Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall, Who's the Fairest Lab of All

By Christie Walker

Ask yourself this question, “Would you buy lenses from your lab?” Before you jump to the obvious answer of “Yes” you may want to do a bit of research. Are you willing to look into the mirror? Are you willing to see if you and your employees are aligned with the message you want to convey? With a lab business, what can you do to research your customer’s experience? Let’s take a page out of the food industry play book.

Back in 1976, a friend of mine had what I thought was the coolest job. He was a secret shopper in the fast food industry. Can you say free food! His job was to go to various Jack in the Box restaurants and order very specific menu items; sometimes from the counter and sometimes from the drive through. Then he had to fill out detailed information about his customer experience, the food, the presentation of the food and more. For example, he had to count how many French fries had fallen out of the French Fry bag into the larger bag and how many pickles on his hamburger, and time how long it took to get his order. Of course, there is only so much fast food one person can eat before you never want to see another Jumbo Jack in your life, so he brought me along to help eat and analyze. It was my first look into the life of a secret shopper.

Optical labs can do the same thing. They can find out what their customers are experiencing when they do business with them by starting a Secret Shopper program. Here are four Secret Shopper experiments you can do to better understand what your customer experiences from his or her side of the equation. I bet you can think of more.

1.   Call your lab. What is the phone experience like? Were you placed on hold forever? Was it too automated and impersonal? Did you get to the right department quickly? If you were put on hold, did you listen to on hold music, information about the company, a stand-up comedy routine?

2.   Call your lab with a problem. This may take placing an order first that is purposely messed up. Have one of your ECP friends submit a phony order or an order with a problem, then call to track the order and to find out how you are treated.

3.   Call as if you are a new customer. Find out the process you are put through to become a customer.

4.   Call customer service to ask advice about a particular lens or ask for a recommendation for a particular Rx challenge. How knowledgeable is your customer service team?

Of course, you can also send out a survey to existing customers or have your sales reps ask key questions designed to pull helpful information about how your customers feel about working with you, but oftentimes, customers will temper their comments, where a Secret Shopper will get the full experience, unfiltered.

Enhancing the Customer Experience

Being able to understand how your customers “experience your brand” means putting yourself in your customer’s shoes. Whether you use the Secret Shopper concept or another method, it’s important to understand the customer experience. Roger L. Beahm, executive director of the Center for Retail Innovation at Wake Forest University, offers six steps that can be used to pull vital information from your customers, so that you can enhance their experience.

Step 1: Listen

Let customers tell you about their experience. Don’t assume anything; probe for more information. What do they like about doing business with you? What don’t they like? How would they change the experience of doing business with you if they could? Note: Listening is not observing (see step two). Make “listening” the priority, even before you “look.”

Step 2: Observe

Watch the customer experience. Confirm what you heard them say in Step one. Most people look first or look and listen at the same time. Unfortunately, as people who live in a visual world, we’re too susceptible to what Rosser Reeves called “vampire video” meaning the things we are looking at suck strength away from what we can hear. For confirmation of this, just ask people who are visually impaired. Only AFTER you’ve put your ears to work, should you engage your eyes.

Step 3: Innovate

Look for ways to enhance the customer experience, and not just by overcoming negatives. Go beyond that. Explore ways of building on positives, too. It is not just about solving problems. It’s about making things better for the customer. And because the marketplace is changing, that may be on shelf or online.

Step 4: Prioritize

While you inevitably will identify multiple opportunities, you need to focus on the ones that will net you the biggest improvements (and resultant sales). In a word, “focus.” Strategic improvements are better than tactical ones (remember, eliminating ANY negative is strategic). Substantive ones add more customer value than cosmetic ones.

Step 5: Test & Expand

Once you’ve decided to introduce an innovation, don’t assume it will fix a problem right away. I’m always mindful of Newton’s Third Law of Motion, “ For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Somewhere, someone’s not going to like change. If some customers like it, others won’t. If consumers like it, retailers won’t. Beta-test whenever and wherever you can. Phase 1 rollouts should be considered test markets. “Gut meters” are great, but there’s no substitute for quantitative research.

Step 6: Repeat Steps 1 – 4

Once you’ve rolled out the innovation or improvement, listen to the customer share his experience again. Did you accomplish your objective? What new negatives did you create?

The lab business may be different from the retail business where you can watch the customer’s experience as they shop . Most transactions are done online or over the phone. But there is still the opportunity to improve that experience. Show me a company that has no room to improve and I’ll show you a company that hasn’t looked in the mirror lately.


Labtalk June 2020