Stand Out from the Crowd

By By Julie Bos

It’s 2019, so let’s get real about our modern business world. Today’s “consumers” (whether end user-patients or optical shops) expect good customer service, and when they don’t get it, they have plenty of other options, and will likely find another company that not only wants their business, but is willing to earn it.

If that doesn’t concern you, it should. Customers buy from people they like and who treat them well. It’s no longer enough to provide one good experience. To drive customer loyalty, consistent and excellent customer service needs to be the norm. It doesn’t matter if you sell directly to patients, optical shops, optometry practices or other wholesale labs. If you’re customers don’t get the service they want, they won’t be your customers for long.

When considering your business, is there more you could do to improve customer service, enhance product quality and drive customer loyalty? We spoke to experienced lab staff at Expert Optics (Shorewood, Ill.), Express Lens Lab (Fountain Valley, Calif.), X-Tra Lite Optical (Huntington Beach, Calif.) and Walman Optical OSC (Brooklyn Park, Minn.) for tips on building customer relationships. Here are 20 tips you can start implementing today.  

Ask customers how you 

can improve.

Input from customers is critical to improving your levels of service and quality over time. Have regular meetings with customers to discuss areas of improvement. This will help bring issues to light, while fostering a mindset of transparency and team improvement. Share this information—both positive and negative—with all your employees, so everyone knows the goal.

2   Use technology to your advantage.

Provide tools that enable customers to review job progress in real-time. Customers often call into the lab to get job status, which requires valuable time. Using electronic communication to interface with customers is more efficient and enables employees to handle more requests than by telephone.

3 Don’t rely on digital communication alone.

Sure, email can be a convenient resource, but don’t hide behind this tool. Make sure your customer service team is willing to pick up the phone and return phone calls—especially when responding to quality concerns or difficult questions.

Offer a resource for quality concerns.

Provide a resource for customers to contact directly when they have product or quality concerns. Having a person available to discuss quality issues—as well as the responsibility to address those concerns and make process changes in the lab—helps to speed problem resolution and avoid future challenges.

5 Set metrics to measure product quality and customer response time.

Measure the performance of response time to requests for information, quality of product delivered to the customer, and turnaround time. Regularly involve customers to collect feedback on these metrics, and share both your successes and failures with them.

Speed ordering and tracking with web-based tools.

Encourage customers to speed up their Rx order entry and tracking by using internet-based solutions, such as Rx Wizard and Vision Web. Tools like these reduce the number of call-backs and delays related to missing Rx information, and also enable customers to remotely check status on their jobs. On the laboratory side, it also gives customer service reps more time to assist customers with other needs.

 7 Help customers understand your process.

Your lab may have the world’s best processes and systems for getting lenses made, but if your customers don’t understand those processes, they can get confused, impatient and angry. Take time to explain how your systems work, how they simplify steps and how they benefit customers. Be careful that your systems don’t reduce the human element of your lab—remind your customers that they’re still priority one.

8 Encourage customers to submit orders throughout the day.

Remind your customers to place their orders throughout the day instead of accumulating them and submitting them all at the end of day. Many labs have fewer employees working in the latter part of the day, so the later the order submission, the more orders from other offices will be ahead in the production line, and the higher likelihood that the order will sit overnight.

 9  Define expectations.

Clearly communicate to customers about how long the process will take from start to finish. Bringing customers into your facility and walking them through the process is a great way to help them “visualize” and understand the process timelines.

 

10 Provide alternatives, when necessary.

Help your customers be successful and provide alternatives for difficult jobs when needed. If a product is no longer available or is on backorder, provide options for how to get the job done quickly another way.

11 Keep your customer service reps well-trained.

Customers usually want an immediate answer on availability, job status, cost and approximate turnaround time. It helps to ensure that customer service reps are continually trained on lab products and lab operations, so they can be a valuable source of up-to-date information. It’s also smart to hire customer service reps who have prior work experience with lab surfacing, finishing and/or coating, so they have a frame of reference.

 12 Put a smile on your face before answering the phone.

With the lab industry becoming more corporate, labs should add the personal touch of answering phones with a smile. When your customer service team sounds happy, your accounts have a greater likelihood of responding happy.

 13 Have regular meetings with your entire lab staff.

This brings the entire lab together and gets everyone on the same page. It’s the right time to discuss trends and share ideas on what’s working well, what needs improvement, and what customers are saying they want and need most. Having regular meetings also keeps morale high and makes the job for customer service easier because it helps to eliminate mistakes, which keeps customers happier.

 14 Follow up on all customer requests—no matter how small.

Personal follow-ups to customer requests helps to keep customers informed, so they can in turn provide accurate information to patients. When patients are satisfied, the optometry shops are happy, which keeps them coming back.

 15 Remember, first impressions count.

If you’re business is growing, you’re gaining new customers. And the first impression that customer receives sets the stage for the customer experience. That first impression can come from a phone call, an email, or a visit to your lab. Make sure your team is putting their best foot forward by introducing themselves, being positive and being willing to do what it takes to help.

 16 Listen first, then speak.

Customers want to be heard. They want to know you are listening. They want to know that you have an interest in what they have to say. If they are shopping in your office or practice, they may ask you for information or advice. Use that time to direct them to the right product. If they are upset, use active listening to let them know that they’ve been heard and work to discover the root of the problem. Ask questions, get to the bottom of it, and provide resolutions.

17 Draft customer service standards.

Define your customer service standards, and make sure every employee is aware of those standards. Having a clear document that explains acceptable standards will help in setting the customer’s expectations, and they will help in evaluating your employees and creating training programs to help them excel.

 

18 Give more than expected.

Since the future of all labs relies on keeping customers happy, think of ways to elevate yourself above the competition. Ask yourself: What can I give customers that they cannot get elsewhere? What can you do to follow-up and thank people even when they don’t give you work? What can you give customers that is totally unexpected?

19 Capitalize on the power of “yes.”

Always look for ways to help your customers. As long as your customer’s request is reasonable, tell them you can do it. Figure out how you’ll get it done later. Look for ways to make doing business with your lab easy. Always do what you say you are going to do.

 

20 Own up to mistakes.

When something goes wrong, apologize. It’s not that difficult, and customers appreciate the transparency. The customer may not always be right, but the customer must always walk away satisfied. Deal with problems immediately and let customers know what you’re doing to solve the problem. Make it simple for customers to complain—and don’t ignore what they say. As much as we don’t like it, complaints give us an opportunity to improve.


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Labtalk-June-2019