In business, as in life, a well thought out plan can make all the difference to your success. Traditionally, the Christmas and New Year period is a time for reflection and resolutions. It is an ideal time to take a step back to consider where your practice is now, where you want it to be in six months’ time – and how you’re going to get it there.
mivision recruited two members of the next generation of optometrists to speak to business leaders and review the literature on how best to revitalise your optometry practice.
There are seven key areas of your practice that deserve close attention in your next business plan:
- Practice appearance and layout
- Your consulting room
- Contact lenses
…the public perceive an eye examination provided by a less clinically able optometrist with good communication skills to be better than one from an excellent clinician who communicates poorly
Marketing is Essential
Business school instructors define marketing as identifying and satisfying customers’ wants and needs.3 As a practitioner, doing so is the most cost effective way to drive patient referrals, increase patient volume and help revitalise your practice.
Research has found that it costs AUD$350 to bring a new patient into your practice via advertising compared to word of mouth.6
A study by the Strategic Planning Institute found that businesses in America which rated ‘low’ on customer service averaged a one per cent return on sales and lost market share by two per cent. This compares to businesses that rated ‘high’ with an average 12 per cent sales return, a growth of market share by six per cent and also charged significantly higher fees. 8 This leads to better patient loyalty, patient retention, greater purchases and more frequent return visits.
Refine Your Marketing
- Send personalised recall letters or phone calls to every patient when required. Personalised letters and phone calls have the highest rate of recall (29.2 per cent and 30.8 per cent respectively).4 Adding SMS recalls actually decreased effectiveness, so this option is best left for when you are informing patients that their contact lenses or spectacles are ready to be collected from the practice.
- Update the website monthly, and include information pieces about a different ocular condition each month. Offer internet-only specials, for example; “Mention you visited our website and get AUD$20 off your contact lenses.” Enable your contact lens wearers to order their contact lenses through your website or via email.
- Send a letter out to existing patients who are potential contact lens patients, outlining the benefits and features of wearing contact lenses and offer a no obligation trail.
Advertise in the Yellow Pages. This serves as a reference, not a sales piece.
Maximise Patient Contact
Throughout the patient’s optometric journey, there are numerous points of contact between the patient and the staff members of the practice, be they the receptionist, the optometrist, the dispenser or general staff. Consequently, there are many opportunities to build a rapport that results in patient loyalty to the practice itself. Your staff team is key to engaging the patient in every way possible to ensure their journey through the often complex and difficult to understand world of optometry is as smooth as possible.
Engage Your Staff
- Organise a regular staff meeting at the beginning of a work day, during business hours so that the staff do not feel as if they are doing you a favour by attending. Invite staff to discuss any issues and contribute ideas, talk about new developments in the optical industry and goals for the week.
- Arrange regular and varied staff training sessions – from product knowledge of certain spectacle and contact lens types, materials and coatings, to conflict management, to actual technical dispensing skills such as frame adjustments and lens measurements. Ask supplier companies to assist with product training in their areas of specialty.
- Ensure your optometrist responds to the concerns of the patient and offers all possible treatment options, ranging from contact lenses to refractive surgery.
- When time permits, encourage your optometrist to work at the front of the practice, greet patients and aid the dispensers and other staff members.
Ensure your dispenser is well trained to manage and troubleshoot any queries that may arise.
Presentation is Important
A practice that is freshly painted, carefully laid out and well lit can make patients will feel safer knowing they too are under good optometric care.
Carefully planned, a makeover can also help you cross promote your practice’s products and services.
Time for a Spring Clean?
- Choose a new, bright coloured paint and create a feature wall.
- Ensure lighting is adequate for all frames to be displayed to maximum advantage.
- Promote premium products over the cheaper ones.
- Place a TV in the corner of the waiting area with a DVD playing promotions, explaining your practice’s services, new products and what the patient can expect during their consultation.
- Include brochures in the waiting area from optical companies and the OAA (and of course mivision) about specific eye conditions and treatments, lens technologies and the latest optical fashions.
De-clutter and ensure the room looks and smells clean – this will give the impression that you care about your practice, and hence you care about your patients.
Effective Consultation Sells
Optometrist Helen Gleave says that: “Research has shown that the public perceive an eye examination provided by a less clinically able optometrist with good communication skills to be better than one from an excellent clinician who communicates poorly.”
This provides an opportunity for the optometrist to suggest new products and services to the patient that they may not have otherwise considered. Every patient encounter is as an opportunity to educate patients. For example, explaining how an upgrade in lens technology can enhance a patient’s vision, despite no change in prescription, enabled an AUD$54,000 increase in one month’s sales as compared to the same month the previous year in a practice with 2.5 optometrists.8
Increase your consultation
- Ask every patient whether or not they wear sunglasses and why. For example, if the patient drives or plays water sports, recommend that they upgrade to polarised sunglasses. If they wear specs for vision correction, recommend prescription sunglasses. Inform the patient about the importance of UV protection in preventing/delaying eye conditions such as cataracts and pterygium.
- After the optometric consult is finished, rather than telling the patient there has been no change in their prescription and leaving it at that, inform them of new advances in lens technology which can enhance their vision and suggest a new frame style.
- Relax your customers and build their confidence in your practice by displaying qualifications and playing relaxing music.
Always hand your business card over to the patient and invite your patient to contact you with any questions regarding their eyes. Handing them a copy of your details also enables the patient to refer you on to friends and family.
Equipment Builds Confidence
Most patients associate an optometrist with products (spectacle and contact lenses) and purchasing new technology for the practice makes them more aware of the medicinal and therapeutic aspect of optometry.5 This in turn, can change patients’ perception of the optometrist and emphasises the need for regular eye health examinations. It is also suggested that annually adding new instrumentation sends a message to your patients that you are reinvesting in your practice and that you care about offering your patients the best in eye care.5
Invest in Equipment
- Take advantage of the Government’s small business tax grants to invest in extra equipment to improve eye care services. Under this scheme, businesses with a profit under AUD$2 million can claim a 50 per cent tax deduction for purchases over AUD$1000.1 Negotiate a three to six month loan of the equipment from the suppliers prior to purchase.
Investigate what other practices in the area are charging patients for this technology and set prices accordingly, charging less for pensioners.
Contact Lenses are Profitable
The contact lens business is a highly dynamic and profitable potential market for any optometric practice.
When we spoke to Tim Grant, Professional Marketing, Ciba Vision Asia Pacific & Emerging Growth Markets, about the contact lens market in Australia, he said “a contact lens patient will produce about three times the profit of a spectacle wearing patient, even if the initial revenue generated may be lower.”
Similarly, a study of optometry practices in Europe found that contact lens patients were worth about 60 per cent more than spectacle wearers.7
The value of contact lens patients to the optometric business is a result of the long-term and lifelong relationships that are built between the patient and the practitioner. Contact lens patients are generally more loyal than spectacle wearers and will return to the same practitioner for follow-up ocular health checks, aftercare checks, new lenses and cleaning solutions. They are also seen more frequently than regular spectacle wearing patients.2 In addition to this, while the profit of a spectacle wearer from a single transaction may be significantly higher than that of a contact lens wearer, all contact lens wearers will also require a pair of sunglasses, back-up spectacles and even a pair of prescription sunglasses, which generates further revenue on top of the contact lens profits.7 Finally, the testimony of a satisfied contact lens wearer is one of the best forms of advertising and marketing for an optometric practice.
Despite this, optometrists are not maximising the potential of contact lens sales. Studies have demonstrated that about 48 per cent of all spectacle wearers would consider trialling contact lenses if their practitioner recommended it to them. However, more than 50 per cent of spectacle wearers have also said that no one had ever suggested that they try contact lenses.
Encourage Contact Lens Trial
- Offer patients all the visual correction options.
- Let them trial a pair of contact lenses after the consultation, while they select their spectacle frames. (This would be especially beneficial for patients who have a high degree of hyperopia.)
- Offer a free contact lens trial with each purchase of spectacles.
- Increase advertising of the new technologies and broader range of contact lens options such as improved materials and various wearing schedules which can be tailored to suit each individual patient.
Have your dispensing and administration staff suggest contact lens trials during the frame selection process or when finalising payments.
Budgeting is Essential
A business budget is integral to a successfully managed optometric business. It enables you to monitor the practice’s profits and expenses, set a profit goal to be achieved within a certain time frame, and determine the most efficient methods to increase the profits earned to reach that goal.
It is important to review the profit and loss statements every month. In this manner, if the budget is not being met, quick action is able to be taken to rectify this.
Analyse your Budget
- Analyse practice expenses such as equipment, rent, staff and marketing needs to identify where finances can be more effectively allocated.
Identify opportunities to increase the value of each customer – for example, by selling more products to each customer such as contact lenses and sunglasses.
Reassess your Business Plan
Now that you’ve established your business plan, it’s essential that you constantly review your progress and continue to refine each aspect of your practice…
- Record how often you use your new equipment, the outcome, how much you charged, and whether you gained any extra referrals from other professionals or patients as a result.
- Keep a record of the number of patients who accept the offer of retinal photography from reception staff.
- Keep track of the patients who generate word-of-mouth referrals and give ‘freebies’ to patients who bring in three or more new patients.
- Use an office evaluation card to assess customer satisfaction. Ask every patient to fill out this quick survey for the first and last two weeks of the six month period and offer an incentive to do it, for example, a 10 per cent discount.
Ms. Mei Shao and Ms. Sarah Gosling are both optometry students in their fifth and final year of a Bachelor of Optometry & Bachelor of Science at the University of New South Wales (expected graduation 2011). This is their first published work.
Australian Government, 2009, ‘What’s in the 2009-10 Budget for Small Business?’ www.innovation.gov.au/General/Corporate/Documents/SmallBusiness per cent20_budgetfactsheet0910.pdf.
Contact Lens Spectrum, 2009, ‘Understanding the Value of Contact Lens Wearers’, www.clspectrum.com/article.aspx?article=103277.
Gailmond N., 2005, ‘BUSINESS 101: Marketing’, www.optometric.com/article.aspx?article=&loc=articles\2005\january\0105038.htm.
Hanks T., 2009, ‘Recall Effectiveness’, mivision, August 2009.
Kattouf R.S., 2005, ‘Six reasons to purchase new equipment’, www.optometric.com/article.aspx?article=&loc=articles\2005\june\0605062.htm.
Morris S., 2005, ‘BUSINESS 101: Business Planning’, www.optometric.com/article.aspx?article=&loc=articles\2005\february\0205051.htm.
Ritson M., 2006, ‘Which Patients are More Profitable?’ www.clspectrum.com/article.aspx?article=12968.
Suter D., 2006, ‘Optical Sales: The Forgotten Treasure’, www.optometric.com/article.aspx?article=&loc=articles\2006\march\0306047.htm.
|Example Of An Office Evaluation Card
We would appreciate your assistance in completing the following questions in order to help us better serve your eye care needs:
How were you attracted to our practice (e.g. Yellow Pages, word-of-mouth, etc.)
Name (optional): _____________________________________ Date_____________