We all know that Optics, much as we love it, is a tricky and long winded subject for somebody with no experience to come into. I can still remember scouring the local paper for jobs just a week after starting my Optics career, as I was completely and utterly overwhelmed with information. I remember thinking “I am never going to get this”. Years later, I became an Optical trainer and I am so glad I stuck with it. Yet to this day I still hear new starters saying those very words!
So how do we ensure that we inspire new starters and train them effectively as great Optical Assistants, without overloading them with information?
Here’s what worked for me:
Start with Meet & Greet.
It’s not always necessary to go straight into the nitty gritty of all things clinical. Think about what a new starter will realistically be doing at this stage, and ABLE to do. The main thing is they are happy, professional and smiling on your shop floor – the rest will come with time.
Not only will a Meet & Greet role help you to assess the learner’s ability to deal with customers, it also helps them to very quickly get used to the types of questions people will ask them on a daily basis, along with helping them to pick up and hear ‘optical jargon’. Give them a notepad to keep at reception – anything they overhear and want to ask you later – they can jot down and come back to.
Key Meet & Greet training:
- How to confidently tell a customer you are new. ‘I’m not 100% sure – I’m in training at the moment but please bear with me and I will fetch a colleague who can answer your question’. Now simply get them to listen to the information the colleague gives the customer. And write it down in that notebook. Next time the question comes up – they already know the answer and will feel more confident.
- Booking appointments – understanding the practice’s software and knowing the correct questions to ask at booking/registration, including basic NHS GOS1/3 info. (At least what each form looks like so they recognise them)
- Product knowledge – Understanding frame and lens prices in a basic format will be incredibly useful – how many times do we hear “how much will a new pair of glasses cost me?”
Keep the new starter working this role for a few months to really build their confidence and familiarity with the role. This also allows them to feel proud as they begin to need less and less help. This is so important. When you (and the learner) feel they are ready for the next stage, discuss moving into a new area.
All things Glasses
By moving onto Frame Styling, the learner will be feeling more confident and this is exactly what’s needed for a successful transition into this role.
Key Frame Styling training:
- Frame features & Benefits – it’s all very well telling a customer a frame suits them or is a great colour – but you want more from your team who will be representing your business and demonstrating its knowledge. So teach them WHY. Why is X frame better than Y? What is a sprung hinge and who would need that feature? Why is this frame more expensive than this one? A knowledgeable team gives the customer so much more confidence and they are far more likely to buy.
- Technical Frame Styling – Understanding the importance of a PD, to recognise a poor fit vs a great fit. Use the B.E.S.T fit acronym. Bridge, Eyes, Sides, Temples. Keeping this in mind on the shop floor will mean they are far more likely to be recommending the right frame for the customer’s needs.
- Learning ‘the numbers’ – Understanding a prescription. What do the numbers mean? How does this affect frame styling? What are the restrictions? No need to go into huge detail at this stage, but a basic understanding is essential.
Dispensing is a whole new world and can often feel daunting but by training the learner in the way we have suggested today, they should now be far more knowledgeable and able to understand this new subject.
Key Dispensing Training
- Fittings & Adjustments – how to correctly fit a frame, using a frame heater, nose pad adjusters, understanding pantoscopic angle and bridge fit.
- Measurements – how to take a PD and measure heights
- Dispensing software – This can be a lot to learn in itself – so if a new starter is trying to take on board all this new optical knowledge PLUS a computer system, do you think they’ll be focusing on the customer at this point? Another reason why saving dispensing until the later stages is a good idea. Using their knowledge from the past few months or so, your learner should now feel comfortable talking to the customer, making light conversation as a way to distract from the fact they may be a little slow. There is nothing worse than a new dispenser looking like a rabbit caught in headlights – how will this make the customer feel? Ensure they really are ready to be sitting in that dispensing chair…
- Get them to dispense themselves or a colleague
- Basic anatomy – It can often be at dispense that a customer will confide in you that they didn’t quite understand what the Optician advised, or they’ll ask you to explain the difference in their new prescription. They often feel more comfortable asking the dispenser these questions rather than in the test room! So a knowledge of prescription changes and their causes is beneficial.
Further Dispensing & Clinical Training
Lastly, at this stage your learner should be ready to learn about other aspects of Optics such as contact lenses, multifocal lenses and common Ocular Conditions.
All of the above will be different for every practice but can be adapted to both you and the learner. This is simply what I have found works in my experience.
Remember that the time and effort you put into training a new Optical Assistant will be so very worthwhile. Building your team and inspiring them to be the best they can be is so rewarding and will keep your customers coming back every time.
By Kerry Poole
My name is Kerry Poole and I worked in a busy optical practice for 10 years where I was responsible for training new OAs. I now reduce re-offending by helping prisoners secure meaningful employment in the Optics industry.
We have all the training materials needed by optical advisors and we’ll happily share it with you. Click here to see our Ocular Anatomy presentation. So if there is anything else you want to aid your training then just drop us an email email@example.com