Lab Operations :September/October 2008
REMOTE ORDERING ALL GROWN UP
Labs and lab management software providers have been promoting the virtues of remote ordering and remote tracings for many years. At first it was a challenge to overcome the technical difficulties in electronically moving a remote order from an ECP across the Internet to the lab’s management software.
Secondly it was a huge marketing effort by the labs to persuade ECP’s to use the technology and take advantage of its speed, accuracy and seamless integration. Today remote ordering in North America has become primarily a customer service issue. The technology works. ECP’s know it exists. Many ECP’s have been set up to use remote ordering. However less than 50 percent of ECP’s who have tried it, still continue to use it. Of those ECP’s still using it, less than half use the service on a daily basis. As frightening as those statistics seem, consider that retail chains with central labs implement remote ordering, insist that all retail employees learn to use it and as a consequence have one order entry employee in the lab that can easily process 1,000 orders a day. Whereas wholesale labs who service the independent ECP have the burden of having to convince the ECP that they should continue to exclusively use their lab and preferably use remote ordering. They do not have the authority to “make” them use it.
There are two personalities for the typical lab. There are wholesale labs which have a small select group of loyal customers, concentrate on customer service and rarely lose their long term relationships. Alternately other labs rely on pricing, lens selection and delivery options to rapidly sign-up new customers on a weekly basis and tend to lose customers just as easily. The continued success of remote ordering is dependent on the long term relationship between the lab and the ECP. Interestingly, remote ordering should be employed as a successful tool for customer retention by both types of wholesaler.
Surprisingly many labs still believe they can re-invent the wheel and create their own online remote ordering software in order to save transaction costs. Without built-in lens catalogues, strict data entry checks, seamless integration with their lab management software, these Web sites are often just glorified fax machines that do nothing to streamline the flow of data or cement the bond between the ECP and the lab.
Today, mature software versions of remote ordering do far more than just transfer an order. They can interface with any OMA compliant tracer or apply a customized standard OMA shape to uncut jobs. New online features allow automatic software updates as well as maintaining up-to-date lens databases. Order history options allow jobs to be seamlessly retransmitted as redo’s with a redo reason, copy, paste and edit old orders into new jobs, and mix and match tracings from manually entered jobs to new electronically submitted orders.
The speed, simplicity and accuracy of remote orders continue to impress first users. Labs receiving a verified, accurate remote order do not even have to assign a tray number. Lab management software can be preconfigured to separate incoming orders between materials; coatings; outsourced and out of range jobs so that only orders that can be processed immediately are assigned real trays. Some labs continue to advertise that remote orders received by 2:00 PM can be shipped the same day.
However speed and simplicity is not for everyone. ECP’s have complained that remote ordering works too fast. One office cancelled the service when it realized that the lab could receive, produce and ship a job quicker than the office manager could review each order to verify the frame, lens and coating selected. Labs complain that the software has too many defaults designed to simplify the speed of data entry. If ECP’s are not required to make conscious decisions the data entry may be fast and simple but if it’s inaccurate, guess who gets blamed?
Like most things in the lab business, the real secret to the success or failure of remote ordering is customer service. Successful labs using remote ordering have really good customer service reps. Most are fully trained to install and support any problem that arises. It does no good to set up every ECP with remote ordering software unless training is included and more importantly, includes continuous follow ups. Thriving labs know exactly how many remote orders are received daily from each ECP. Issues can be resolved if dealt with quickly and efficiency. Tracers can cause problems with sizing if not calibrated regularly. New lens selections and new coatings require proper marketing and introductions. Tracers do not last forever. They have a lot of moving parts. They need to be regularly serviced, repaired and replaced. ECP’s with practice management software prefer not to double data entry every order. Options to interface between the lab’s management software and the ECP’s practice management system are readily available either directly or via Vision Web, Eyefinity or other Web portals.
Marketing efforts should be a lifetime commitment by each lab to promote remote ordering. Whether it is the technology, the speed, accuracy and simplicity, price discounts, credits and fewer lost patient own frame sales, remote ordering has a place in everyone’s practice.
The use of remote ordering is just another helpful tool. If used in combination with other customer service tools such as online job checking; electronic messaging by e-mail or fax to improve communications; and automatic acknowledgments when remote orders are received, all serve to keep the customer informed and happy. Remember it is easy to blame the tools when expectations are not met. It is the customer’s varying expectations that need to be satisfied. Remote ordering works. It just needs the attention and care required by every other aspect of managing a successful lab.
Written by Steve Dombey, International Sales Manager of CC Systems. Since 1984, CC Systems is a leading provider of integrated optical lab management software solutions for wholesale surfacing, edging and coating labs. Since 2001, CC Systems have seamlessly processed several million remote lab orders via the Internet.