Thursday 26 June 2014

Aren't all opticians the same?

In the last six months I've been to the opticians more times than I have in the rest of my forty years. I've been to three different opticians and experienced a whole range of styles of service and commitment and do you know what my answer is to that question?  Are all opticians the same?  It is a resounding no.

Yes, they all conduct eye tests, check eye health and offer glasses and contact lenses but each one is very different and to be frank I'd say they are only as good as the staff they employ. I'll take you through my journey over the last few months and you can see which opticians I'm choosing to use in the future and why.

The Back Story
For the last couple of years my little Miss E (aged 6 years) has been struggling with her reading and we were worried about a diagnosis of dyslexia, so a friend recommended that I take her for an eye test and rule out any sight difficulties. On impulse I booked an appointment for her at the Boots Opticians in Hastings as I knew my Mum advocated Boots as the best for sight tests. A week later we were back for her sight test and she was incredibly nervous but there was no need as each of the staff members made her feel at ease and explained what they were doing. The optician got her involved with the tests and talked her though the results, showing her the x-rays.

Over the next couple of weeks we were back at Boots Opticians two more time, first for her to have a further test with dye to dilate her pupils and then for her glasses to be fitted and taken home. By the time we left with the glasses Miss E treated the staff as if they were her friends and her siblings were jealous that Miss E was special and had glasses and a place she went to on her own.

Knowing I needed to get my other twos eyes tested as well, I wanted to book them into Boots Opticians but as the store is about 10 miles from us I decided to go for a test at a local opticians to make it more convenient so we could go after school. The local store looked very nice and was easy to book with but they did not perform any of the the tests with machines that Boots did, the kids just headed straight in to see the Optometrist (well I say straight, there was quite a wait actually). I accompanied Miss M as she is the younger of the two of them and whilst there was nothing wrong with the test that was performed I found the Optom's manner to be very brisk and not at all child friendly.

About half way through I had to go into the other room as the other Optom had found that JJ did have quite a prescription need and we had to talk it through.  The man Optom seemed much nicer and JJ was very happy with him. We then met a nice lady who helped JJ choose glasses. There really was nothing wrong with the service in the local shop, it was professional and courteous but it just seemed less than what we had received in Boots.

With all the children now having their sight checked I felt it was probably time that I got mine looked at too. A free sight test voucher on the back of a parking ticket meant that I headed off to Specsavers in Bexhill for my sight test. On entering the store it was super busy and felt quite claustrophobic, I was put in a corner for a couple of tests with an assistant and then I went upstairs with the Optom for my test.  He had a very thick accent and I found it quite hard to understand what he was saying. I walked downstairs with a prescription for glasses and the Optom saying that whilst I didn't really need glasses at the moment, taking them now and wearing them would help me in the longer term.

I declined to look at frames that day and I walked out a bit dazed.  You know when something just does not feel right and you want a second opinion? That was exactly how I was. I said to my Mum I would book a sight test at the Hastings Boots Opticians as Miss E had been so happy there. Looking online you can print off a voucher to have a sight test for £10 (normal price £25) and this includes digital retinal photography, which is the part that no other optician we visited did.

Boots Opticians Service Review
By chance Boots Opticians then got in contact with me a couple of weeks ago and asked me if I'd like to work with them as a sponsor for BritMums Live. I nearly bit off their hand and explained about my rushed and rubbish test at Specsavers and that I wanted to go back to Boots Opticians for a test, so they organised this for me. Let me be clear that this test and my frames being complimentary have not coloured my opinion of Boots Opticians at all as I already had the independent experience as a customer with Miss E a couple of months before.

So a couple of weeks ago I arrived for my sight test in Hastings and I was greeted by Kerry, one of the Optical Assistants, she is probably one of the best customer service assistants I have ever encountered in any kind of business. She took me through a health questionnaire and then each of the tests that she would perform with me - Tonometer to check the pressure at the back of my eyes, auto-refractor to give the Optom an idea of any prescription need I have, digital retinol camera to take photos of my eyes and a machine to test my field of vision. Each was explained to me and my comfort was checked as well as the machined being sanitised between use.

After these tests I was handed over to the Optometrist Salma and a full debrief happened in front of me between the two ladies. Salma had a lovely manner and she explained everything she was doing, after the checks to look at the health of my eyes she explained that I had blocked glands and this was causing my eyes to be dry. She used a special yellow dye to look at my cornea more closely and found I had some scratching due to the dryness. I was advised to use eye drops each day and also to bath my eyes with boiled water on cotton pads. Salma reassured me these glands should clear within a couple of weeks and told me my eye health was really good.

I then did the traditional eye tests reading the different letters and looking through various lens to see which helped me to see clearer. At the end of the test Salma explained to me that I have good eye sight in general, my left eye is weaker and has a prescription need but when my eyes work together I have 20:20 vision. She said that as I did not have any symptoms of problems such as headaches, blurring or flashing lights she was very happy for me to not have glasses. We then discussed that I needed new sunglasses and I would have prescription lenses put in those to start me getting used to having a prescription lens.

Salma then explained that my pressure test had come up at the high end of the normal range and they would like to test me again to double check this. I had another test that same day and sadly the same high reading, so when I went back today I also had a test and it had reduced slightly but Salma was not in today so she will call and update me next week. I'm very pleased Boots Opticians are taking this seriously though and keeping an eye on me.

On the day of my original test I was handed over to another Optical Assistant Hayley and she spent lots of time with me explaining about the frames I could choose, what different lenses there are available and also how all Boots glasses come with UV protection as standard now. She was extremely patient and happy to help me try on lots of different types of frames, in fact she told me this was her favourite part of the job. I did not feel any pressure to buy any particular frames and although Hayley explained to me about the upgrades I could choose from in regards to lens again there was no pressure to buy and I felt happy that the pricing structure was clear and fair.

Today I went back and picked up my lens and met with Paulina and although I met with four different staff on my visits to Boots Opticians this did not feel a problem to me as each was as professional as the last and they all had a friendly manner and big smile. Today Paulina adjusted my frames to ensure a perfect fit and she explained me to me about the benefits of my Boots Protect Plus Lens.

I left the store today with the message that I should come back if I needed help with anything, nothing was too much trouble.

Personally I won't be going to any other opticians in the future, Boots have established themselves as the best from the three I tried. It is clear that they are a health led retailer first and foremost, their approach was holistic and about my well-being not about making money.

I'll be honest the Boots Optician I visited was situated in the back of a big Boots store in a shopping centre and it was not particularly modern or flashy in its design but this did nt mater at all as the care and service are far more important to me. Thanks you Boots Opticians Hastings, you have excelled yourself.

In the end I decided to really treat myself and go for a pair of Ray Bans, so here I am today enjoying them.

Disclosure: Boots Opticians sponsored me for BritMums Live and they covered the cost of my sight test and glasses.  At the time of my sight test the staff at Hastings did not know I was reviewing their service but I did tell them once it was complete. They have not instructed me what to write and I remain honest.

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