|Luzerne’s customer service reps are routinely trained as free-form systems have brought in new terminology.|
|US Optical offers its customers lab tours to show how free-form is manufactured.|
|FEA Industries tries to have a different free-form promotion every three months to rotate the products it offers.|
|Expert Optics offers ECPs web-based lens ordering and an inventory management system.|
|EDUCATION FROM EXPERT Expert Optics, Inc., an independent wholesale laboratory based in Shorewood, IL, annually organizes an event called Optical Preview Day to educate ECPs about the products it offers. The daylong program is often attended by hundreds of ECPs from Illinois and neighboring states. In addition, Expert employs an ABO-certified sales force to provide education to ECPs in the comfort of their own offices.|
Here’s how four free-form labs offer exemplary service to their ECP customers.
The definition of what good customer service is can differ from lab to lab. To one it might mean having a knowledgeable front-office staff with a dedicated IT person to answer technical questions from ECPs over the phone, to another it can represent running business seminars with lens manufacturers for the benefit of customers, and yet to a third it can suggest offering special free-form promotions and packages on a regular basis. Here’s a look at what four prominent free-form labs offer in the way of customer service.
Bill Heffner, director of IT, marketing, and sales at FEA Industries, Inc. says: “we usually try and have a different free-form promotion every three months to try and rotate the products we offer.”
FEA Industries introduced its Constitution HD™ lens as a budget free-form choice. It doesn’t have the bells and whistles of high-end free-form lenses, but it serves as a good, basic progressive. “I think this is one thing we’re doing that not a lot of other people are,” Heffner states. “Yes, everyone has free-form, but we’ve brought it in at a place where there’s no reason to use a conventional lens. In an environment where a lot of retailers have to deal with insurance plans, online merchants, and other things driving down their sales, we wanted to offer a decent lens at an affordable price.” Since a lot of the expense in making progressive lenses can come from ‘extras’, such as photochromics and polarization, “we wanted to make sure we can offer an attractive lineup to entice people to go with free-form over conventional lenses,” notes Heffner.
Sometimes customers ask FEA executives what the best lens is. “I think that we’re fortunate in that we can actually tell them the truth,” Heffner explains. “Often it’s our IOT-powered house brand, Eagle™, since that gives us the option of various lens designs for different visual tasks, or even a Camber™-based lens for an ultra-premium product. This isn’t really a direct ‘promotion,’ but it does give us the flexibility to recommend the best lens for what patients need and not be tied down to a specific brand,” he adds.
FEA also offers packages that give ECPs discounts. For example, if an ECP orders FEA’s house brand free-form lenses, NuPolar‘ polarized lenses, and its in-house Independence Mirror AR coating in a bundle together, they get $30 off. At press time the lab had a promotion where customers get a free upgrade when they order Transitions‘ Signature™ VII Brown or Graphite Green in Eagle progressives. This means they only pay the clear price but get a Transitions lens. “We use free-form as a catchall for when people order a conventional progressive and then find that their chosen lens isn’t available,” Heffner says. “We do an edge-blending lenticularization that can help us make even more prescriptions work in frames that they would not normally work in.”
A unique feature of Luzerne Optical Laboratory, Ltd.’s customer service department is that it maintains a full-time technical adviser to answer questions from customers, primarily about free-form. In addition, Luzerne carries out extensive internal training. “Our customer service reps have to be educated because digital and free-form systems have brought in new terminology,” states Ralph Kent, sales manager. “Now, it’s not necessarily the same as taking an Rx over the phone, but they need to know about taking measurements such as vertex distance, frame wrap, and pantoscopic tilt. They have to know about availabilities and the Rx range for free-form products.”
This month, Luzerne is adding 26,000 sq. ft. to double the size of its existing facility. This will allow the lab to separate uncut work from finished work by running two separate lines. It also means Luzerne will expand its AR capabilities. As it is, Luzerne does about 65% to 70% of AR-coated work and receives about 60% of its orders electronically. “The bottom line is we will improve our service team,” adds Kent. “We’re expanding our facilities so we can reduce our turnaround times, increase our capabilities in AR, and improve our work capacity.”
Ralph Cotran, vice president, US Optical, said he doesn’t like to disclose his secrets to good customer service but admits there are a few techniques that keep his customers happy. “We offer lab tours to show them how free-form is manufactured, how to read a free-form compensated Rx, and to see how an order comes to us through our free-form dedicated portals,” he asserts. US Optical’s sales force regularly visits ECPs’ offices to demonstrate new products like Shamir Duo™, and US Optical’s own brand, PC-HD™. “We train our customers face-to-face as soon as a product comes out,” Cotran explains.
The lab also teams up with certain lens manufacturers to run business seminars. For example, in partnership with Shamir Insight, Inc., it is running two seminars in the fourth quarter: one in the Syracuse/Albany, NY, area and the other in the Buffalo/Rochester, NY area. Additionally, US Optical is organizing two more seminars with Essilor of America, Inc. called “Leveraging value AR to gain premium AR down the road.” As a special incentive to ECPs, US Optical is offering a branded package of Carl Zeiss Vision, Inc.’s Zeiss Progressive Individual‘ 2 with PureCoat AR.
In addition to selling all the major brands, US Optical offers four of its own: Ultimate HD, Advanced HD, Wrap HD, and PC-HD, which Cotran says are “comparable to some of the best lenses.” He adds that: “They are excellent products at a reasonable price. We also have an additional 30 designs coming on board.”
By seeing what these free-form labs offer, some ECPs may opt to shop around or be motivated to ask their lab what incentives it can provide them with in order to enhance service to their patients.
Carol Gilhawley is a Senior Editor at VCPN.
WHERE TO FIND IT:
Expert Optics Inc.
800-892-0097 • expertoptics.net
FEA Industries, Inc.
800-327-2002 • feaind.com
Luzerne Optical Laboratories, Ltd.
800-233-9637 • luzerneoptical.com
800-445-2773 • usoptical.com