Updated: Mar 29, 2019
Brace yourself. I’m about to tell you something you might not be ready to hear. People don’t care about working with an Optician anymore. It’s true. With online ordering growing in popularity, the desire (or sense of need) to work with an Optician has never been lower. But have no fear, don’t lose hope, there is still a real need for good opticians. We are not obsolete, we just need to change the perception that others have of us and most importantly, the way we perceive ourselves. In order to do this we need to understand how we are viewed by the general public.
This is how the average consumer would answer this question: How would you define the role of an Optician?
“A who?” (Yes, most people don’t know about your certification or job title)
Takes some measurements
Tells me what looks good
Takes my contact lens order
Adjusts my frames so they don’t fall off my face
Changes the little nose thingies every now and then (nose thingies = nose pads)
Collects my payment
This may not be an exhaustive list of answers but I think it’s pretty accurate and it’s not the patient’s fault that they don’t know how much more an optician does. Truth be told, when I read job postings for opticians this list is usually in the job description. It goes to show that office managers, doctors and even opticians themselves have a poor understanding of the role an optician plays in the success of an optical department or shop.
An optician shouldn’t be reduced to a general salesperson much like a sommelier in a fine restaurant shouldn’t be held in the same category as the drive-thru order taker at your local fast food burger place. (I mean no offense. I love In-N-Out) Let me explain. A sommelier is a wine expert that works along with the culinary team to pair and suggest wines that will best complement each particular food menu item. This requires a deep knowledge of how food and wine work in harmony.
A sommelier also works on the floor of the restaurant and is in direct contact with restaurant patrons. They have a responsibility to work within the taste preference and budget of the patron. See where I’m going with this? A wine connoisseur and a sommelier are not the same thing and neither are opticians and salespeople.
A sommelier is more than a wine expert. They start by understanding the person, then they move to the dish and with that they can recommend a harmonious wine.
A professional optician strives to have a greater understanding of how a product will work with a person on an individual level. We need to think about the lifestyle, personality, age, Rx needs, budget, environment and previous eyewear experiences. We must help people with a subjective philosophy and not objective. Two people can have the same prescription, the same head size, the same bridge type and even be the same age but that doesn’t guarantee that both will be happy with the same products.
For the past twelve years I’ve been working at an ophthalmology practice in San Mateo, CA and there is a very diverse patient base. The culture, age and corrective visual needs are different and each one presents a unique challenge. On any given day I could be helping a 6mo old with a +23 Rx in the morning and a 100 year old with macular degeneration in the afternoon. This diversity forced me to change the way I approach ophthalmic dispensing because no two visual needs are ever the same. Each person has their own unique needs and an eyewear sommelier always takes this into account.
The landscape of the eyewear industry is changing rapidly. Prescription eyeglasses are conveniently sold online at prices that are astonishingly low. Refractions are the next target. Soon it will be common practice to have a refraction done in 10 minutes by a salesperson with a modified iPhone. No OD needed. This is going to occur in the not so distant future and no, it’s not the end of the optical industry. It is the evolution of our industry and it's going to happen whether you like it or not.
Professional opticians that combine knowledge, skillful communication and an attractive personality are rare.
So rare that they will only be found in professional establishments that understand the importance of their optician being more than a salesperson. There will also be a resurgence of independent optical shops. Especially once refractions are conducted with a mobile device. Those opticians will not be salespeople, they will be eyewear sommeliers.
You can’t go to school for this anymore. To the best of my knowledge there are no schools in California that offer Ophthalmic Dispensing courses. That means that a certified optician acquired the necessary knowledge by being self-motivated and determined. Taking online courses or accepting opportunities with on the job training.
Combine that with experience and appreciation for customer service and you get the evolution of the optician. You’ll see their name on a business’s online review more than the doctor whose name is on the door. Patients will travel miles and miles to seek their knowledge and service. No one would do that for a typical salesperson. I wouldn’t. Would you?
So to my fellow opticians I say don’t lose hope. Many things will change around you but if you believe in what you’re doing good things will come your way.