Is customer loyalty the holy grail for companies today? Perhaps, when taking into account the claim from the Chartered Institute of Marketing that it costs a business 10 times more to acquire a new customer than to market to an existing one, and that repeat customers spend up to 67% more than newly acquired ones.
In a roundtable hosted by CooperVision, a group of business leaders came together to consider how loyalty protects the practice, how loyalty can be built, and the role of innovation as a means to enable practices to engage with patients now and into the future.Supporting the roundtable, CooperVision’s white paper, Innovation: the way to a patient’s heart?, reviewed what is best practice, both in optics and beyond. Reflecting on the wider theme, for the UK head of marketing and professional services at CooperVision, Mark Draper (pictured below, right), “loyalty is based on trust, and innovation is a great way to give you a competitive advantage.” Citing the example of the home delivery of contact lenses, he challenged the attendees to consider how else optics could make life more interesting and convenient for patients.
"If you present too many options [to the patient], there is a danger it becomes like a shopping list. You have got to give some clear recommendations"
The demand for innovation
Research cited in the white paper found that 93% of contact lens wearers would like to try a new lens, yet 52% of vision correction patients were not offered contact lenses by the practitioner.
Reflecting on this, chief executive of Leightons Opticians and Hearing Care, Ryan Leighton (pictured above, left), acknowledged that his default position is to immediately accept the importance of innovation, but with a caveat. “You need to empathise. It is more important to ask the patient are they enjoying life with the contact lenses they are wearing? It is not the case that making a change will necessarily improve someone’s life.”
For Tushar Majithia (pictured above, right), managing director of Lunettes Opticians and an AOP Councillor, it goes back to communication with the patient. “We need to think about how we structure the conversation during and after the consultation. Trying to find out when patients are having difficulty and discomfort can lead to a solution.”
Reflecting on the importance of the knowledge and expertise of the eye care practitioner (ECP), director of professional services at Leightons Opticians and Hearing Care, Andrew Bridges (pictured below, right), added: “If you present too many options [to the patient], there is a danger it becomes like a shopping list. You have got to give some clear recommendations.”
Failing to promote products
Faced with disappointing levels of growth in the contact lens market in the UK, which declined in value by nearly 6% according to the white paper figures, are ECP’s failing to take a proactive approach?
For Mr Bridges, the statistic of 52% of patients not being offered contact lenses is telling. “I am not surprised – the time pressures are there.” He added that there is a level of nervousness about change and the consequences. “If patients are satisfied with what they have got, there is a perception of ‘why unsettle them by introducing a change?’ If you have got a new technology, what if it does not deliver to those expectations? Is the trust and faith in your judgement affected?”
“Practitioners need to be proactive about suggestions of innovations available,” suggested Mr Majithia. “If patients have a perceived sense of being satisfied, practitioners do not necessarily present alternatives.”
Considering the value of pre-consultation questionnaires to gain scores on the levels of patient comfort, Mr Bridges agreed that they were a “good way to force the practitioner to ask those deeper, wider questions about how the contact lenses is really performing over the day, the week, the year.”
Asked about the role of the manufacturer in promoting innovation, Mr Leighton took the view that the “collaboration ‘piece’ is hugely important. Knowledge to the ECPs about what a lens can do and the benefits it can offer is key to the practitioner being able to recommend the product.”
As part of this support, truth and transparency is also important for Mr Leighton. “One of the things I see a lot, be it in hearing aids, but also in contact lenses, is there are major claims that come in of radical innovation. But [manufacturers] are talking to an educated audience, and they know, say, a UV filter is not a game-changer.”
“What I would love to see is honesty. Why not say ‘this is a minor innovation, but we think it is really good and this is why, as a practitioner, you should run with it.’ But let’s not say we are going to change the world,” he added.
How patients react to innovation?
The white paper highlights different types of ‘adopters’ – ranging from the ‘innovators’ (2.5%) to the ‘laggards’ (16%). With these different types of adopters to respond to, the challenge for the practice is how to deal with this demographic landscape.
For Mr Leighton, a two-step approach is called for. “You have to know who you are targeting, and have a plan as to how you set your stall out, using a range of communication tools and particularly multimedia channels,” he said.
Mr Majithia highlighted the value of an educated workforce. “Most practitioners are very knowledgeable about products, but it is finding ways to communicate to patients in the right language, and it’s a job for the whole practice team. The ECP can help the team by facilitating online training. It is obviously difficult for members of the practice team to go out on training courses to build the confidence and knowledge, but online individuals can develop their knowledge of products.”
He added: “We have started to use social media, which means you can really target what you offer. So, in the case of Facebook, it means that you can drill down into the categories, their interests, you can measure the effectiveness of the campaign, and it is a cost effective way of communicating to people. And people are responding.”
Making the most from innovation
For Mr Leighton, part of the challenge is a change in mindset. “Day-in, day-out, we are guilty of focusing an awful lot on sales today, even though we, as a business, have got a philosophy of ‘for life.'
“So, my focus is on the key performance indicators coming up today, looking at spectacles sales, and I will not even look at how many contact lens wearers have been fitted. But, they are the future; they are the lifetime value for the business. This change can’t be led by the manufacturers; the onus is on the practices.”
Setting out his goals to maximise on the impact of innovation, Mr Majithia added: “We would like to see the creation of a more structured communication plan. Starting from the point of initial contact with the patient, and then highlighting the features and benefits of new products when they come out, and then delivering that to patients.
“Also, once they have had the opportunity to discuss with the ECP, we need to capture their feedback. Feedback is really critical to see how they are getting on, and maintain that level of contact to ensure you are looking after them,” he added. “It is easy to give patients new products to try out. But we are not very good at following up – asking ‘how are they getting on?’”
Supporting this perspective, Mr Bridges reiterated the all-important need to enhance communication with patients. “There are an awful lot of small steps that, combined, will have a big effect. There are patients who have a perceived sense of satisfaction, but how many more people, when asked a few extra questions, can we help? It may be that subtle tweaks with slightly new innovations will increase someone’s satisfaction from 95% to 100%,” he concluded.