By Steve Vargo, OD, MBA
Feb. 3, 2021
A post-pandemic world. That feels good to say! We’re not there yet, but it’s everyone’s wish that a baseline of normalcy will resume at some point this year.
Many businesses and industries were hit hard by COVID-19. The eyecare industry was no exception. Business as usual was turned upside down as practices had to quickly acclimate to a new and uncertain world. The question now becomes, what changes need to be made as practices emerge from this pandemic? The pandemic will eventually be in our rear-view mirror, but some industry trends and patient expectations may be here for the long haul.
Here are key areas to focus on in a post-pandemic world. It’s not that these areas were not important before the pandemic, but they carry a heightened sense of importance in the post-pandemic world.
Refocus on Customer Service: Personalized, In-Person Care
Customer service has long been the cornerstone of many successful practices. On this front, the pandemic created both an opportunity and a threat for optometry practices. Let’s first discuss the threat. The pandemic was a boon for many online retailers as consumers sought to avoid public exposure. This was definitely not favorable to brick-and-mortar businesses. I would predict many consumers will reenter the traditional marketplace, but many have become increasingly comfortable with the convenience of e-commerce. It’s more important than ever to double down on customer service, differentiating with high-touch service that online-only interactions and transactions can’t provide.
That could mean follow-up calls from staff to ensure patients are happy with their new eyewear, an eyewear warranty policy, emphasizing the ability of patients to come in for adjustments and repairs to their eyewear, or providing personalized style consultations with your opticians.
Consider Emerging Trends: Telemedicine & Increasing Your Online Capabilities
Strong in-person customer service is a must to differentiate your practice from online competitors, but at the same time, you need to to consider the impact of more home-bound people and the expectation for remote care.
More people working from home means more computer and device usage, creating opportunities for increased sales of computer glasses with blue-light protection and the capacity to reduce digital eye fatigue. Even after people resume in-person business meetings and face-to-face socializing, they will remember the difference a good pair of computer glasses made for them.
Also consider bolstering your e-commerce presence. Options to do that include online stores and virtual try-on functionality on your practice website.
There is a good chance that patients, who got used to receiving care via telemedicine during the pandemic, will want to continue doing so. We don’t know for sure how strong the long-term adoption of telemedicine in optometry will be, but we should be prepared to meet continuing high demand for this form of care.
Focus on Selling: Train Staff to Capture Sales
With increased focus on e-commerce and online vendors, brick-and-mortar businesses that lack “sales skills” will be exposed and suffer declining revenues. Even before the pandemic, many practices complained of lost sales and high walkout rates as more patients opted for the lower costs and greater convenience of online retailers. To avoid further erosion of sales, practices need to proactively provide sales training for employees. If you don’t have the internal capabilities to provide this, then hire someone. In a business that remains heavily dependent on retail sales, this is a sound investment.
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Save Money & Invest Wisely: Prepare for Future Potential Crises
If there’s one thing the pandemic taught us, it’s the importance of being prepared for the unexpected. Hopefully we don’t experience another pandemic for a long, long time, but many business owners who had neglected their business finances were significantly exposed as the pandemic forced shutdowns and lost revenues. Talk with a consultant or financial advisor now about setting up a plan to prepare for the unexpected. As the saying goes, don’t get caught with your pants down when the tide goes out.
Be Willing to Adapt: Stay Ahead of Patients’ Expectations
It’s amazing the degree to which practices had to adapt and change during the pandemic, and most came out on the other end scarred and bruised, but still intact. Don’t let this lesson get overlooked. In my observation, practices are often slow to embrace change. Yet, when forced to change, most not only survived, but learned a lot in the process, and even discovered new insights and best practices. You turned business-as-usual on its head during the pandemic, don’t drift back to the safety and comfort of the status quo after the pandemic. Take risks. Learn from your pandemic experience and grow! Change is hard, and sometimes you make mistakes, but if your practice survived a pandemic, you can survive most other challenges.
That means thinking about new ways to create friction-free visits to your office and providing greater convenience and flexibility in how patients interact with you and your staff.
Steve Vargo, OD, MBA, is a practice consultant, speaker and author. His latest book is “Prescribing Change: How to Make Connections, Influence Decisions and Get Patients to Buy into Change.” To contact him: SVargo@idoc.net