Listen instead of reading
For a change of pace, I thought I'd scroll through our call log today and highlight some conversations to give you a flavor of life on a random Tuesday at the Dry Eye Shop. Maybe even a few other snippets of the day.
Stream of consciousness here, and random scrolling through the day!
Just another busy day
It looks like between Chaidie and me, we had 49 conversations, which, honestly, is a lot for us in one day. This is not a call center... this is a really different kind of place... and 40 is a BUSY day here. Some calls will be 5 minutes, some 15, some 45. Some involve simple mechanical tasks, some involve technical knowledge, some are way, way, way into other territory altogether. All of them involve careful listening.
I get in a bit after 6, and my first concern is trying to call back all the people we missed yesterday. Monday really was chaotic, and in the middle of it I had to run catch a ferry to Seattle for my SBA Emerging Leaders class, so I switched our phone to a voice message that said something like: "Monday madness... so sorry... if you call today, we promise to call you back by tomorrow lunchtime... please text if it's an emergency!" And, oh boy, I thought the weekend was busy. Monday was more.
Once everyone else arrives (which, today, is just Brent and Chaidie, because Susan is gone on her annual vacation home to England, and we're pretty short staffed due to financial constraints just now), we debrief from the Monday craziness and I get to hear how the latest overnight-emergency played out.
Then it is all about continuing to get the backlog under control, dealing with the steady flow of calls and emails from there, and trying to find spare minutes here and there to continue following up with all the people with LacriPure backorders that we had to cancel due to the prolonged manufacturer backorder situation that we just discovered Monday morning. Backorder management, incidentally, is a way of life here, a skill, an art, something I'll never master, but something I'll struggle to find new and better approaches for every time they arise. After all, we've had 3 years now of saline supply issues off and on, and of course there are always shortage and backorder and recall issues with other products that cause panic in the dry eye and/or scleral lens communities.
Some random phone calls and what they are like
- I have a nice chat with a customer who wants to check the date, cost, shipping method and credit card on their upcoming subscription order for saline, add some lens plungers, and see if there are any new discounts they might be able to apply. There aren't, because subscriptions already have their own built in discounts, but I find she has old loyalty points I can turn into a coupon.
- I have a lovely long chat with another longtime customer who has ordered several things including a couple of pairs of clearance dry eye glasses, but has left several voicemails as she is having so much difficulty with her vision trying to see the site and isn't sure if she is selecting the right glasses. When I look at them, I am concerned her choices will all be too large for her. I pore over her account history. We eventually figure out that a pair of dry eye glasses she had long ago loved and lost was a 7Eye AirShield Viento frame (their smallest)... so her selections of the largest WileyX and 7Eye frames really are not promising. I find also that she needs a pair for indoors and a pair for outdoors. Miracle of miracles, we have a Viento with clear lenses for indoors, and another with tinted lenses, on clearance, and nobody else has snapped them up yet! SCORE! That is SO gratifying. I am feeling pretty teary when she goes on to share that something I wrote sometime helped her figure out that she is allergic to BAK (benzalkonium chloride preservative), which helped her and her very excellent doctor move on to other treatments, omitting any prescription or OTC drops with BAK. These things make my day!
- OH NO: Somebody got sent the wrong eyecup for a pair of Zienas. Quick, send a replacement and an apology! Done. Add it to the "Oops" log! Done. Side note: I am afraid today, my attitude got the best of me... I failed to resist the temptation to, albeit obliquely, lay the blame on people (not in our company) who actually did the shipping... SHAME on me. If I'm going to have my own staff's back, I ought to also have my vendors'/shippers' backs. Rats. Resolution to do better next time. Golden rule, etc. Oops.
- We have a few rounds of phone tag with a few people. I always feel so bad about that. I'm really enjoying how our Grasshopper text feature helps prevent that, for those who know! Just love having more quick ways for people to reach us. I also really like having our call scheduling software up and running again.
- According to the log, Chaidie has a long, long series of calls with lots of people all day long about lots of customer service and sales needs. I love her notes on customers, especially all the ones (there's lots!) where she says "Super nice!". The worst thing she has to say in the log is "Super nice but indecisive!" Little does she know how hard it is to choose! - Chaidie is also the one who is dealing with all of the Refresh PM enquiries - from "Please put me on the list for updates if anything changes" to "What can I use instead?" I'll ask her to blog about her calls one of these days. Reflecting on the fact that I threw Chaidie into the midst of chaos when my God's-gift-to-a-small-business-owner assistant Aidan left for Europe, and she's handled with great grace an intensely complex job with minimal training. - I never seem to tire of saying I won the kid lottery. I pinch myself every day.
- I get a callback from the place that made our Dry Eye Shop t-shirts last fall just before I took the whole team to the GWCO conference in Portland. I have two, and they're both stained, but I can't bear to throw them away... but I've been thinking maybe I should wear one when I'm doing my new videos for our YouTube channel, so I want to get replacements. Oh, my, goodness, they are booked out into October. Seriously? Okay. Sigh.
- I have a delightful talk with a customer in the southwest who is a BEAUTIFUL success story for Synergeyes VS lenses on post RK eyes. I am so impressed. RK night vision problems - which, for her, are severe - can be challenging to address even with sclerals, but she is not only seeing 20/15 but experiencing great night vision as well. Wow. Note to self for other RK'ers! We get on to broader talk about the business. She's an elected official (and yes, I confess, as a hardened voyeur, I'm googling her at that point in the call) in her community and has clearly put in wonderful work on programs mentoring small businesses. We chat a little about disinfection solutions for sclerals, and the issue of benzalkonium chloride in glaucoma drops.
- I have a long talk with another caller that I've known for some time. She's pretty new to severe symptoms, and hers are very severe. The impact on sleep from erosions - and, for those of you who get erosions, you'll understand exactly what I mean when I say erosion anticipation - is profound. For me, that's a big red worry flag... it's important to get relief by any means whatsoever at that point. "Just" dry eye, when severe, has massive impact on mental health even without erosions and even without sleep deprivation. The combination of the three is lethal, and when I hear it coming across the phone lines, it's truly concerning. Thankfully, she is VERY savvy and has access to excellent resources, and we are able to brainstorm through a variety of topics and I'm hopeful something in the mix may be helpful for a way forward. - We talk about an upcoming medical meeting that she's going to and that I'm panting to be at as so many doctors I appreciate will be there and oh if only I weren't quite so cash strapped this year I would be there in a heartbeat! Sigh. But to top it off, she's putting me in touch with the marketing VP of an optical company that *might* be interested in the dry eye market, and with whom I will be on the phone imminently. Oh joy, we need, ever so badly, to get skilled and deep pocketed manufacturers on board to address our practical quality-of-life needs!
And then some more calls....
- A post LASIK patient with some unusual visual phenomena and with pain that does not seem to be dry eye, and... in my mind... does not even entirely resonate as "neuropathic corneal pain"... checks in about some pain treatments that have been proposed to him, wondering if I have any experience or scuttlebut about them. Sadly, I am way out of my depth and have nothing to offer.
- A subscriber calls looking for a mask recommended by her nutritionist. Somehow I don't realize at first how much she already knows and that she is familiar with my writing and such - somehow I just assume she is new to us! A little behind the 8 ball here. She is so kind, though, and goes out of her way to show appreciation for the newsletters.
- I have a chat with a customer whose doctor wants them to get a goggle because her eyes are getting rubbed on the pillow overnight, a condition referred to medically as "Floppy Eyelid Syndrome". This is kind of an interesting one. There is a doctor in this particular area code that she's calling from - honestly, almost all calls we get from that particular area code are referrals from this particular doctor - who invariably sends them to us for Tranquileyes goggles. They often turn into a consultation about some other kind of non Tranquileyes solution. For the umpteen gazillionth time, I make a mental note that I MUST, MUST, MUST dig around to remind myself who this particular doctor is and reach out to them and thank them and see if I can have a useful chat with them about goggles for their wide variety of patient needs.
- This one's an email not a call (we get about 3x as many of those as calls) but it's someone who goes out of their way to thank me for the way I handled the Lacripure backorders. (I canceled and refunded outstanding orders and emailed everyone with suggestions.) She is SO nice that I copy-paste part of her email into our staff "campfire" labeled "Positive feedback alert". These are the things that keep us going on those rough days! Our customers are SO thoughtful.
Reflections on backorders
Speaking of the Lacripure backorder situation, and at the risk of being intolerably repetitive, they are a way of life here at the Dry Eye Shop. I'll write this subject up separately one of these days. But in a nutshell, the part that matters to me the most is the observation that shortages and prolonged backorders of dry eye and scleral lens products trigger profound anxiety.
As a result, in recent years, I have come to think sometimes that the primary business of the Dry Eye Shop is not about selling stuff, not even about disseminating information as I used to think it was. It's about allaying anxiety, it's about helping people feel more calm and more in control and feel better in general about their situation.
And on the people and what they mean to me
In our new software, as these calls come in, I have begun to develop a system of tags for callers in the customer database that helps me quickly identify what's going on with whom, and whether I need to quickly scroll through old notes before engaging in conversation. I have found myself using the tags "acute" and "crisis" a lot. The difference between the two is nuanced, but it seems I use "acute" for anyone in extreme symptoms, and I use "crisis" for anyone whose mental health is significantly impacted as well. But... almost everyone in the "acute" phase for the first time has their mental health severely impacted, so I'm starting to realize that "crisis" means something like "acute, round 1". Am I an entrepreneur, a wannabe therapist, a hobbyist, or just nuts? Random reflections on a random day in the dry eye shop.
Everything I have described above is a fraction of my day, because the rest is things like purchasing; dealing with the corporate and finance side of a struggling business; managing staff and ops; filling in for Susan who's gone; filling cracks in general in a short-staffed organization; and trying to keep up with dry eye news and get some things written and all that, and taking about 2 hours out of the day to *try* to record another scleral lens saline video and sorta-kinda-succeeding but also realizing that I'd better not ever again try to do a video recording in the middle of a normal weekday as opposed to evening or weekend again because it really requires a different kind of head space.
But that fraction of the day that I mentioned... it's the fraction that matters, it's the fraction that I care most about, and it will always be the most memorable and meaningful: The people who came my way, and how much I was blessed to interact with them, and the incredible honor and privilege of now and then being able to encourage or help or at least empathize with some one of you who is in a hard place with their eyes right now.
I have never done this before: written up what today at work was like.
I am definitely going to do this again: write up what today at work was like.
Re-reading what actually happened today has been profound for me.
There is NOTHING special about today. It is a routine day for me. Every day has been like this, day after day, time out of mind, ever since I started dryeyezone.com and dryeyeshop.com in 2005.
There is EVERYTHING special about today. Oh my God. Everything!
When I got to the end of my official workday today, honestly, I was tired, discouraged, overwhelmed, overburdened, and almost at my wits' end. The to-do lists were so much longer at the end of the day than at the beginning.
But after writing - and then reading - what took place during my day today, I was awed, weepy, intensely grateful. No question: I do not deserve such a great job, pastime, career. This is just amazing.
Dry eye shop visitors, callers and customers: You are amazing people. Every single one of you has had a profound impact on my life. Thank you.
- Rebecca Petris