CONTINUING EDUCATION, 1 CE Credit – $9.99, 1 Hour, General Knowledge, Level 1, Release date: October 2007, Expiration date: October 31, 2012

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Listen to your Neighbor

Spend a little time keeping current with eyecare professional literature lately, and you’ll likely come across the useful metaphor of a "lens toolbox." Years ago, there were a few types of each kind of lenses to pick from. Today, this toolbox is full of lenses to match to the needs of your customer, giving them the most appropriate lens for their individual situation. 

Recommending is a sophisticated process involving choosing and matching options from your lens toolbox. When giving information, using "one size fits all" approach would be the verbal equivalent of using the same pliers for every adjustment. This may work for a while, but eventually is bound to leave some people under served. 

I’d like to share with you some feedback I received from a somewhat unusual source. The following story can serve as an opportunity to re-examine a few strategies, and may help paint a few things in a new light. 

My Neighbor

My neighbor and I get together a few mornings each week to walk our dogs. We go down to a local café and, weather permitting, we sit at the outdoor tables. It’s a quiet time of day, and we usually share our current goings-on. As I’m sure you know, word gets out quickly that you are an eyecare professional, and before you know it you find yourself listening to your neighbors’ concerns about vision and their eyewear. Sometimes, friends and acquaintances provide us with half the story, so we recognize the value of remaining neutral to their retellings of events.

Over the course of several walks, my neighbor mentioned his eyewear buying experiences to me, gauging my reaction, I’m sure. I did my best to play devil’s advocate, diplomatically avoiding judgments, for as long as I could - but more and more examples kept being brought to me via my neighbor’s voice. 

It began with wrap eyewear. I often see my neighbor on his bicycle, where a pair of prescription wrap eyewear or sunwear is essential equipment, just like his helmet, or his cycling shoes with spaces where his pedal attachments fit into the soles of the shoes. 

As ECPs, we often struggle to gently yet firmly impress on patients that eyewear is important equipment for a specialty sport application. This time, that wasn’t a challenge. He was already on board. There were other things that made this conversation a little unique: I was getting the story from the customer’s side, and the customer kept coming back to me over the fence, over coffee, and with fresh examples over the summer.

Investigating Needs

My neighbor asked me if he was unique because he had done some investigating online, he related some difficulty finding a sturdy pair of sunglasses frames that could provide wrap benefits and also double as an everyday pair, and he wanted something that would make sense both on and off his bicycle. I told him this was a bit of a specific request, and suggested that he’d find the best match to his needs by speaking face to face with an Optician.

This is where our conversations began to get more interesting. My neighbor’s rebuttal was that he felt he had done his share of the work, researching online. He felt “under-investigated in his needs,” when visiting Optical shops. It is hard to argue with a guy who does homework before shopping, and here he was telling me he felt that eyecare professionals hadn’t explored his needs. 

Oftentimes, dispensers are required to walk a fine line between patients wanting information and patients wanting less talk. It may be helpful to keep in mind that people often do some of their own research; much of that research is from websites with user generated content (such as customer reviews), and as a result of this, our role is that of the consultant. We have a depth of knowledge in a field seen by the public as very specialized – eyecare.

He explained that the small amount of investigating done by the Opticians he worked with felt inconsistent with the large amount of research he had done himself. This was my cue to do less talking and more of the listening. He told me that he’d asked about eyeglasses for biking, and that several options were pitched to him before the individual realized he had asked for bicycling glasses, and not motorcycling glasses. It is easier than you might think to continue a conversation without first making sure you and the patient are talking about the same thing. At this point, patient confidence can become lost.

Remember the lesson we learn from progressives. It’s unwise to give each patient the same spiel, or else our explanation becomes a monologue. Each of us has had the experience of losing the patient without realizing it. Hopefully, a co-worker stepped in and helped us. Here is an example you may find useful: dispensers typically develop a “speech” about progressive lenses early in their career. As the dispenser develops their knowledge base, their ability to communicate develops as well. As dispensers become able to recommend the right options to patients based on that patient’s needs, the explanation they provide about progressives becomes tailored to that particular audience as well.

Twenty-Five Feet from a Bicycle

We continued our walks with our dogs. My neighbor was excited one morning; he’d placed an order for a pair of wrap sunglasses. It was a specialty lens, sturdy like he wanted, but sleek enough to be worn “more than twenty-five feet from his bicycle, without anyone laughing at me,” as he said. (I’d never heard that one before.)

This caused me to rethink a few things as a dispenser. Maybe some patients didn’t want their sport-specific eyewear to have an overly sporty look. He asked me if there were lots of requests for frames that could perform like athletic frames, while still being suitable for everyday wear. This gave me something to think about. Safety frames often resemble dress eyewear, why not sport frames?

Don’t Play the Blame Game

A few days later, he told me his order had been cancelled. The cancellation didn’t bother him, but he felt unhappy with the explanation. He’d been called and told that the line of frames would no longer be available to the dispensary. My neighbor felt that the Optician leaving this message spent a long time making the supplier the bad guy, and not the office. This forced me to mentally review my last telephone calls to patients. Had I made them feel cared for? Could I have altered my message to make them feel the service they were receiving was superior?

Upside Down Transaction

My neighbor told me too much information was revealed, enough to make the whole transaction feel upside down to him. When I asked for an explanation, he said too much was made about the dispensary’s situation, and not enough information collected about his situation, and needs. I quietly took a sip of coffee and thought.

Summer continued, and vacation time rolled around. When my neighbor told me he’d gone away to the lake and his friend had decided to buy new eyeglasses while on vacation, I couldn’t help thinking I’d heard this one before. 

He told me he asked about a dispenser’s education and found out they were a Certified Optician. When he asked about a cosmetic recommendation, the dispenser allegedly said to him, “I’ve been doing this long enough to know not to answer that.” I asked my neighbor if this was the kind of advice his friend had been looking for, and he said no. I told my neighbor that the dispensing Optician might have felt that the two people asking his opinion wanted to hear different things. 

Making Cosmetic Recommendations

While we each have our own individual idea of style, it’s important to remember that cosmetic recommendations are not merely a matter of opinion. Although we have different opinions about what looks good, there are a few guiding points that go a long way to making a qualified, confident recommendation.

Generally, we interpret our customer’s preference from the things they tell as well as their present appearance. They may indicate a desire for a frame to be seen or for eyeglasses that recede. Here’s a useful trick for choosing a frame that fades away: look closely at the person’s hair color and see if you notice any highlights or light shades and pick a frame the same as or lighter than this color. Alternatively, the frames can become more noticeable, through color or angles or design.

Some of the scenarios my neighbor brought to me were a little uncomfortable to hear, but ultimately, they were useful comments for refining one’s approach to patient interaction regarding eyeglasses. 

My neighbor and I agreed to meet for another walk with the dogs a few days later, and the conversation drifted away from eyeglasses and onto other topics. I value his input, and I hope you do, too.

Timothy Coronis

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