Value comes from scarcity, something commodities, by definition, don’t have. Commodities are ubiquitous, easy to find, say, online. However, when a commodity is tied to an experience, a memory, or an individual or group identity, suddenly it’s valuable, priceless even. Stories and experiences create a value that scarcity alone cannot, a value that even has the power to change lives. And you know what’s more? People (aka customers) love to talk about great stories and amazing experiences. What great stories or experiences have you heard or are you creating for your customers around eyewear and optical services?
Seth Godin recently wrote a short piece on producers and consumers. In it he noted,
In the short run, it’s more fun to be a consumer. It sure seems like consumers have power. The customer is always right, of course. The consumer can walk away and shop somewhere else.
In the long run… the smart producer wins, because the consumer comes to forget how to produce. As producers consolidate (and they often do) they are the ones who ultimately set the agenda.
This got me thinking, Have opticians forgotten how to produce, how to handcraft frames, how to make repairs, how to artfully edge a pair of lenses, how to add value and personal touches to a pair of glasses, how to create a meaningful and enjoyable experience for their customers? Have opticians become little more than consumers (and passers on) of disposable frames, ready-made eyewear, and corporate marketing? If so, is it any wonder consolidating corporations call the shots, and customers see fit to bypass opticians all together?
He concludes with,
The more you produce and the more needs you meet, the more freedom you earn.
I would also add that while we (humans) tend to look for fulfillment in consumption; we are much more likely to find it in creating, producing, and contributing to the lives of those around us.
Through August 15, Vision Monday is accepting your votes for LabTalk’s 2014 Optical Laboratory Website of the Year. We’re hoping you’ll consider voting for us ’cause we have a sweet bike and we’re like the only kids at school with a mustache, not to mention our nun-chuck skills, bow hunting skills, and computer hacking skills. Just go to http://visionmonday.com/, wait for the annoying pop-up, and click to vote for your favorite lab website. Heck yeah!
I’m sure you’ve seen it. It’s spread across Facebook and the rest of the internet like a plague.
Every time I see it angers me. And it astounds me to see the people that perpetuate it.
When you buy from a small “mom and pop” business, you are not helping a CEO buy a third vacation home. You are helping a little girl get dance lessons, a little boy get his team jersey, a mom or dad put food on the table, a family pay a mortgage, or a student pay for college. Our customers are our shareholders, and THEY are the ones we strive to make happy.
Thank you for supporting small businesses!
What’s wrong, you ask? What could possible be more American than supporting small business? Now, obviously, I support small business. We are a small business. ALL of our customers are small businesses. Small businesses represent everything that has made and continues to make America great. In fact, supporting and empowering small businesses in the face of competition from large corporations is central to what we stand for and what we do every day.
Unfortunately, the implication that by supporting big business you are supporting greed and by supporting small business you are supporting all that is good and pure is not only wrong, but dishonest and divisive. Do people really believe that more than half of Americans employed by large corporations don’t have families to support, children to feed, and mortgages to pay? Or that all small business owners are altruistic and self-sacrificing? I can assure you they are not. There is good and bad in businesses of all sizes. But, I like to think in most cases the good far outweighs the bad. The truth is, large corporations are just as important to dads trying to pay for dance lessons, moms trying to pay the mortgage, and couples hoping to retire one day, as are “Mom and Pops.”
Lines have been drawn in our own industry like so many others: the independents on one side, the mega-corps on the other. There is unquestionably a market out there for both. But, when the glaring difference is size and demonization of Big-[insert your favorite industry here] is so popular, it becomes tempting to fall into the trap of “big is bad.” In reality, it’s truly not the size that matters. Businesses large and small come with their own unique advantages and disadvantages. It boils down to what matters to you, what you need and want for yourself and your business, and who can best deliver.
We don’t ask you to support our small business because of our size. We prefer to stand on our own merit, toe-to-toe with the big guys, and ask you to support us because of who we are, what we stand for, the connections we share, and the unique value we can provide. There will always be a market for the small and unique, just as there will always be a market for the big and ubiquitous. In the meantime, I hope we (small business) can come up with a more positive message to spread through the internets.
Chances are you are struggling to get much traction with your social media efforts. Many ECPs are getting involved in social media, but it seems the overwhelming majority are still having a hard time figuring out how to best utilize it. You do have social media efforts right? Anyway, about six weeks ago, I came up with a viral idea to not only drive social media engagement for ECPs, but increase in-store activity as well.
I started to put together an article and then well, it got put on the back burner. Last Friday, I came across an ECP already implementing it! So, now I feel a little late to the game. Perhaps, you have already thought of the idea, but I like it so much, I want to share it. So, here it is:
You know how much people love their pets. Take a look: who can’t help but fall in love with these dogs in their glasses? Now think of how you could use photos of dogs in glasses, customer’s dogs in glasses, and even customers together with their dogs, both in their new glasses; in your store, on your website, and in your social media. If you are able to capture your own images, your customers will share them with their friends. If you are able to capture great or creative images, they could be shared far beyond. Think Pinterest.
Social Media Tip: If you’ve gone through the trouble to create original images or content, first post them to your website or blog, only then pin them or share them across your social media channels. Do not post them directly to your social media pages. The idea is to build upon your owned media assets, then use social media to spread the word and direct people back to your hub.
If you are so inclined, there is even a nice line of glasses designed specifically for dogs, by dog lovers called, Doggles.
I could see a campaign, a section of the store, or even an entire store centered on the concept. However far you want to take it, great images are key. You might even consider making a deal with a local photographer, host and event, or have a contest, be creative!
Here is the ECP I mentioned: Spec Optical Nashville. You can see what they’ve done with their store front on their Facebook page. They are even involving animal charities as part of their promotion; another great idea!
What do you think?
In addition to May Day, May the Fourth (Star Wars Day), Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day, and my wife’s birthday, May is also Healthy Vision Month. Millions of people live with undetected vision problems, eye diseases, and chronic conditions. Healthy Vision Month was created to promote eye health, the importance of eye exams for the early detection and treatment of various diseases, and proper eye safety practices.
Below is a list of conditions that can be uncovered during an eye exam.
Common Eye Diseases:
• Macular Degeneration
• Retinal Detachment
• Dry Eye
• Corneal Degeneration
Systemic Diseases That Can Be Detected During An Eye Exam:
• Hypertension – High Blood Pressure
• Hypercholesterolemia – High Cholesterol
• Multiple Sclerosis
• Graves Disease
• Herpes Simplex/Herpes Zoster infections
• Carotid Stenosis – a narrowing of the carotid artery and a risk factor for strokes
The NIH has put together a list of educational resources aimed an increasing awareness of eye health and related conditions here: http://www.nei.nih.gov/hvm/education/
I recently came across this post on Google+.
Shocking service from an optician who has just sent me an email saying please don’t post negative things about us as it drives small businesses to the wall… then please get your act together and start delivering what you promise…
This optician chose not to shine. He failed to listen to his customer’s complaint and shifted blame, caring only about how her comments affected his business. Really? A better move would have been to apologize (even of the customer is off base), then offer to take conversation offline to make things right. If handled the right way, his screw-up could have turned into a positive opportunity for him and his business. Instead he has negative comments to deal with.
Customers expect consistency and usually something close to perfection. At the very least, they expect to get what they are promised. Sometimes in business we fail to meet expectations. Let’s face it, as Forrest Gump said, “it happens” and even the best of us screw up from time to time. Fortunately, screwing up can be your chance to shine. Not delivering on customer expectations can be a huge opportunity to showcase why the customer made the right decision in choosing you to begin with and why she should not only continue to do business with you, but recommend you to her friends.
When you screw up, you are no longer talking about a routine transaction, you now have your customer’s full attention. It’s up to you what you do with it. You can dismiss the problem because it’s too much trouble or shift the blame to your customer. Or you can correct the problem, show them you care, and surprise them by exceeding their expectations. In doing so, you may gain a customer for life, and if you surprise her enough she may talk about it to her friends or post her experience online. Of course, surprising your customers in this way shouldn’t only happen when you screw up, it just provides an excellent opportunity to do so. The key to pulling it off, is that you actually have to care; care enough to listen to customer complaints and then care enough to go the extra mile to make things right.
Not long ago, an optician customer began to notice a consistent problem with prism in our freeform product. The deviations were only around a two to three degrees and maybe .25 diopters. His patients hadn’t noticed, but the fact that he was seeing the problem only in freeform, and that it was occurring consistently made him uneasy. He brought the problem to our attention and we began to look into it.
We had no other complaints nor were we seeing anything on our end. But this optician, like so many of our customers, is among the best at what he does and we respect his expertise. He demands perfection not only because he is accountable to the doctor, but he wants his customers to have the best possible vision (and look good doing it).
So we had challenge. This is what get us up in the morning.
We had just purchased the AR Dual Lens Mapper and saw an opportunity to run it though its paces. We used the lens mapper to analyze his Rxs and troubleshoot our processes. We changed our polish, swapped out our cutting bits, and made minute adjustments to our generator. We even processed a set of test lenses and sent them to Germany for analysis.
After three months of troubleshooting and our customer trying other labs, the issue had improved, but remained unresolved. To cover all his bases, the optician sent his B&L lensmeter out for refurbishment. Adjustments were made to the lensmeter and from that point on his problems cleared up.
The optician called, told us about his lensmeter, and apologized.
We refused his apology and thanked him.
No matter the outcome, his complaint and especially his willingness to work with us to get it sorted out, enabled us to improve our process, become better at what we do, and ultimately provide better service to our customers that demand more. In doing so, we earned the trust of a valued customer.
The point of all this is not to brag, but to show how the part of your job that can be the most difficult, customer dissatisfaction, can be the most beneficial to your business. Complaints let you know your customer still cares and wants to do business with you. Most people are reluctant to complain and would rather just take their business elsewhere. Look at a complaint as found gold. In fact, encourage customers to complain, let them know you are open to it and want their feedback, then seize the opportunities to become even better at what you do. Yes, there are people that live to complain and will never be happy. Often, it is better to rid these people from your business (or life). But, don’t let yourself become so jaded that you can’t find and appreciate the gifts that come in the form of complaints. While we strive for no complaints, we are grateful for our customers that take the time to let us know how we can improve.
Our friend John Seegers has taken his education site for opticians to another level. With a site redesign, added content, videos, and more, eye care providers owe it to themselves to pay opticianworks.com a visit.
Here’s a sample video from John’s site.:
…when you can be anything that you want to.
Our new anthem. Enjoy…
Interested in using Facebook to connect with your customers and community to help drive your business? John Jantch of Duct Tape Marketing is hosting a free live webinar on Jan 21, 2010 to help you do just that.
Everyone knows Facebook has become a powerful business tool, right? Well, maybe, but what I find now is that most small businesses want to know how to tap the power of this new platform with practical methods that get results. I’ve rounded up three Facebook and social media experts and put together a free live Facebook training session just to help small businesses that are new to Facebook or those that want to find ways to make Facebook pay for business and take it to the next level.
Visit the Duct Tape Marketing Blog for more information and to reserve your spot.
Join in on the conversation. Visit us on Facebook and leave a comment!
How do you handle no-shows? Dr. Neil Gailmard, editor of Optometric Management’s Tip of the Week points out this seemingly innocuous policy decision is a window to the core of your customer service philosophy. Do you let them slide? Do you give them stern warnings? Threaten or even charge them penalty fees? Or do you use it as an opportunity to demonstrate your extraordinary customer service?
The vast majority of ECPs don’t get it. They think they are good at customer service, but once staff members begin to protect the practice from unfair treatment by the public, you go down a slippery slope. The office culture changes and the focus is no longer on showing patients how much you care. You end up perilously close to the same behavior we see in most healthcare offices: horrible customer service!
Fits right in with my philosophy on customer vs. patient.
Nothing is more powerful in growing your business than word of mouth. So, after you’ve knocked your customers’ socks off with your unforgettable brand of customer service, give them a couple of gift certificates (for your store, of course) to be shared only with friends. You’ll be giving them the opportunity to give their friends a gift and a good recommendation.
I stopped in at a local OD’s office today. Last month she ran a “cash for clunkers” promotion. She offered $100.00 off a new pair of glasses for patients that brought in an old pair to be donated to the Lion’s Club. Today she reported her promotion resulted in a 41% increase in revenue for the month. All she did to promote it was send this email to her patient list. Not bad for this time of year given the current state of the economy.
If you have an interest in supporting Nouveau Vision in their complaint against Essilor and VSP, feel free to use the form letter below to voice your support to Washington State, Federal, or your own State officials.
RE: Potential Anti-Trust Violations in the Vision Care Industry
Dear [public official(s)],
As an eye care professional concerned for patients’ needs, I have observed a worrisome trend of consolidation and possible collaboration among dominant corporate entities in the vision care industry. The largest manufacturer of ophthalmic lenses in the world, French-owned Essilor, is acquiring independent U.S. laboratories at an alarming rate and now owns interest in more than 50% of the lens processing capacity in the U.S. A significant percentage of the remaining independent laboratories are distributors of Essilor products and controlled by overly restrictive contracts as a requirement for distributorship. These contracts explicitly prohibit Essilor “partner” laboratories from promoting or even comparing competitors’ products to Essilor’s unless stating Essilor products are superior, regardless of patient need. Since vision care providers rely on laboratories for recommendations in selecting the most appropriate products for their patients, these contracts significantly inhibit consumer choice. Moreover, contract restrictions place undue dependence of otherwise independent businesses, across an entire industry, on a single corporation, reducing competition.
VSP, the nation’s largest managed vision care company also owns laboratories across the U.S. This year VSP decided to cancel a number of contracts with independent laboratories to the apparent benefit of Essilor. The loss of revenue from VSP may put some independent laboratories out of business and reduce competition for Essilor. Nouveau Vision in Redmond, Washington, has filed complaints with the FTC and State of Washington authorities, against Essilor and VSP, for unfair trade practices and possible collusion.
I am deeply concerned about the direction being taken by dominant entities in the vision care industry. When two or three companies move in the direction of taking over an entire industry and dictate their products be recommended above all others regardless of patient need, not only will independent businesses suffer as choices erode, but so will vision care consumers.
I support the action of Nouveau Vision taken against Essilor and VSP in the State of Washington and strongly urge investigation into unfair trade practices within the vision care industry in the State of ____________ (and/or nationwide).
Anonymous for fear of reprisal
Here is a list of officials you may wish to contact:
Honorable Christine Gregoire
Governor of the State of Wasington
Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 40002
Olympia, WA 98504-0002
Tina E. Kondo
Antitrust Division Chief
Washington State Attorney General’s Office
800 5th Avenue, Suite 2000
Seattle, WA 98104-3188
Honorable Mike Kreidler
Office of the Insurance Commissioner
P.O. Box 40257
Olympia, WA 98504-0257
Stuart W. Hirschfeld
Federal Trade Commission
915 Second Ave., Room 2896
Seattle, WA 98174
Senator Tom Coburn
172 Russell Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, DC 20510
Senator Max Baucus
280 E Front Street, Ste 100
Missoula, MT 59802
406-329-3123; fax 406-728-7610
Main Justice Building
950 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001
ph 202-514-2401; fax 202-616-2645
Mr. Donald S. Clark
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20580
Government officials from your own State
Excitement is growing as we are finally installing the latest digital surfacing technology from Schnieder, allowing us to produce the newest “freeform” progressives and individualized single vision lenses. In-house production of “freeform” progressives will initially include Shamir Autograph, Autograph II, Element, and Seiko Succeed.
In-house digital surfacing will also allow us the flexibility to offer any coating combination currently available from LKO on all digitally surfaced lenses, including Zeiss Carat Advantage and ICE clear AR. Incremental digital production will begin in November with full production ready by the end of the month.
Vision Monday is reporting Madison, WI independent labortatory, Orion Progressive Lens Lab has been aquired by Essilor. The September 1st deal marks the 17th acquisition for Essilor in 2009. Orion reported $5 mil in revenue last year.
I came across Judy Canty’s article in this months ECP magazine. As soon as I started reading it, my stomach began to turn. My head started to shake. I am thinking, “Oh please, no more patient bashing. These are the people we make our living off of and this is what is wrong with retail optical…”
I took a deep breath, clinched my jaw, and kept reading.
My churning stomach soon gave way to a tinge of excitement. My jaw loosened and the corners of my mouth turned upward as one by one, Judy turned the stereotypes into people opticians love. It seems these stereotypes represent real people with real problems. While they can present a challenge at times, treating them like customers and helping them to leave your store happy can make it all worth while.
My cynicism was unwarranted.
Bravo Judy. Bravo.
So, it’s now been reported by Vision Monday and picked up by our friends over at Eye Overheard (edit: and now a thread on Optiboard), an example of the seemingly quixotic behavior I mentioned in my last post; our fellow OSI laboratory, Nouveau Vision a small lab in Redmond Washington – for all intents and purposes the last independent laboratory in the state of Washington – having been recently dropped by VSP, is filing suit against VSP and Essilor of unfair trade practices.
In their letter to the Governor, Nouveau cites unreasonable contracts as an example of unfair trade practices, specifically the clause of the Varilux distributor contract which states:
“Any activities of Distributor to advertise, promote, or sell to ECPs any PAL other than Varilux Products as Distributor’s preferred treatment for presbyopia…shall constitute a breach of this agreement.”
In case you were wondering, this statement (and others like it) is precisely why Laramy-K Optical has never distributed or processed Varilux lenses in the nearly twenty years we’ve been in business.
We applaud the fact that someone (Tim Sutich) has the courage to make this kind of stand against Essilor and VSP, particularly in these difficult economic times.
If you own a lab that has been terminated by VSP or subjected to unfair trade practices by either Essilor or VSP, Tim is willing to share what he has learned and help in any way he can. He is actively trying to get other states involved in legal action. Tim has also established a legal defense fund. He can be contacted at 800.365.3611.