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For eye care professionals

Why customer expectations are changing within the optical industry

Find out how you can adapt as a modern ECP

Here’s an intriguing questions for you: do patients want the same from their optician as they did twenty years ago? If you cast your mind back to the small range of frames kept in drawers, the limited options of single vision or bifocals, and contrast that with today’s bright, modern frame displays it is easy to see that expectations have changed. We wanted to get to the bottom of that change, and why it’s continuing today so modern ECPs can adapt.


Understanding new demands

“It’s all available online!” is the mantra for many consumers today. They can shop around, and place order deliveries at ten at night and have the product in their home the next day. In optics, independent practitioners have just survived the sea changes that came with deregulation and online sales of contact lenses and spectacles. As a result, the consumer of today has totally different expectations to the 1980s, and deregulation provided this pivot point. The eyecare practitioners of today therefore need to work harder, face more local competition from big optical retail chains, and in exchange the consumer has a far wider choice. 


Developing customer expectations 

Because the modern consumer has so much choice, customer service and convenience have become two of the biggest drivers behind customer retention: providing a quality total service counts for so much. In turn, this has developed into expectation. Think about your own purchasing habits. Do you value the convenience of being able to place an order online at night and collect your groceries the next day on the way home from work completely hassle free? Of course you do. Your contact lens patient might like to be able to do the same, and with a fully functioning Ecommerce website, you might be able to meet this need. 

Uber are a great example of this, hence the now regularly used term, ‘uberisation of…’. They made a process, ordering a taxi, simpler and more efficient by embracing digital technology. As such, consumers now expect a seamless taxi service wherever they are. If you’re in an area that doesn’t have Uber, it’s annoying, right? It’s because you’re expectations have changed. This is what independent ECPs need to realise when it comes to modernising, and adapting to what your patients might want. 

For an optical example, let’s say you have people ringing up to place an order a for a prescribed dry eye product. Have you thought about developing a system where they can repeat order online? It’s a simple example but that’s the point: you’re making the process simpler for the customer, and this can be applied to multiple aspects of any business type.  For instance, there are all sorts of associated products, supplements and accessories that can work well in an Ecommerce system and boost your practice profits, too. We’ll get into more of the how to’s in this area in later articles, though. 


Presbyopes and their changing expectations

Presbyopes are a key group for many practices, but have the expectations of this demographic changed in this modern age? Well, firstly, some will be more educated about their optical options, and that’s a coin with two faces. On one hand, they may have researched different types of lenses, be informed about their choices, and understand the value of a personalised product built using the latest digital tech. But on the other hand, they may have shopped around on price alone and fail to understand just what they’re missing if they order the cheapest specs online, in particularly the pitfalls awaiting them if they decide to order varifocals over the internet. 

Whatever their understanding, the person will often think of themselves as a consumer rather than a patient — that is the key expectation change here. Your job is to educate these groups, and ideally start the education process well in advance of purchase to combat this. For example, window displays and advertising can highlight the precision measurements that will be taken in store, compared to the ‘fill in the box’ approach of online ordering. Your team can continue this education by explaining each and every process from pre-assessment, the eye test, right through to the dispense. By giving a clear and positive explanation of every step the consumer will value what they are getting over and above simply purchasing a replacement product. It’s playing into that positive customer experience we all now expect. 


How can digital help you?

While the rapid rise of digital technology played its part in the cause of these expectation changes, it’s also rife with advantages for the eye care practitioner of today and tomorrow. For instance, you can now easily show patients the state of their retina and how it has changed from appointment to appointment. This reinforces the value of returning to your practice on a regular basis; providing convenience, too as patient records are instantly accessible. You can use new dispensing technology to allow people with poor vision without specs to see an image of themselves in a number of possible frames, so they can compare them side by side with their old specs on. And personalised lenses are one of the most persuasive points for any person, whether they consider themselves a patient or consumer. They are prescribed exactly the right product for them, to their own unique prescription, postural behaviour, reading style, and that’s something you just can’t buy over the internet. 

Technological developments in optics are an ongoing process. Consumer expectations will continually change as technology and commerce options shift. In order to stay on top of this, ensure that your own practice technology is advancing too. Modernise the technology that you use in both clinical and dispensing aspects of your practice, and continually re-examine the way people can purchase from you. Remove as many constraints in the retail process as possible so people can have a truly positive experience, from the moment they start their research online to find your optical practice, to the point where they walk out, delighted with their new pair of custom varifocals in a fashionable and flattering frame. Do this, and whatever the changes in commerce and technology, your customers will stay loyal. And, if you need a helping hand in all this, we’re right here with you. Just give us a call.

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