Business consultant Michael Jacobs reflects on lessons learnt from a high profile career in optics, giving mivision his ‘two cents worth’ on the future for independent optometry, Australian-style. In this article he talks about the post 2008 industry terminology.
The challenge to satisfactorily describe the optometric ecosphere to the satisfaction of all involved seems to grow with ever increasing intensity in Australia. Simply defining that ecosphere as an industry or a profession is problematic in the minds of many but without the ability to describe what we do in universally acceptable language is a problem. So, let’s start with a couple of definitions:
Industry – from the Latin industria meaning diligence and commonly defined as:
a. Economic activity concerned with manufacture, extraction and processing of raw materials or construction
Call the business a store or call it a practice, it doesn’t matter, it is all about the culture…
b. A branch of commercial enterprise concerned with the output of a specific service or product
Profession – from the Latin professio meaning public acknowledgement
a. An occupation requiring special training in the liberal arts or sciences, especially one of the three learned professions, law, theology or medicine
b. The body of people in such an occupation.
Given that the optometric ecosphere consists of manufacturers, distributors, retailers and professionals I think it is reasonable to conclude that given the above definitions we can broadly refer to this conglomeration of activities as the optometric industry.
So far so good, but let’s narrow the scope considerably and talk about the typical Australian consumer focused optometry business. Broadly speaking, this would be a business generating revenues split approximately 80:20 between the sales of optometric appliances and professional consultations – a business variously referred to as a practice, clinic, store or shop depending on your particular viewpoint. Each one of these descriptions has explicit and implicit meanings not only to those who work in an optometry business but just as importantly, to those who consume the goods and services of that business and variously referred to as patients or customers (or less frequently as clients).
So, is your independent optometry business a shop or a practice, a clinic or a store? Given that shop and store have effectively the same meaning as have clinic and practice I will limit my comments to practice and store.
We know for example that Specsavers and OPSM refer to their outlets as stores and while each of those players make claims of clinical excellence it is clear to most observers that their primary focus in on selling product. The inexorable drift – some might say landslide – in the Australian optometric market toward a shopping mall style retail focused optometry market is an ongoing threat to the independent clinically focused optometrist. Does this mean then, that the independent needs to follow the same path as the chains and start calling their businesses stores?
Create your Culture
I would argue that it doesn’t matter what you call your business – store or practice – and I would similarly argue that it doesn’t matter what you call the consumer of your goods and services – patients or customers. What really matters is your business culture.
For example, it is common to see independent optometry practices with reception desks at almost chest height. These foreboding relics of the traditional medical practice make a very clear statement – we are the experts; we will tell you what you need to know and when you need to know it! They feign privacy and render useless any attempt at a relationship between patient and staff, albeit a professional one. From this chest high barrier a staff culture is developed. A culture of superiority. A culture of isolation and separation from the patient and eventually a culture that pervades the entire business. Call the business a store or call it a practice, it doesn’t matter, it is all about the culture.
Culture defines your business and hence the chains spend significant resources developing a customer focused culture. Everything from their websites to their product offerings, displays, pricing and their menu of clinical choices make customer choice simple and clear. While I think most independents have progressed beyond the point of not marking prices on their frames, very few clearly show their lens prices. One of the most common complaints I hear from disgruntled patients of independent practices is “I purchased a $300 frame but I was shocked at receiving a bill for $800 when lenses were added”.
Patients, if you choose to call them that, may be attracted to your practice for your clinical expertise but they are of little value to your practice if they go elsewhere to buy their product. You must make it easy for them to buy from you. Ease of purchase comes before price in the consumer
decision matrix. The consumer must first decide what to buy before comparing prices so ease of product or service choice is paramount.
Another common error I see at independent practices is pricing methodology. A rod of 12 frames in one style from one supplier will have each frame priced differently, even if only by a couple of dollars. It’s so much better to put large price labels at the top of the rods showing the same price for every frame on that rod or display. Better still, have a matrix of prices showing the frame and lens options or packages as in the table below (examples only).
Ease of choice not only helps your customers, it also helps your staff. This ease of choice should apply to services as
well as products. Ask yourself “How can I package services in a logical manner for the patient, my staff and for me?”
So back to my earlier proposition; it doesn’t matter that you call your business a practice or a store and it doesn’t matter that you call those who purchase your goods and services customers or patients. Instead, spend more time thinking about the customer, their wants and their needs. Only after you have defined the characteristics of your desired customer should you decide what culture you want to develop in your business and only then are you in a position to decide whether you want to call them a patient or a customer.
Michael Jacobs is a business consultant and columnist for mivision. He was the former Chief Executive Officer of Eyecare Plus for 10 years until early 2015.