Leading the Way in Lens Education

By Julie Bos
Being a leader in any field requires staying out in front. That means remaining ahead of trends, keeping up-to-date on new offerings and being at the head of the class with customer education.

Yet when it comes to keeping up with the near-constant barrage of new lens technologies and products, it’s easy to feel behind the eight ball. And it doesn’t take long to become completely out-of-touch (and out-of-date).

It’s true for anyone, but especially ECPs and opticians who are often so busy with daily responsibilities and patient visits, they may let education fall by the wayside. Education goes on the “to-do” list—but never quite gets done. We’ve all been there.

And this is where labs can fill an all-important role, by bringing education to their customers. We talked to five laboratory executives about how their labs keep their ECPs engaged and informed.

Stewart Cage, President, Eye Save Optical (ESO) Laboratories

Education Format: “Because we’re an independent laboratory, we focus more on our in-house digital technology by providing literature, office visits and training, as well as phone support for special fits and assistance with product options. We rely on our sales force to provide easy-to-understand product information, as well as educational office visits, to explain lens technologies. While this has always been our process, it’s become even more concentrated with the influx of so many new lens technologies. The ECP can get overwhelmed with all that’s available so education of these products is key to their success with them. We also partner with our digital lens designer and lens brand manufacturers to offer classes in designated geographical areas, and we invite the local ECP’s offices for a dinner and lens education with one to two CE credits available. This has worked well. We’ve also found that traditional lunch-and-learn events at the ECP office works well because those are not after-hours. Finally, we encourage ECPs to participate in their local optician conferences where CE courses are offered.”

What’s Working: “We’ve found that both after-hours trainings and (daytime) lunch-and-learn classes work well. The most important part is continuing to build a positive business relationship with customers.” 

Value for ECPs: “ECPs are hungry for lens knowledge and appreciate our effort in getting it to them. The personal delivery works best because educating them one-on-one gives them confidence about us and our lens technology. We are often reminded by our customers about our outstanding customer service and assistance in lens choices.”

Demonstrating Leadership: “We’ve found that educating our ECPs on new lens technology is as critical to our success as theirs. We strive to always be available for them—both during and after office hours. Regardless of the hour, customers can reach out to us and get answers on lens technologies on the spot. We may not be the largest lab around, but we feel we’re one of the best—and our commitment to ECP education demonstrates that.”

Matt Iovaldi, President, Midland Optical

Education Format: “We offer lunch-and-learns, one-on-one training (by sales territory representatives), webinars, educational meetings and informative literature. We also lean on the Essilor Expert program, an all-encompassing practice builder that helps individual practices with education, training, marketing, performance and analytics. One of the primary responsibilities of our Sales Territory Representatives is to educate our customers and their staff on new lens technologies and other practice management techniques. All of our reps have a high level of industry experience and a deep passion for helping and educating customers. They often coordinate and work with lens brand representatives to join the trainings. Additionally, we conduct lab tours during the year to further educate ECPs and their staff on how lenses are made. We’ve learned that doctors and opticians find it helpful to see the lab in person, and gain a better understanding on the production of making a great pair of glasses.” 

Live Classes Monthly: “Midland Optical also offers live classes at our lab facility. Our customer service manager has conducted a Dispensing 101 and Dispensing 102 class monthly in our lab for almost 20 years. She is responsible for hosting monthly dispensing classes (beginner and advanced), as well as ABO prep courses. All trainings are conducted at the lab, but we will also take the show on the road to meet the demand in a specific area. These classes are designed to provide entry-level training (101 class) and follow-up training six months later (102 class) for new opticians. Topics include terminology and anatomy of the eye, basic dispensing and lensometry skills, and product knowledge training. We recently promoted our CS manager to the full-time role of Training Manager, in order to expand our offerings to both customers and lab employees.”

Vicky Medsker, Training Manager, adds: “Most new opticians that attend the classes have had at least one month of in-office experience, so they have heard a lot of terminology that needs to be clarified. In our Dispensing 101 class, I use an Rx order form as a guide to explain about each field in detail, including Rx, PD and lens materials, and we also practice fitting, dispensing and adjusting. In Dispensing 102, we cover topics like lens surface designs, PAL concept development, technology advancements, PAL troubleshooting, computer/task-specific designs, UV protection, AR coatings and an introduction to the lensometer. We have a quiz at the end of each class, and give each participant a certificate.”

What’s Working: “Our classes have been well received by the attendees. Our training is especially effective at training new opticians and helping them achieve ABO accreditation. We believe there will always be a need for education, and we’ll continue to place an increased investment and apply more resources in this area.”

Value for ECPs: “We’ve made education a high priority as long as I’ve owned the laboratory (1989). Our approach is based on fundamentals. We try to make things simple, so they can be easily understood and adapted in the ever-changing landscape of lens technologies, managed care plans and dispensing techniques.”

Demonstrating Leadership: “We always want to do right by our ECPs and their practices, as well as the patients who ultimately wear the product we produce. I believe our customers appreciate our hands-on approach to everything we do.”

Greg Ruden, President, Expert Optics

Education Format: “Since Expert Optics first opened in 1979, we have always believed in a grassroots effort of education and training. We have 10 field account representatives who continually conduct in-office seminars with our clients. Most of the time, these seminars are conducted over lunch or early in the morning, before the standard hours when patients are scheduled. Typically our reps work from a PowerPoint presentation, with handouts, and also use lens samples as part of the discussion. In addition, our customers consistently make trips to our laboratory to take tours of our facility, see new equipment and learn about equipment capabilities that can enable them to raise their level of patient satisfaction. These visits usually include a classroom training session. We also have a blog on our website, featuring articles written by Bob Hughbanks, our Manager of Training and Education.

Value for ECPs: “At Expert Optics, we make decisions based on the ‘three C’s’ by asking: How will our decisions affect our Clients, their Customers and our Co-workers? This seems to create positive results. Our clients enjoy being exposed to the new technological advancements that our lens casting partners bring to the market, and also being able to share these innovations with their patients.”

Demonstrating Leadership: “I believe that our clients thoroughly enjoy being the first to bring visual solutions to their patients—solutions that they can’t receive from simply any optical outlet. Being an independent laboratory affords us the opportunity to bring all great products to our accounts, regardless of brand. Not many laboratories in the country can accomplish that.”

John Art, President, Interstate Optical

Education Format: “We use many avenues for communicating product and technology information, including our website, new product information sheets, email blasts and our on-hold messaging. However, our primary and most differentiating initiatives around customer education revolve around two areas—sales representatives and in-lab basic dispensing classes. Our sales reps regularly communicate details to our customers, both at the practice owner level and at the dispenser level. They often leverage one of our basic dispensing educators or a lens manufacturer representative, as well, if they’re conducting a more in-depth office training. For the past 20 years, we have also offered our basic dispensing classes. These classes are held at both our Ohio and Indiana lab locations four times a year. Each class is limited to 15 to 20 people, and are held over three days—each day focusing on a different area. Day one covers ‘Elementary Optics and Lens Design.’ Day two covers ‘Practical Dispensing and Frame Fitting.’ And, day three covers ‘Enhancing the Patient Experience.’”

What’s Working: “When travel distance or other issues make our in-lab classes impractical for customers, we can leverage online resources, like Essilor ECP University. However, both we and our customers like the personal interaction that our in-lab classes provide. Customers also feel that we give them a less ‘marketing-focused’ opinion on new products and technology versus online education, and they also value the conversational feedback and comments between class attendees, which isn’t possible with online classes.”

Demonstrating Leadership: “Education is a major focus for us and we do our best to create valuable solutions to help customers stay up-to-date on new products and technologies. We do our best to be considered by customers as true business partners. Our educational resources—both with our in-lab basic dispensing classes and our rep-driven in-office classes—are a key part of our mission to make our customers’ daily lives easier.”

Braxton Walley, National Director, Dispensary Services, Superior Optical

Education Format: “Technology and education for our ECPs go hand in hand. In an industry where technology is growing at such a fast pace, we educate our customers through our website, our partner brand representatives and in-office seminars. Our most effective tool is our lineup of product seminars, where we stay after the training and work one-on-one with the opticians and their patients.”

Value to ECPs: “Giving our ECPs the informational tools is only the beginning. Actually showing them how to use those tools by working in their practice with their patients has proven to be a recipe for success. Our customers appreciate this method of training because they can see the process and the results that it generates toward their practice.”

You too can bring the education to your customers—and make it easy (and fun) for them to learn about the latest technologies—by implementing some of these strategies in your lab. You (and your customers) will be glad you did. ■