Vision Express, Again and Again . . .

People problems are not always problem people.

When you look at the phenomenal growth and success of companies like Zappos, the online shoe retailer, it is easy to see the critical importance of service and customer satisfaction.  If you haven’t heard the Zappos story, it is an online retailer that went from zero to $1 billion in 10 years, in the shoe business where customers can’t even try on the shoes. And we all know how difficult it is to find a pair of shoes that feel good, let alone look good! Tony Hsu, the CEO says openly that the success of Zappos is solely the result of a culture of fanatical customer service.

In a recent blog I wrote about my negative customer experience at a Vision Express store. Well, the saga continues and this time it points out that poor service is not just down to one poorly trained or miscast employee.  Poor customer service is often a cultural phenomenon that infects an entire store, region or organization.  A culture of poor service is more a result of poor business processes than just poor individual behaviours. For the background to this principle, see People Problems are Not Always Problem People.

The same time I was getting my eyes examined at this particular Vision Express store, my daughter was getting checked for new glasses and new contact lenses.  Not the most pleasant customer experience for her and my wife but tolerable, until the next visit.
Five days later my daughter had another appointment to get her new glasses fitted and pick up her new contact lenses.  My wife called up to move the appointment time up a little and secures a new time.  They arrive at the store at the new appointment time, but  the ophthalmologist was on a lunch break.  Obviously someone didn’t advise him of the new appointment time.

Anyway my wife was on a tight schedule and demanded that they call him back to keep the new appointment time.  Not a great start!  He returns and quickly checks her eyes again to make certain the new contacts are comfortable and fitting properly.  Next stop, upstairs to get the new glasses fitted and a second example of poor service.  Instead of taking the proper steps and time to check the fit of the frames, the fitter just asked my daughter to nod her head a couple of times to see if the glasses moved down on her nose.  No movement, job done! My wife was going to complain but the time pressure and the lousy experience got in the way and she picked up the bag containing four boxes of the newly ordered contact lenses and left the store.

Once back at home we realize that not only do the glasses not fit properly, but the bag contains the wrong brand of contacts from those originally ordered, necessitating another trip back to the Vision Express store.

Calling up to make another appointment my wife demanded to speak with the store manager to register a complaint.  After a few minutes on the phone she discovers that the store manager is brand new to that store but has worked for the company for 11 years and was recently sent in to improve the running of this branch.  The new manager is not just dealing with isolated individuals but an entire culture of poor service. How can this happen in a company like Vision Express who pride themselves on continuous employee training and excellent customer service?

The lesson is very clear, somewhere in the Vision Express value chain of business process there has been a breakdown or a process step that has been abandoned for whatever good reason, like cost containment or to maximize some other “important” metric.  It’s easy to blame an individual for poor service, but much more productive to get to the root cause. The new store manager will do her best but will Vision Express do its and explore the breakdowns in the entire customer value chain process?

What’s your guess?

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

E |      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 or
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4 Responses to Vision Express, Again and Again . . .

  1. You are correct in that it is rare to find one bad apple when it comes to customer service. If you experence poor service, it is generally a cultural issue that impacts far more than one employee. It always starts at the top though. Employees will follow the direction of their manager, and managers will follow the direction of senior leadership. The leadership there either doesn’t care about customer service or is not engaged enough to know what is going on.


  2. Hi John,
    Having read your blog I’m dissapointed to learn that your family’s visit to Vision Express did not meet our high customer service expectations and I would like the opportunity to put this right.

    Please contact me directly at in order to discuss your experience further as I would really like to demonstrate how Vision Express can, and consistently do, achieve excellent customer service.

    Rob Carmichael
    Customer Service & Insights Manager
    Vision Express


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

  4. villagevicarage says:

    Good Day John

    I’m saddened to read of this challenge your family had with Vision Express. I too have had a challenge with them – such was the incident that it left me felling mortified, humiliated and exasperated. The treatment I received should never be visited upon anyone, much less someone who is disabled.

    I am not a litigious person. However, in this instance, due to the severity of the incident I have been compelled to seek legal advice. I’m going to reserve commenting further as I hope to see how this company deals with such matters. I do not believe in slamming businesses simply for the sake of doing so and believe mistakes can and do happen. Sadly, in my case, their manager’s actions defied even the most fundamental considerations for humankind. But as I say, I’ll wait for now to see what the outcome is.

    I’m a priest and am acutely aware of the frailties of our ‘human condition.’ leadership roles can either inspire or infest, often even without staff being aware of their actions.

    I’ll be pleased to share how a national company deals with such matters, regardless of it’s outcome.

    I wish you every success in your endeavours

    Fr Bill+


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