Product training may not be new, but these labs are doing more than just that: They are providing customers with the necessary tools to boost their businesses.
Labs educating ECP customers is one way to ensure both generate business. From offering continuing education and marketing tools to more informal training, labs have different methods of making sure customers know the ins and outs of every product.
Every other year, Cherry Optical, Inc. hosts “What’s New University” at the legendary Lambeau Field in Green Bay, WI, where the lab is located. A variety of topics are covered, and the one-day event is open to not only customers but also to any ECP — whether they do business with the lab or not. What’s New University features a vendor exhibition plus ABO, NCLE, AOA/CPC and COPE classes across each of the five CE hours. At this year’s event held in March, courses ranged from Camber technology and the science behind blue light to Medicare basics, optical merchandising and how to hire the right employees.
“The goal of What’s New University is to make an impact on the lives of those we work with regularly, broaden hands-on opportunities in the Midwest and provide a wide range of accessible education to our colleagues,” said Adam Cherry, president. “What’s New University is not only a CE event but also a networking opportunity…Their success is our success, therefore, we will continue to develop our role as educators of the trade.”
At Pech Optical in Sioux City, IA, Luann Mosier, vice president of sales, marketing and education, said an on-staff educator develops webinars on-demand for customers in addition to a quarterly ABO-accredited course. The lab regularly brings in accounts for training and conducts a yearly training day.
“We have a written guideline to help beginning dispensers on picking lens materials with powers,” Mosier said. “We also have an in-house marketing department so we set up a ‘Good, Better, Best’ scenario for the accounts, and then we customize it to their needs.”
However, sometimes the first step in customer training begins with its own employees, like at FEA Industries, where it starts at home.
“Part of our approach of educating our customers is to have our staff more educated, that way they can offer specific recommendations then and there for whatever problems an ECP may be calling us about,” said Kurt Gardner, vice president of marketing and sales for the Morton, PA-based lab. “Whether it’s a material choice, how a product works or whatever else, being able to give pertinent information instantly is a great teaching tool. This is why we strive to ensure our customer service staff is all ABO certified or are on the way to becoming so.”
FEA plans to provide its customers with both in-person and online training on a range of topics, with the goal of creating a “resource both for the newbie optician as well as for the seasoned veteran,” Gardner said. “We want to cover both basic topics such as frame fitting and adjustment as well as more advanced topics such as limitations of lens designs based on power.”
CATERING TO CUSTOMERS
The training program at Eye-Kraft Optical, Inc. in St. Cloud, MN, is more casual.
“I try to tailor it to what works best for the account,” said Jason Sharpe, vice president, operations. “I bring lunch in or breakfast or I’ll take accounts to dinner and we’ll talk outside office hours if necessary. I don’t have a set format — I flex to what they need.”
Eye-Kraft has developed its own techniques to help customers encourage their patients to select products. The lab created custom dispensing mats, which Sharpe called “huge conversation starters.” The Eye-Kraft sales team also works with offices to develop talking points for its products.
As for marketing materials, Pech provides social media postings as well as printed materials along with a quarterly newsletter, available in both print and electronic versions, to inform customers on lenses and treatments and relevant topics such as online ordering, upcoming webinars and industry conventions/events.
FEA is planning to produce print materials for ECPs plus tools to manage their own social media and custom practice marketing to customers “who reach a certain threshold of business with FEA,” Gardner said.
FEA also recently hired Vicki Masliah as director of professional development, who is creating the lab’s Focus on Education Alliance, a program that will incorporate customized in-office training on products and methods of presenting the information to patients, plus regional round-table forums to address relevant industry topics and how they affect business.
The goal of the program, said Masliah, is “to fully equip any optical business with the tools it needs to create a patient base that comprehends the professional relationship needed for excellent eyecare.”
“We are in an environment where the optical industry is becoming more and more competitive at both corporate and consumer levels,” Masliah said. “ECPs must make every effort to maintain and grow their businesses. Knowing the importance of the lab/practitioner relationship, FEA wants to continue supporting its customers in that effort, and having a practice with expertise in both procedures and products is vital to developing personalized experiences with patients.”