Next steps: building your spectacle lens business

To the average spectacle wearer, a lens is just a lens, and it’s not quite clear why they cost so much. As a practitioner, one of your jobs is to explain the benefits to the patient, so they understand the true value of what they are wearing, and how the right product can help them live their life. Being a great dispensing optician requires an in-depth knowledge of the technical aspects of lens design, but at the same time you need to be an excellent communicator who can cut through the jargon and an amateur psychologist who can unpack the patient’s needs and motivations! That may seem like a tall order, so read on to find some tips to help you.

Always present the benefits, never the features. For example, you could say, ‘You will see better through lighter, thinner, coated lens than you have before.’ If you aren’t quite clear on the difference, a feature might be something technical, while the benefit is all about what it will do for the patient. Offering patients a guided choice can leave them feeling empowered and in control of their purchase. Choices may include explaining that one lens will take a little longer as it is tailor made, for example. Give patients the full picture and they will appreciate it.

As well as thinking about the patient, a little self-reflection can help you build your lens business. Do you understand your own strong points and weaknesses? Did you go into optics because you love the science behind a good pair of specs, or because you enjoy a day full of interaction with a wide range of people? If you are strong on the technical side, remember that most customers know almost nothing about spectacle lenses, and check that you’re not speaking in jargon. A simple question like, ‘Is that clear, or shall I explain it another way?’, can help make sure you are making sense. On the other hand, if you are a good communicator and love working with people, think about whether you need to brush up your technical knowledge. What could you do to stay on top of the latest lens developments? It is vital to do this so you can meet your patients’ needs. This advice also applies to your team: some will be great communicators, others have great technical knowledge. Use team training time to help each person develop their weaker areas.

The next thing to do is look and listen. Patients share information about their needs right from the moment they enter the practice. They may mention to the receptionist that they are booking a test because of a particular problem, so make sure that is noted down. You may be able to see from their appearance and the way they move clues to their lifestyle or hobbies. And, of course, the optometrist will ask questions about how they use their vision at work and at home as part of the test. As the dispensing optician, you need to be a detective, piecing together these bits of information and getting ‘clues’ from the team, as well as listening to the patient and asking them questions to fill in the gaps in your knowledge of them and their life. A patient who feels they have been listened to is much more likely to be a happy patient, and you will know that you have dispensed the best lens for them.

Better communication is a team effort, and needs to involve everyone in the practice– the receptionist, optical assistants, and the optometrist as well as the dispensing optician. Ensure the optometrist explains the benefits of their recommended lenses in the consulting room before the patient sees the DO. The seed should be sown by the optometrist and when the optometrist hands over to the DO, they then reconfirm the requirements and present a final optical solution to the patient. Patients appreciate this transfer of trust, and it means that you can straight away start to talk about the lenses that best meet their clinical need. If you talk about lenses first, people don’t compromise on lens choice because they have seen a frame they like. Talk in simple terms and help people pick the lens that will give them the best vision. They then know the cost of the lens, and if they have fallen in love with a particular designer frame are more likely to stretch their budget to get the frame too than the other way around.

People take several exposures to new information before they take it on board so make sure all the team is briefed in your lens range, to showcase new products and respond to questions. Back this up by highlighting just what different spectacle lenses and coatings can do, in practice display materials, email newsletters, reminder letters and on your social media channels. Staff should be wearing and promoting the products you offer. They can then better talk about the look and feel of their specs together with having the best vision they’ve ever experienced. What’s more, using the products that you sell can really give you an insight into how they perform.

A pair of specs is a big investment for most people, and when they read messages from online sellers such as, ‘It’s just two pieces of glass. It shouldn’t have to be expensive’, they can feel outraged at the price. As a DO, you can alter this perception by explaining, throughout the dispensing process, just what is involved in creating a pair of specs. The more people understand about how lenses are made, why this is important, and how it can benefit them, the more they will appreciate what is on offer. It can be useful to break down the cost of any pair of specs over the two years that they will be worn for, or longer for some people. Use real examples that are relevant to each patient: ‘Well, Mrs Smith, this pair has lasted you three years, so if you spend £150 today, that’s less than a pound a week over the time you will be wearing them for’.