Excellence in sight

Hogan, director of professional services at Dollond & Aitchison talks about
the new graduate optometrist programme, which focuses on behavioural training

Designed and delivered by:
Interaction Development & Learning Consultancy
The Old Chapel, Fairview Drive, Redland, Bristol, BS6 6PH
Phone: 0117-924 8030
E-mail: interaction@othergroup.co.uk
Weblink: www.othergroup.co.uk/interaction

On Test: In an increasingly crowded marketplace, Eye specialist
Dollond & Aitchison defines itself by its service – and its objective is to
develop a new generation of optometrists who are clinically professional and
understand what is meant by ‘exceptional patient care’.

Each year we recruit around 40 graduate optometrists from university. Their
level of clinical knowledge is extremely high, but communication skills are not
formally taught at all universities, and graduates’ workplace experience is
usually limited.

Although we had an induction programme in place, the emphasis was
traditionally on the clinical side of their role. We needed to balance this
with a greater awareness of the needs of patients and customers. We wanted to
redirect the programme to get both the clinical and customer care messages
across from the outset. We also wanted to instil knowledge and understanding
about the business, its culture and position in the market.

The induction process needed to address graduates’ awareness of the customer
journey behind the process of providing eyecare and eyewear. Optometrists do
not sell directly to patients – they conduct clinical eye examinations,
diagnose patients’ needs and offer unbiased professional advice. They will
always involve the patient in selecting the treatment.

Patients are then handed over to dispensing opticians or trained optical
assistants in the branch, who help them choose appropriate eyewear.

The role of an optometrist is crucial. If a patient leaves the eye
examination feeling good about the care, attention and information they have
just received, they are far more likely to purchase eyewear in the branch and
become a customer.

The Interaction training consultancy was recommended by one of D&A’s
clients. Interaction’s experiential learning approach fitted perfectly with
what we wanted to do and I was impressed with the quality of ideas, the energy
and total commitment with which the company put the programme together.

A graduate’s experience
By trainee Sam Gill

I started as a graduate optometrist in August 2001 having completed a
three-year university course.

The induction programme provided a great opportunity to network. I was able
to gain an insight into the qualities and experiences of my new colleagues from
the tasks we were asked to do.

The week also included fun and challenging activities, which were structured
in ways to generate an understanding of ‘incredible’ customer service and to
gain a clearer insight into the company’s aims as a business. I came away
feeling I had got to grips with how important it is to do whatever I can to
exceed customer expectations and to encourage customers to give feedback.

It is essential for optometrists to ask relevant questions and gain accurate
information efficiently to deliver quality eye examinations. With this in mind,
the interviewing process proved valuable.

Being able to interview members of the management team from the company was
a great way to develop this skill, and a good way to meet colleagues and learn
of their roles at D&A.

Throughout the programme, emphasis was on improving our interpersonal
skills, such as communication and self-expression, as well as time management
and commitment to teamwork.

I was able to gain plenty of positive criticism during eye-examination
role-plays. This improved my communication skills and taught me ways to give
summaries of patient eye health in a manner they can understand.

Overall, I found the programme helped me start the year with a greater
degree of confidence and self-belief.

Impact of the programme
By clinical development manager Dr Kamlesh Chauhan

The optometry undergraduate course is a busy one, with much time devoted to
important academic and clinical training. Unfortunately, due to time
constraints during the university training, graduates often leave with
adequate, but not substantial, ‘hands-on’ patient interaction.

With so much academic and technical ability, it is imperative that we
provide an environment for the graduates to put this know-how into practice. A
large part of this is done almost by the ‘seat of their pants’, when they start
working and dealing with the public. This has some disadvantages:

– Graduates might spend a great deal of time trying to do this on their own
and may never feel comfortable with dealing with the public

– There may be a lack of awareness about the science of communication and,
consequently, individuals might not realise their potential

– Graduates might devote so much time in making up for this lack of
experience that their technical training is jeopardised.

To have a programme that develops our graduates’ patient interaction skills
prior to them dealing with the public is invaluable. Although formal evaluation
is not completed, the graduates’ supervisors and managers commented on how much
more confident and natural they now are when dealing with patients.


As is typical in these situations, we knew what we wanted but were too close
to visualise how to achieve it. Interaction was able to combine its experience
of graduate induction and its research into the optics business to ensure we
quickly established an effective working partnership rather than merely a
client/supplier relationship.

We were able to establish the anticipated costs of providing an effective
and innovative induction that would balance the graduates’ clinical and
commercial needs. Interaction delivered all that was agreed, on time and within
budget. You can’t ask for more than that.

While we are only half way through the graduate optometrist year and are
still collating some of the ‘harder’ data, the feedback from both the graduates
and their branch colleagues has been positive and we intend to repeat the
process this year.

Putting the programme together

It was clear to us that D&A
wanted to provide their new optometrists with commercial insights, yet
something different from traditional retail or customer sales training.

Our approach to programme design needed to reflect the emphasis
on patient are and treatment with a focus on professional service that is
integral to D&A’s position in the market.

We spent a lot of time with Rob [Hogan] and D&A clinical
development manager Dr Kamlesh Chauhan discussing the clinical importance of
good patient care. Our meetings with D&A HR director John Mumford focused
on its commercial importance. From these discussions and our research, we
isolated the common behaviours. These were identified as:

– Listening

– Paying individual attention to patients/customers

– Establishing trust and rapport

– Explaining things (especially medical terms) clearly and

Having established the behavioural messages, we designed a
three-day series of sessions, each lasting half a day. These sessions were
called ‘Hit The Streets’ and the graduates did just that. We took groups out
into Birmingham city centre to experience customer and patient care first-hand
via a variety of interactive tasks.

These included stopping spectacle-wearing members of the public
and asking what was important to them when they visited an optometrist. We also
asked graduates to return goods that had been previously purchased from
different stores, to experience customer service in ‘recovery’ situations.

We designed role-play scenarios to support the clinical
training programme. Professional actors took on the role of patients and gave
feedback, along with the facilitator, on each graduate’s ‘chairside manner’.
‘Jargon Busting’ addressed the need for the new optometrists to explain
themselves clearly and graduates were asked to explain complicated medical eye
conditions (such as hypermetropia and macular dystrophy) in understandable

We provided insight into the business imperative of excellent
patient care by asking each team to resolve a live customer complaint over the
telephone. This gave graduates the invaluable opportunity to experience things
going wrong.

By Interaction’s Andy Cole

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