Breaking Down The Walls

Breaking Down The Walls

By: Shelly Kramer
December 30, 2010

Wrecking Ball Breaking Down Wall

I stopped at a local eyeglass shop this afternoon to begin the arduous process of shopping for new specs. There was really no time for this indulgence in an already busy day packed with wall-to-wall meetings, but I felt like stopping, so I did.

This was a relatively new neighborhood store and one I’d not visited before. The young man in charge was waiting on another couple and they were clearly fully engaged in the shopping process. (Translation: They were going to be awhile).

I started browsing the glass cases and found a few things that caught my eye. After a few minutes of browsing, from across the room the manager asked if I was in the looking for new glasses. I smiled and nodded. But I said “I don’t have a ton of time, so I’ll just look and come back another time – I can see you’re busy.” To my surprise he said, “Make yourself at home. You can look at anything you like. Just step behind the counter and try on whatever you like. And if you need me, let me know.”

Color me shocked. In all my years of shopping for glasses, I’ve always found myself at the mercy of salespeople. It’s just the way it is. If you happen into a store at the wrong time, you’re in for a long wait just to get a chance to try something on, because the staff are waiting on other customers. And we won’t even discuss all the helpful folks who want to draw out the process by forcing you to try on things that you know you’ll hate. But you do it to just to appease them. To further compound things, in many upscale stores glasses are often kept in glass display cases, requiring the assistance of a salesperson just to try them on. All in all, it’s a pain in the neck shopping for glasses, especially for a time-starved person like me — and that’s why I keep putting it off.

This little gift? This was like getting the secret passcode to the cookie jar.

So you know what I did? I dove right in. I forgot my time constraints and indulged myself by trying on more glasses than I normally would and, in the process, found several that I really liked. And you know what happened when the couple the manager was waiting on left? Well, he saw that I was doing just fine on my own and let me be.

Here’s the thing. For a customer like me, a purchase of a new pair of glasses is easily worth about $1,500 to an eyeglass shop. And if I manage to find more than one pair I like, I’ll buy them both, so you can double that number. Before you think me a spendthrift, I have horrible eyes, I buy amazing frames and even more amazing lenses because my eyes are worth it. I may skimp on some things, but never, ever on glasses. I wear them every day of my life, so, for me, this is an investment well worth making.

I’m the customer an eyeglass shop wants to have. But the manager didn’t know that. And what he did was so simple, but something that doesn’t occur to so many. He let down the walls. Instead of keeping me at arm’s length, in front of the case, biding my time and waiting for it to be convenient to him to help me make a purchase, he just opened the door. He gave me the keys. He put me in charge. He got out of the way.

He made my user experience so amazing that I not only stayed longer than I imagined I would, I’ll probably go back and buy the $1,500 pair of glasses that I liked. And, even better than that, I came home and wrote a blog post about it.

What about you? What kind of user experience do you offer your customers and prospects? And don’t get hung up thinking it matters whether your business is a brick and mortar location or an online one – it doesn’t. Do you build walls to keep customers at bay, always making them jump through your hoops and adhere to what’s convenient for you? Or do you consistently look for ways to break down the walls and allow them to create experiences that work for them? It can be as easy as designing your website with your users’ experience in mind – or doing what Joe did, and inviting me to step behind the counter and help myself.

You might be surprised by what could happen if you considered breaking down a wall or two. You might even sell more stuff to more people. Imagine that.

And, for the record, the eyeglass shop was Brookside Optical, located in Prairie Village, Kansas. The manager’s name was Joe and, he doesn’t know it yet, but I’ll be back. I’ll definitely be back.

Oh, and Brookside Optical, if you’re reading this, your website stinks. I can fix that for you.

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  • I will have to send Dan over there, and I’ll check it out next time, too—I’ve been going to Fairway Eye Center right by our house, but always happy to look into new places that friends have already scoped out. Can’t wait to see your new frames!


  • Anonymous

    They used to be in Brookside – for years, then moved out South. Nice store, nice people. Expensive (more than FEC), but if fancy frames are your gig, you’ll like. It was a nice experience, made even more so by my long time experience with you-know-who. :))

  • If you wear bifocals they can now grind the bifocal on one side of the lens and your prescription on the other – that removes the distortion where the bifocal starts. I get this shop can have that done.

    My eyes are about 8.5/9.5 along with an astigmatism that almost requires a prism lens, and now I’m getting far sighted too as I age gracelessly. 🙂

    And LOL did you email the shop to offer your services? Have fun! – Bob

  • You got me thinking Shelly: thank you! xo

  • Anonymous

    Excellent! I like thinking, Sophie. Happy New Year, sweets!

  • Ju Ju Burd

    I, like you, spend too much moola on frames but to me they are accessories. I love the 3, three, tres or treinta frames I have at the current time. I’m due for a new exam which means new frames. Oh lucky me!

    I love Beausoleil & Betsy Johnson frames. I had a eye glasses boutique where I used to live. Now that I’m in Charlotte that means I get to peruse many shops & hopefully be lucky enuf to get the kind of customer service you did!

    Any Frame suggestions?

  • Anonymous

    Bob, I don’t have any distortion because I pay a fortune for really good lenses and I’m sure they know all the tricks. These old eyes are worth it, as I know you agree.

    And I would have offered my services but for the fact that there was no contact form on their sad, sad website. And I think it graded out using my web grading tools at about a 47/100 effectiveness – imagine what they could do with a decent website?

    Happy New Year to you, friend. I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to connect this year. I’m headed to the Berkeley area in the spring, then up to Napa – I can’t remember where exactly you are but hopefully we can see one another then!

  • Alex

    Great example! (I had no idea you spent so much on your specs…but as my eyes continue their slow decline I get it. I truly get it.) I’ll be visiting Brookside Optical in the future.

  • This is a great story Shelly! I think some cities are different. Trust is way low in NYC and LA because of theft. I live in a place outside the NY State Capital where people leave their homes unlocked and I have seen $40k cars left idling in parking lots while the owner ran inside to get something! Or maybe since it is rural guns are deterrents? lol

    My take is trust first and even if occasionally you get burned maybe added sales more than make up for it. Also never judge a book by its cover. Assume everyone has money to spend because you just never know who has resources these days.

    I was a linchpin way before Seth Godin even conceived the notion. I made myself a go to person for customers (In B2B sales) even doing things that made me no money. This always gave me first shot at a sale. Or they knew I would find them something I did not sell just to help them out.

    On the gun note did you notice any sniper sites trained on you just in case? 😉

  • Anonymous

    I knew someone would bring up the trust issue – and of course, that always factors in, Howie. We live in an urban area and people actually steal things from time to time. And we lock our doors and all that jazz. Oh, and I do leave my car running, but try and remember to lock it, otherwise my husband gripes at me. Just because it’s the Midwest, dude, don’t think we’re not cos*MO*politan.

    I think that in this instance it was a matter of the manager making a judgment and taking a chance on me. Which is what many of us do on a daily basis. Bottom line, I could’ve probably swiped a pair of glasses pretty easily – which would have been caught on the security cameras, no doubt.

    But in spite of the risk, the manager took a chance on me. And, as a result, got a new customer. Sometimes the risk is worth it.

    And yes, of course you are a linchpin. We are born, not made . And linchpins aren’t afraid of risk.

  • Anonymous

    Of course you get it, you vain metrosexual, you. They’re awesome. You’ll see.

  • Anonymous

    Well hello stranger!! So nice to see your smile.

    Envious that you’re in Charlotte … what a pretty part of the U.S. Hope all is well and you need to email and tell me all that’s up with you!!!

  • I wish to elaborate Shelly on something because I know you take a lot of pride in KC and rightly so. It is a real city not some wayward mid-western rural town. But I do not know what part of KC you live in. So I did not want to assume you were in the thick of it. People in the State Capitol here do not leave the doors unlocked or their cars idling in parking lots. In fact while we have no trader joes or a whole foods market the murder rate is equal to Los Angeles.

    But I am living outside the city. Where it is rural. So its much different. I also know all big cities have different levels of trust factors and friendliness factors. When I lived in Greensboro, NC finishing college it was the most friendliest place on earth….to your face. Behind closed doors it was often a pit of hate and racism that appalled me. So since I do not know KC aside from driving through I did not wish to assume anything about the town other than its one of the bigger cities in the US. The only thing I could assume is if they had $1500 glasses frames it was in a fairly nice and civil part of town!

    Happy New Year!

  • Anonymous

    Nicely done Shelly – I have always found it amazing how quickly a customer service professional can turn a situation from a negative / inconvenience into a memorable, positive experience in less than 10 seconds. Make sure to let us know
    1) What specs you buy;
    2) If you fix their site; and,
    3) If you share this directly with them – and what their response is!

    P.S. – I actually got replacement frames yesterday – love investing in good ones. Huge difference.

  • OMG! “Your website sucks” made me LOL!! Love this story of the customer experience – thanks for sharing it!

  • Karen Rocks

    As a marcom gal and the wife of an optometrist, I really enjoyed your post. Theft of frames is very common, especially when stores carry high end frames. Our office doesn’t have locked cases as we try to make you feel at home as well. That practice does have its drawbacks at times, but makes up for it in differenciating ourselves in the field and positive customer service. Super post and Happy New Year!

  • What a perceptive manager — I hate stores where they hang all over you; on the other hand, I hate when I do need help and can’t find anyone to help me. Great example of what customer service is about. (And I hope you get to help them with their website — maybe in exchange for some glasses.)

  • Anonymous

    I totally get it, Karen. I know someone well who owns several upscale eyeglass shops and theft has been an issue. That’s why I was doubly surprised that Joe took a chance on me. But taking chances, as you know, sometimes pays off :))

    Thanks for the kind words and for stopping by … always nice to see a new face!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks, Gini. Their site does suck. And that’s what my next post is going to be about! Happy New Year, missy. You’ve definitely been a highlight of my last year – and I look forward to finally meeting you in the coming months. It’s only right!!

  • Anonymous

    Thank you! Like you, I’m regularly amazed by all that can be accomplished in those 10 seconds, too! And the post has been shared with them – by a number of friends – by posting on their Facebook wall. We’ll keep you posted on the rest.

    P.S. I cut corners elsewhere – cheap eyeglasses, for me, just aren’t an option :)) Clearly, you agree.

    P.S.S. Thanks for coming by!

  • Anonymous

    Happy New Year to you, too, Howie!!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Nancy … I’m with you on the customer service issue. Not enough can be just as frustrating, if not more so, than too much! And of course I’ll keep you posted :)) Happy New Year!

  • Great thoughts 🙂

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  • The young man in charge was waiting on another couple

  • Anonymous

    And that means?????

  • I’m behind – but this was awesome… I LOL’d on the website sucks.. 🙂 Can’t wait to catch up and see if you got those glasses and if the guy knows you appreciated him.. 🙂 (oh and if you posted a pic of said new glasses…)

  • Anonymous

    Actually, Shelly, I’ve got another blog post to write about that … stay tuned! Glad you enjoyed, though.