Customer care

Instructional designer at Specsavers, Charlotte Richfield, shares insight into the development of online training modules to help staff better meet the needs of patients with facial disfigurement

Specsavers staff

Why did Specsavers decide to create staff training about facial disfigurement?

Our co-founder, Dame Mary Perkins, is a patron of Changing Faces and it had become apparent that our staff needed a little bit more training on how to deal with customers with an unusual appearance.

We got in touch with Changing Faces quite early on in the process and the charity had so much incredible information that we could utilise. My job was to filter that down into something that would be useful and tangible for our learners.

Changing Faces was able to share some incredible, moving stories with us to really bring to life how people with facial disfigurements feel when they are out and about; even doing everyday things that many of us take for granted.

The basis of the training, which was launched at the end of 2016, is based around managing your reaction when faced with someone with a disfigurement and treating them like you would treat any other customer.

Really simple things like making eye contact and smiling can really make a big difference to them – it is advice like this that was really important to get across in our training.

How did you develop the modules?

During our initial conversations with Changing Faces, it was clear that they had already thought about the type of training that is needed for all sorts of industries, and therefore had a lot of insight.

I worked closely with the charity to narrow down exactly what our learners at Specsavers would need. I also spoke to some of our customers about their experiences, generally, and how they felt interactions could be improved.

Using this information, I wrote all of the instructional design for the training modules, which were approved by Changing Faces, and then developed into online modules by our digital de-sign team.

What do the training modules involve? 

We created three online training modules, which, on launch, we asked all staff to complete as part of Specsavers’ Career Development Pathway. They are 10–15 minutes long, so it takes under an hour to do all three. 

The modules intentionally do not go into the medical side of conditions because our objective was to produce something bite-sized for the entire team.

The first module aims to provide staff with an introduction to disfigurement and people with an unusual appearance. The second is based on overcoming surprise because, naturally, when you are faced with something that you haven’t seen before, you are surprised. This module explores managing that reaction and treating that person with the obvious respect and courtesy that you would any other customer. The third and final module covers appropriate language and what staff can say and do to make a person feel more comfortable.

At the end of the modules, staff complete a short assessment. We also ask them to complete a short survey which we can use to evaluate the content of the modules going forward.

"We have a huge variety of patients and customers and people from all walks of life and different needs…We strive to make sure that whoever it is walking into our stores is going to have the best possible experience"

Were there any key take home messages from the initial evaluation? 

For the most part, staff genuinely felt that they would treat someone the same as they would any other customer. 

Prior to staff taking part in the training, we asked them how comfortable they would feel serving someone with an unusual appearance. Before the training, 14% said they would feel moderately uncomfortable, 41% said they would feel comfortable, 30% said they would feel very comfortable and 14% said they had never been in the situation before.

We asked everyone the same question after the training and found that there was a really positive improvement, with 25% saying they would feel comfortable and 73% saying they would feel very comfortable. 

Through these statistics, it was obvious that the training had made a difference to how staff would deal with a situation like this.

Why is it important for Specsavers to train staff in this way? 

We have a huge variety of patients and customers and people from all walks of life that have different needs. We have done a lot of work with Dementia Friends, as well as around autism, and this is another element as we strive to make sure that whoever it is walking into our stores is going to have the best possible experience.

What are the next steps for the training module? 

We will return to it and update it as and when necessary – we revisited it just last summer.

Changing Faces was so pleased with the outcome that it wanted people outside of optics to be able to take part in the training. As a result, we have since worked with the charity really closely, taking out things that were very specifically optics, and it is now available on its website so that anybody, in any industry, can take part in this training and help their staff to advance. We are really proud that our pioneering work allowed that.