“Now is the time to transition into looking at the opportunity”

Owner of Jones and Co. Styling Opticians, Conor Heaney, shares insight into how his practice is operating in the coronavirus pandemic and how his peers should use this time as an opportunity to grow

JonesandCoStylingOpticians
On March 23, optometrist, Conor Heaney, made the decision to close the doors of his Manchester-based independent practice, ahead of the Government’s evening announcement that the country would be going into lockdown.

Today “essentially, our doors are closed,” Mr Heaney told OT, explaining, “however, we are manning the phone and continuing to communicate with our clients regularly.”

In the early stages of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, Mr Heaney began to monitor the situation and communicate regularly with his team and his clients while the full scale of the pandemic was then still unknown.

“For several weeks before closing, I was speaking regularly to the team about it, as well as the possible outcomes. Generally, we increased our good hygiene measures such as hand washing, anti-bacterial sanitiser for clients and more disinfecting between patients in the testing room,” Mr Heaney shared.

Alongside these precautions, a week prior to the practice closing, Mr Heaney and his staff began contacting clients who were booked in for routine care, particularly those over the age of 70 who were classified as vulnerable to the virus, to postpone appointments.

“Clients were appreciative of us being proactive in the situation and have said how they are pleased with the way we have handled it,” Mr Heaney shared, adding: “The team is very organised and we have a detailed list of all the clients who we need to get in contact with ready and waiting for when we open again.”

Anytime there is a crisis, you need to increase communication and that is what we did

 

Talking regularly with his team as the pandemic unfolded enabled the businessman to reassure them. “It began by being smart and taking precautions. It progressed with openness and regular communication. I was honest in that I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen, if or when we may close and what that would look like,” he said.

“Anytime there is a crisis, you need to increase communication and that is what we did,” he added.

When the time came to close, Mr Heaney said that staff were “nothing but supportive.” He also took the decision prior to the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme being announced to pledge to cover salaries for three months.

Dispensing optician, Gareth, who lives close to the practice and has no dependents, volunteered to continue to work and goes in daily to check the store, and manage the phones and emails. A locum optometrist is providing phone consultations for clients who call regarding any eye-related symptoms they have developed that they are concerned about.

The rest of the team has been furloughed for the time being.

We sent this email so that our clients knew that we were thinking of them and that we care about them and it was very effective

 

Talking to clients

On closing, it was important to Mr Heaney that he found a way to continue to communicate with his clients so that they knew the practice was still there to support them.

Just two days after the doors shut, he sent out the first email, which detailed support about the situation that the nation has found itself in.

“It had the best response rate that we have ever had,” Mr Heaney shared. “From people responding personally to thank us and people saying that they look forward to seeing us again, to people sharing insight into their situation too,” he added.

“We sent this email so that our clients knew that we were thinking of them and that we care about them, and it was very effective,” Mr Heaney explained.

Going forward, Jones and Co. Styling Opticians will send weekly emails to clients, while its Facebook activity will be a little more frequent, Mr Heaney confirmed.

Now is the time to transition into looking at the opportunity that is being presented to do things that you never normally have the time to do that will improve the practice for when the doors open again

 

Communication is king

For the practice owner this communication is of all importance because in order to protect his business, he must protect his patient base and the quality of the relationship that he has with his clients.

“At the minute, a lot of practitioners are talking about protecting their business and there is a bit of confusion about what they are protecting – people think their business is the location, the premises or the name, but all of that can change and a business can survive,” he emphasised. “The real difference is your patient list and the quality of the relationship that you have with those on your list.”

“That is what we are focusing on,” he added.

The communications that the practice sends to its clients over the coming weeks and months will be based on reminding them “that we are here,” Mr Heaney explained.

“We will be telling them that we care about them and that we know what they are going through as we are going through it too,” he added.

While Mr Heaney acknowledges that this is currently a “tough” situation for all practices to find themselves in, he urges practice owners to use this time productively. “Now is the time to transition into looking at the opportunity that is being presented to do things that you never normally have the time to do that will improve the practice for when the doors open again,” Mr Heaney emphasised.

“The number one hurdle that I hear from practice owners normally is that they haven’t got the time. Now they have the time. So why not utilise it and set some goals for the future.”

OT endeavours to keep the most up-to-date news on our website and this information was correct when published. However, the situation regarding COVID-19 is rapidly evolving. Please check OT’s rolling optics-specific coverage for the latest news and guidance on COVID-19.

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