LAS VEGAS—To help make sense of the latest technologies that are changing the patient experience, nearly 200 opticalretailers, eyecare professionals and other industry executives attended VM LIVE’s “Digitizing the Store” event here at the start of Vision Expo West last month. The VM LIVE presentations by some of the most successful optical retailing professionals along with an expert on Millennials were sponsored by Adlens and ACEP/ABS Smart Mirror.
With the Millennial generation becoming the most influential consumer group since the Baby Boomers, their status as “digital natives” who grew up accessing the internet and carrying smartphones, optical retailers must remain up to date with social commerce and the omnichannel experience or risk being out of touch with where technology, and their customers, are headed.
“The emergence of digital technology is a tremendous equalizer,” said Marge Axelrad, Vision Monday’s senior vice president/editorial, to introduce the session and announce the speakers. “Mobile is revolutionizing the way everybody is accessing information,” she added.“It’s all one; there are no more boundaries.”
New Definitions of Brand Value
Presented by Jeff Fromm / President, Futurecast and Author, 'Marketing to Millenials'
An apparent theme throughout the VM LIVE event was creating a seamless experience for consumers. As detailed by speaker Jeff Fromm, author of “Marketing to Millennials,” today’s customer is constantly connected and expects brands and businesses they make purchases from to be connected too. Fromm is also president of FutureCast, an insights and analytical consultancy that mines Millennial research to enhance organizations’ connections with the Gen Y generation (those born between the late 1970s and early 2000s).
“We have a tsunami of Millennials and new families coming into this country,” Fromm said, referring to the Gen Yers who are now at or approaching parenting age. “Millennials are affecting trends across so many industries—it’s important to follow them, even if they’re not your current target audience.”
According to Fromm, Millennials’ influence on commerce will continue to grow and to dictate the norm for how industries function. He also emphasized that the participation economy—the social, mobile, interconnected model for reaching customers in store and online—dictates that price alone is no longer the driver of consumer preference toward a product.
“Today’s Millennial is more than a consumer. They’re your partner,” said Fromm. “Take the elephant in the room and build a content strategy around it, and you will be a very happy business owner.”
Fromm explained certain “Millennial truths” that businesses should be aware of, identifying content as the most important part of Millennial marketing. “Treat content as brand fuel. It’s a huge secret weapon that is missed by many,” he said.
Further, three tech trends Fromm believes business owners should be mindful of are geo-location, useful wearables and interactive shopping. “What technology does is simplify my life. It’s going to do something to make my life better if it is well placed and integrates other systems that I have. Your brand can be relevant to a new generation of consumers.”
Technology Innovation and Solutions
Presented by Richard Edlow, OD / President, Katzen Eye Group
Operating the vertically integrated Katzen Eye Group headquartered in Baltimore, Richard Edlow, OD, discussed how his multidisciplinary “three Os” practice uses a variety of technologies to provide better patient care and lower transaction costs. His examples showed how specific technologies can save dollars with each of many practice/patient interactions.
First, however, he began his presentation with statistics showing that while there will be substantially more demand for eyecare services, the increase in the number of eyecare professionals, particularly ophthalmologists, will not necessarily keep pace. He feels that this, along with the fact that reimbursements are either decreasing or remaining the same, supports the growing need for multidisciplinary practices such as his.
“Demand for services is just about to take off almost exponentially, while the supply of providers is relatively flat,” he said, indicating that the supply of ophthalmologists will not grow at all by 2020. “On top of that, reimbursement isn’t changing. You’re supposed to be able to charge more when there is an increased demand for services, but we’re in a regulated environment, so we can’t charge more. How do we manage this?” he asked and then provided some answers: “We need to expand channels of patient access, improve customer service, build professional management teams and be vertically integrated.”
Edlow then described some specific technologies that Katzen Eye Group has implemented to save money or generate revenue every time certain interactions take place between patients and the practice. It only costs the practice nine cents when texting or emailing patients appointment confirmations, for example, when compared with $1.04 per telephone call.
“The best thing, and worst thing, about our practice is that we see 600 patients a day,” Edlow said to indicate the size and volume of his multiple-location practice. “We have over 32,000 email addresses and 114,900 cellphone numbers to email or text to let people know that their glasses are ready,” added Edlow, indicating the efficiency with which his practice’s customer relations management software communicates with his patients.
Using Brevium patient reactivation software, which calls patients who have not been in recently for an appointment, has generated millions of dollars in revenue for Katzen. By mining data from practice management software regarding a patient’s condition at their last appointment, the Brevium patient reactivation software has helped generate $2.6 million for the practice over the last four years, according to Edlow.
In addition, Everseat software enables the practice to fill schedules left empty by last-minute cancellations at a cost of only $3.28 per filled appointment. Fulfilling contact lens orders via MyEyeStore online costs only 40 cents per order rather than the $5.20 it costs when those orders are fulfilled in-office. Electronic portals allow patients to request appointments, pay bills, and get receipts, among other functions. Edlow said that bills paid online cost just a penny compared with bills paid by mail, which cost 72 cents.
Katzen Eye Group even offers patients the opportunity to register at a kiosk in the waiting room, rather than at the receptionist’s desk, and verify their insurance at the same time. Edlow shared with the audience the savings that result. “Registering manually by staff costs $9.43 and registering electronically by staff costs $7.93, but registering by kiosk costs only $4.72, and they can pay at the kiosk too,” he said.
“Eyecare’s changing,” concluded Edlow, “and technology is making it better.”
The Patient Experience Digitizing the Store
Presented by Jonathan Rosin, MD / Co-owner, Rosin Eyecare
Also operating a multidisciplinary practice that he referred to as “O-cubed,” Jonathan Rosin, MD, said that Rosin Eyecare serves “Millennials to Boomers” through a 19-location regional chain in Chicago. Because “Chicago is a challenging place with nationals, regionals and independents, which forced us to be strategic,” he said.
One of the company’s successful strategies was to embrace its own training by bringing it in-house. The company “digitized” its training by creating a web-based program consisting of 38 chapters, each of which takes about a half hour to review online. Opticians are required to complete a pre-test, go through every chapter, and then take a post-test.
After “creating product experts,” as Rosin refers to those who have completed the program, a number of benefits have emerged. “Patient satisfaction is way up, there’s been an increase in upsell and a significant decrease in remakes,” he said.
Rosin also described how his multiple-location practice is “digitizing” its marketing as well. The company instituted the use of customer relationship management software that opens various channels to both create personalized messages for patients as well as provide them with a platform to voice their opinions to the practice. With this, Rosin can “anticipate the needs and desires of patients,” he said, adding, “We lost about $100,000 in payroll but gained more connection to our patients.”
Rosin concluded with a recommendation to the audience that reinforced the focus of the VM LIVE session on “Digitizing the Store.” He said, “Learn about Millennials, invest in the omnichannel approach, and invest in technology that enhances the patient experience because that is what it’s all about.”
Expectations of Today's Customers
Presented by Eric Anderson / President and General Manager, Lenscrafters
Eric Anderson presented an overview of how LensCrafters, the nation’s largest optical retailer, is creating a more personalized customer experience, both online and in its stores. He drew a line between “digital natives”—Millennials who have grown up with digital technology—and older consumers like himself whom he called “digital immigrants.”
Anderson jokingly referred to his three Millennial-age children as “his R&D department.” To illustrate his point, he shared an anecdote about his son who saw a pair of Nikes on TV that he liked. Using his iPhone, his son found the style and color he wanted, located a nearby store that stocked the shoes, and then polled his friends on social media sites before making a purchase.
Anderson then described how LensCrafters is meeting consumer expectations by delivering what he called ‘”eye love.” The retailer uses an omnichannel marketing approach that involves “a seamless customer interaction, online to in-store,” he said.
LensCrafters’ customer engagement often begins when customers create an account on LensCrafters.com. “Fifty percent of customers visit the site before visiting a LensCrafters store, and 25 percent of those customers book their exams online,” according to Anderson. He added that 25 percent of the stores have full digital pre-text, “so a rich dialogue can occur with the patient.”
Inside the store, LensCrafters employs a mix of technologies, including tablets that are used by all LensCrafters associates, customer relationship management software, and the AccuExam and AccuFit devices for testing patients’ vision and fitting their eyewear.
Anderson noted that LensCrafters’ website is designed to drive customers to its stores, and is not used for online purchases. He emphasized that, “If we go into that space [online retailing], we need to create the same amazing experience as in our stores.”
Offering advice to the retailers in the audience, Anderson cited what he called “the three truths of digital. Digital is only the enabler,” he said. He added that retailers need to “maintain flexibility in technology choices” and “invest in change management” because “adoption takes time.”
Ending on an upbeat note, Anderson concluded, “This is the best time in history to serve customers and patients.”