As social media becomes more and more prolific within the optical world, one theme has emerged consistently: the problematic or recalcitrant patient (a.k.a., customer).

Visit just about any Facebook forum page or other online space where optical people get together, and you can read from a long litany of stories about how horrible, insensitive, and downright boorish customers can be. There are stories of rampaging children and indifferent parents, stories about fussy shoppers who try on every pair of frames and dominate hours of the optician’s time and then never buy a thing, and stories about purchasers who try to return eyewear that was clearly damaged by neglect with the excuse that they were made incorrectly.

But the most prevalent tales of customer effrontery have to do with how they value the optical experience and the resulting eyewear products. In short, they don’t appear to value them very much at all.

The Internet is now rife with anecdotes about patients wanting their PD or seg height on a pair of glasses so they can “shop” the frame, or requesting free adjustments on a pair that was clearly bought online. Or their attempts to haggle with the dispenser because they saw the same pair of frames online for a much cheaper price, or clipped a chain store ad that touts two pair for $49. For some reason or other, patients/customers largely feel that an optical store is like the set of “Let’s Make a Deal,” with a brazenness that would make even used-car dealers blush. “Would they try this stuff in their doctor’s office?” one Internet author asked. It’s not likely.

This adversarial (indeed, disrespectful) behavior didn’t just happen. The blame falls upon the optical industry itself. While efforts have been made to promote good vision care, quality products, and new technologies, virtually nothing has been done to polish up the image and professionalism of the dispenser. Add to that the cannibalistic nature of deep-discount eyewear pricing that some factions thrive on, and you’ve got a climate that would leave any customer skeptical, if not a little defensive.

In order to right this ship, the industry as a whole has to get behind a national plan to better demonstrate optical’s value to patients and customers. And not just in terms of the products, but the people who dispense them.

One optician put it this way: “When a patient asks me to match an online or chain store price, I tell them, ‘Sure, but I won’t fit or adjust your frames, I won’t guarantee my work, and if you come back with any problems, well, you’re on your own.’”

It’s a tough way to make a point, but it’s a point that needs to be made.

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