A visit to Vision Express . . .

The eyes are the windows to the soul.

After sitting in front of a computer screen for hours nearly every day my eyes tend to get a little tired and blurry.  Add to that the impact of age on the eyes (decreased elasticity, drying and presbyopia – trouble reading close up) and I figured it was time to get some new night driving glasses, and perhaps some new reading glasses as well.

When I was young there was only one choice, the optometrist is my local town.  Today there are numerous choices, from private optometrists to eye clinics, and most plentiful of all, quick service retail eye care specialists.  On one street alone here in London there is Boots Opticians, Vision Express, SpecSavers and Optical Express.  All of these promise professional expertise, speedy service, modern equipment and quick turnaround.

So, off we went to Vision Express since we tried Boots Opticians but they couldn’t fit us in till next week (so much for fast). We decided to test both my daughter’s eyes and mine.  First bit of impressive news.  Since she is under 18 and yours truly is over 60, both the eye exams were free! Good start I thought.

The store was bright, clean, spacious, lots of frames lined up on the wall with impressive designer names, like Gucci, Channel, Ray Ban, and a host of other fancy brand names.  The choice was overwhelming and to be honest, a little intimidating.  It seems that while I’ve been working for the past forty years as a consultant on organisational performance, common eyeglasses have gone from a necessity item to a fashion item and luxury branding is the name of the game, both in frame styles and price.  I picked up a very light little pair of wire rim glasses and squinted at the price tag.  220 British pounds!  It was then I figured out the business model, since the eye tests were first, choosing the frames second, and the pricing last!

Off to the eye test downstairs. I was impressed with the modern testing and measuring equipment as I was moved swiftly through the eye tests.  The young technician had all the confidence of a seasoned professional. While he was competent, his bedside manner was brusk and cold.  He didn’t introduce himself, didn’t look me in the eye and didn’t shake hands.  I immediately had the feeling of being “processed”.  And all the while he kept calling me Mr. Childress, further avoiding any relationship building.

Now I consider relationship building as a vital part of the business transaction process, and make no mistake about it,  I was into a business transaction that had been neatly choreographed by the creators of Vision Express.  But if I was going to feel good about paying several hundred pounds for glasses then to me building a relationship with the customer is critical.

Just as all this was buzzing around in my mind and after that annoying puff of air that tests the pressure in the eye, I was roughly handed off to a young sales assistant for phases two and three of the Vision Express “experience”: choosing the frames and determining the overall price.

And here’s where the wheels came off for me.  As I watched her struggle with screen after screen on the computer, and card after card of price options, if seemed like she spent more time putting on her make-up in the morning than learning her job!  What was supposed to be a quick experience took us an hour and a half, three quarters of it with this young sales associate as she fumbled through her “upgrade” pitch for lenses (three options), thickness (four options), coatings (everyone gets the coatings), light sensitive transition lenses, and then the advertised specials.  I asked her to repeat the specials twice and still didn’t understand (I’m not alone, however, she really didn’t understand either).

All in all, a very unsatisfactory experience for me.  And not because of the technology or the quality of the merchandise.  Lack of training was the bitter pill for me.  Here is a great business model; convenient, open, loads of choice, good location, modern equipment.  All spoiled by lack of proper training.  I am not faulting the sales associate.  Training, both in product knowledge and customer service is the responsibility of management.  And the manager we saw in the shop was equally poorly trained in customer service.

My experience at Vision Express reminded me again that we pump out MBAs who can read a balance sheet and manage a P&L, but can’t read customers or manage people.  I wonder what percentage of the operating costs are devoted to the employee hiring and training process at Vision Express?  From my point of view, not nearly enough.  And as we all know, training is only the first step in an outstanding service experience.  Then comes on-the-job coaching, feedback, appreciation, incentives, team pride, peer support and learning.  All the elements that make for a rewarding customer experience.

By the way, a superior customer experience almost always results in superior profits. As a result of my poor experience I chose only one pair of glasses instead of the two pair I had come intending to purchase.  Another lost sale to poor service and training.

For a totally different experience, again the result of customer service, read this blog by Jo about her visit to a Vision Express store. Again, same business model, different level of service and a very different experience!

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

E | john@johnrchildress.com      T | +44 207 584 3774      M | +44 7833 493 999

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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3 Responses to A visit to Vision Express . . .

  1. Hi John,

    We’re very saddened to hear that you did not receive a good experience at our store. As a company we pride ourselves on our service levels and our relationships with our customers. Our training schemes are extremely thorough, as we understand that your eye health and choosing glasses can be both complex and daunting, so we aim for our associates to be able to guide you through this subject/process efficiently and to be able to answer any questions/concerns you may have.

    Sadly it appears this level of service was not provided during your visit.

    We would like to use your feedback to further improve on our service levels, and would appreciate it if you could let us know which store you visited (http://vexpress.me/hqrRXh), so we can address both the immediate and long-term issues.

    Kate @ Vision Express


  2. Pingback: Vision Express, Again and Again . . . | John R Childress . . . rethinking leadership

  3. Pingback: The Buggy Whip, Traditional Publishing and Vision Express | John R Childress . . . rethinking leadership

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