominal fee can create value for the education and training. ABO classes are often presented for a fee.

• Location—will you train them at their office or bring them to your lab. Combining a lab tour with lunch and education has worked for many labs.

• Credit or no credit—Hawkins Optical offers six hours of ABO credit and feels this is a draw, while Toledo Optical offers no ABO credit, feeling the people who come are really there to learn not just to get a credit stamp.

• One-on-one training or group functions and events—while both options bring value, there are benefits and downsides to each.

Customizing the approach to the needs of each office can be time consuming but may give you the most bang for your buck. At Pech Optical Corp., Kathryn Gross-Edelman has combined a lab tour with four hours of education. She has also found Webinars are very effective and popular with the younger generation of opticians. Because of constant turn-over, employees must have a minimum of four weeks in the business before Gross-Edelman will train them.

“When they are new, they don’t even know what they don’t know,” said Gross-Edelman. “Or what questions to ask.” “Webinars are our newest venture into the cyber-education world. Pech Optical has chosen “live” sessions to entertain questions and share ideas from the participants.

There are many companies who offer live Webinars as well as those who have presentations on the Internet to be taken at any time day or night at the participants convenience. The cost of conducting Webinar education varies from vendor to vendor. We have a monthly retainer fee plus per minute per location phone connection fees. It is the most cost-effective economical method for training. We have a list of all our educational seminars (accredited and non-accredited) and Webinars on our Web site. Dates and times are posted. We stand by the philosophy, ‘Build it and they will come.’ This is a new idea, a new technology, and a new way of doing business.”

According to Gross-Edelman, here are some of the advantages Pech Optical has discovered using Webinars:

1) Entire staff can train at one time without “leaving home.”

2) The excuse of not enough time is answered when the Webinars are given in one-hour segments to respect staff schedules.

3) Shared documents and desktops allows for collaboration of all involved.

4) Engaging the audience for input often means more learning beyond the Power Point presentation.

5) Distribution of notes and documents is immediate to reduce separate e-mails with attachments and the audience doesn’t have to wait.

6) Cost effective for the presenters and the participants.

“There has been much interest in the Webinar form of education. The challenge is to have the right info, the right time, and the right presenter to gain popularity. Because this is in an incubation phase, we learn as we go what works and what adjustments we have to make. Attendance varies,” Gross-Edelman concluded.

At Toledo Optical Laboratory, Jeff Szymanski has taken a different approach. At Toledo, they focus on teaching the ECP how to run a better business by giving them business essentials. Toledo Optical uses The William’s Group to combat the stigma that the lab doesn’t have the credibility to teach business essentials.

“The William’s Group has truly become the preeminent consultants to the eye care industry—so much so that they are now part of the curriculum at all 17 optometric colleges. They have become, in a sense, the business school for the optometric profession.

While the William’s consulting philosophy teaches an overall approach to better patient management and care, they do focus a considerable amount of time in helping an office run a more efficient, streamlined and more profitable dispensary. They excel in setting up an office culture, which maximizes everyone’s potential and WOW’s the patient at every opportunity,” explained Szymanski.

“Several years ago, we took inventory of our customers and found there was a gap between those who were being extremely successful, and those who were just managing to stay in the game. After some research, we found that a common thread amongst those successful offices was that most were William’s Group graduates.

Further research confirmed that, while we preach many of the same things as does William’s Group, we, as a laboratory, would benefit by having as many of our customers as possible embrace the William’s philosophy. We have since created a unique, strategic alliance with the William’s Group, by which we creatively incentivize our customers who use the William’s Group services.”

Toledo Optical also has two dedicated sales trainers and uses the Global Optics training module, JumpStart and the STRATA series by Lightbenders.

“With JumpStart, we are able to better teach the mechanics of our profession, and train both the new, as well as the experienced, in how to best satisfy our patients. Being that these are ABO courses, we do sell the JumpStart discs to ECPs but we also make considerable concessions when selling the series to supporting customers,” explained Szymanski. “Our second training initiative—STRATA, has been designed to act as a complete multimedia training and educational tool to enhance overall practice management expertise.

STRATA is facilitated by our sales consultants with the presence of the entire office, including the doctor. With STRATA, we focus more on the managerial applications of patient interaction along with such themes as “Converting Customers to Patients,” “Converting Patients to Revenue,” and “Attracting and Retaining Patients.” We offer STRATA for free to all of our supporting customers. The entire four module program has been designed to take a year, to a year and a half, to complete, and covers about six hours of training.”

Over at Hawkins Optical Laboratory, they offer a crash course to get people up and running as soon as possible. “We find that doctors are pulling people off the street and trying to train them,” said Alex Yoho, Hawkins Optical. Hawkins offers a six-hour course on a Saturday at the lab for free, which includes lunch.

Toledo Optical also holds a focus group twice a year for the business owner. The group is comprised of about 20 owners and they discuss questions such as, “What keeps you up at night?” or “How do you hire or fire personnel?” As a focus group, the participants are now learning from their peers instead of being “taught” by the lab. The lab facilitates the event and is thereby perceived as providing the education, but the doctors accept the information more readily coming from their peers.

At Perferx Optical, they have a special program that the doctors MUST buy into. Mike Connery, sales manager, at Perferx Optical explains.

“Any program that we have is designed to achieve maximum results. In order to accomplish this we must establish three things: 1. What is the lab’s role (lab, sales consultant, etc) in the program? 2. What is the dispenser’s role? 3. What is the doctor’s role?

Understanding the doctors (MD’s, OD’s) like we do, we recognize that they are often our biggest challenge. Most take a hands-off approach to running their dispensary. The extent of success of most of the programs we offer is often related to the amount of involvement and commitment of the doctors.

To that end, we approach the doctors and/or owners first to establish their responsibilities in the related program and clearly define their “role.” If the doctors don’t agree to get involved to the extent that we are asking, we thank them and move on. If we do not have full commitment, the program will ultimately fail and we waste our valuable time.”

Diversification

At Toledo Optical, they have found the best approach to training and educating their customers is very similar to the advice often given for investing strategies—diversify.

Different office environments, skill levels, age levels and objectives each call for a unique style of training. “We have had the most success when we mix STRATA trainings, with lab tours, featuring hands on educational classes, while also adding the self-guided JumpStart discs with our Toledo Optical annual “Attainment” seminar, and a Focus Group meeting or two just to round things out,” said Syzmanski.

Over at Perferx, they have implemented a “needs-based solution” training for accounts. This type of training was designed mainly to increase AR percentage but was found to increase other premium products as well, including Transitions and high index lenses.

“We now have numerous accounts that we have trained that maintain an 80 percent and above AR percentage rate. The program includes full office educational training, dispenser role-playing, individual performance tracking, results communication, and retraining if necessary. The program helps to eliminate ECP profiling and fosters a mindset shift geared towards the consumer’s explicit needs,” explained Connery.

Qualifying Results

With the amount of time and effort, not to mention money, invested in educating your accounts, it’s important to know if what you are doing is working. Your customers may love the classes and courses you provide them but if it’s not producing results in terms of increased sales coming to your lab, then why bother. The only way to do that is to benchmark numbers before and then look at numbers again, after the training.

Szymanski agrees. “We have always said that you need to know where you’re at, before you can plan on where you want to go in the future. We track EVERYTHING our customers do with us, and break that information down into two very specific reports. We then supply our customers with a “Lens Usage Report” and a “Customer Performance Profile Report.” We also review this information monthly with customers in order to track success and stay on top of any trends.” At Pech, short term results are judged with an evaulation/questionaire at the end of the session. Long-term results will come with a year “under our belts.”

At Perferx, each program has a goal attached to it. For example, if the focus is on second pair sales, they work with the account to determine the desired results. This can be a percentage or a unit number. Perferx has found the key to the success of their educational programs is to track the progress or lack of progress in reaching that goal.

“If we have less than desired results, we try to identify challenges and correct them when possible. This is often where we recognize that re-training is deemed necessary. Without goals and tracking it becomes nearly impossible to understand if they have retained the information,” said Connery.

Getting Started

With so many options for training your clients, it’s important to remember that what you choose should work for both you and your customers. There is no one correct solution to the education challenge. Kathryn Gross-Edelman sums up the situation nicely.

“Education is like spokes on a wheel. Many different methods and sources are the spokes that make the wheel complete. One spoke is not more or less important than another. By utilizing different options, the wheel turns and gets us where we want to go.

With the average new hire coming into this business and only staying 18 months (Quote from Tim Fortner-Transitions Optical), the education wheel has to turn quickly and accurately to move everyone in the right direction. Our combination of in-office trainings, a lab tour combined with education in-house, regional seminars, national meetings, and Webinars has built a strong foundation for the lab and our customers.”


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May/June LabTalk 2017