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 . . .
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