Improving Your Grades

By Judith Lee
First, the good news. Like students who choose to sit in the front row, your customers have been listening. Optical dispensers have noticed:

• You’ve invested in digital technology
• Your lab is turning out consistent quality lenses
• Your staff is capable and productive with digital lens surfacing

But like all good students, your customers have a few things to teach the teacher. If they were grading your performance, they would give you an “A for effort” but something like a “B” for your overall grade.
It’s not a bad grade, but probably not the very best you can do. This experienced group of dispensing opticians provide these simple suggestions to bring up your grade to a solid “A.”

With the freedom that digital free-form lenses allow, it’s important for labs to realize that “close” is no longer close enough, says master optician Barry Santini of Long Island Opticians, Seaford, NY.
“As long as the requested base curve is available for the material/lens design chosen, no substitutions should be made by the lab,” Santini said.
He explained that optical retailers are attempting, more than ever, to try to maintain authentic frame appearance and fit.
“When using the new free-form lenses, it is not uncommon for us to deviate from traditional ‘best form’ curves to more accurately mimic the way the frame templates fit the frame. By doing so, the frames keep their ‘off-the-shelf’ cosmetics and fitting quality,” Santini noted.
When the lab is exacting with order specifications, your customer is happier because his or her customer is happier.
“With closely frame-matched curves, customers no longer ask to see ‘the model they tried on.’ The finished Rx pair fits and looks just like the sample they tried on!” Santini said.

Gregg Randell of Grand Central Optical in New York City noted that specific base curves often are not available in the lens he would prefer to dispense.
“To get the curve you want, you may have to switch lens brands to one that you know will come in that curve. This influences your brand choice, and it shouldn’t,” Randell said.
He acknowledged that lens manufacturers dictate the base curves. But he suggested that optical labs could minimize the impact by being more informative to retailers about which lenses come in which base curves.
“If we have the information we need when selling, we won’t sell the customer a lens that we can’t get in their Rx. This will save time in delivery to the customer,” Randell said.

Experienced opticians lament the loss by attrition of an older generation of lab technicians who had deep optical knowledge that’s hard to find today.
“The knowledge base is not there. If I call a lab for a specialized lens, the Customer Service people can’t handle it, they have to call in the lab manager. Then I am stuck waiting to hear back from him,” said Bruce Kolkmann of Raymond Opticians in Mt. Kisco, NY.
Kolkmann characterizes most lab Customer Service personnel as “order takers” rather than someone who understands optics and eyewear.
“Sometimes I need someone who can troubleshoot and really answer a technical question,” he noted.
Kolkmann acknowledges that highly-trained people are expensive, so most labs cannot afford to have an entire team of Customer Service people with backgrounds in optics.

“Okay, let’s say you have 10 Customer Service people. I think at least one should be trained in optics, and able to answer any complicated patient problem: high power Rx’s, how base curve and index of material affects chromatic aberration and acuity through the lens. And we need this person to be easily accessible,” Kolkmann offered. He added that the nine other Customer Service people should have at least entry level knowledge of optics

Kolkmann also laments the disappearance of frame reps with a background in optical dispensing. For many years, retailers relied on those reps for training.
“Now the detail people only have the knowledge that’s acquired at sales meetings,” said Kolkmann. “They have talking points but no technical knowledge.”
He said a licensed dispensing optician would be an ideal person to train retailers on what they need to know to service patients well.
“We need the labs to step up and provide really good training, since manufacturers are no longer serving this need,” Kolkmann said.

Matt Sutter, optical manager for Eye Specialists Associates in Hays, KS said he’s been tripped up when his lab was unable to apply a premium coating to a lens that he’s specified.
“What are my choices? A lower-end AR coat or scratch coat reduces the quality of the eyewear and often comes with an unacceptable warranty. The patient, through no fault of their own, gets lenses that smudge, scratch, or cause glare. The fallout for us can be the return of the eyewear in less than a year of wear,” Sutter said.

Mary Lou Schatan, owner of Schatan Optical Gallery in Torrance, CA says she’s extremely happy with the three independent labs that she uses, but that is only after decades of winnowing out the so-called “loser labs.”
“There’s a lot of opportunity now in the eyeglass business, as more people are wearing them than ever before. But the big money people have come in and purchased independent labs; the money people are in charge, not the lab people. I am praying that my excellent labs will not be purchased and ‘dumbed down’ to save on costs,” she said
Schatan said her business benefits from lower-quality eyewear purchased under the constraints of vision plans. The wearer, unhappy with the quality of the eyewear, comes to Schatan to replace it with something better.
“There is an undulating current tugging at quality. I’m just glad that I still have enough quality eyewear to offer them,” she noted.

In our time-stressed world, anything that falls outside of the norm can be viewed as a nuisance. Santini believes that labs sometimes ignore special instructions: “The operative word in ‘special instructions’ is ‘special’…meaning please read and, if you need clarification, call. Do not assume!”
Schatan noted that some labs rely on technicians who are technically excellent but not native English speakers. They may not understand written English, so it’s the lab’s responsibility to ensure that special instructions are read and understood.
The bottom line is that remakes are a problem for your customer and his customer, the wearer.
“These are unnecessary delays,” said Santini, “and if special instructions are overlooked or misunderstood more than once within a specific order, and multiple redos are needed, everyone looks foolish!


Labtalk June 2020