Optician Awards: Rising to lockdown challenges
Emma White explores how Menicon, winner of Optician’s 2021 Contact Lens Supplier of the Year navigated the pandemic, exceeded expectations and innovated new products
Author: Emma White
Japanese manufacturer, Menicon, faced strong competition in the Contact Lens Supplier of the Year category at the Optician Awards 2021 from major players including Bausch + Lomb, Johnson and Johnson Vision and Alcon. The judging panel commented that ‘all giants of the industry made huge efforts’, but they chose ‘a winner that ticked all the boxes and showed unstinting support for people outside and inside the business’. Menicon’s managing director Kevin J Mitchell says: ‘We were blown away by the warm reception we received. The night was fantastic and I think everyone really enjoyed the opportunity to get together after such a long time. This was a competitive category and winning this award has been a real honour.’
Pandemic action plan
When the government first announced the UK lockdown in March 2020, Menicon worked quickly to devise a plan of action. ‘We had to respond fast by planning how we could continue to operate with the new restrictions,’ says Mitchell, adding: ‘We took many calls from customers who had concerns about service, operational and financial elements and we knew we had to significantly change our terms and conditions to ensure customers had flexibility when placing orders and to demonstrate our support.’
Within a month, Menicon introduced a series of measures including: shipping orders directly to patients for faster delivery and to reduce the need for face-to-face contact; extending warranty periods to six months to allow practitioners more flexibility when fitting rigid gas permeable (RGP) lenses; giving flexible terms to speciality lenses sent directly to its NHS accounts for keratoconus patients; and introducing flexible payment terms, such as allowances for payments that were not received on time due to employees working from home. The company communicated its response strategy to all customers immediately via its social media channels, website and literature, including on delivery notes and invoices.
Business as usual
Lens design, manufacturing and logistics teams continued to work throughout the pandemic in adherence to Covid-19 regulations, operating in small bubbles and with reconfigured working times to ensure that eye care professionals (ECPs) and their customers received their lenses without delay. As Mitchell says: ‘At a time when opticians were closed and no frames were being fitted, the provision of contact lenses proved to be a reliable source of income for practitioners, helping to support their business and cash flow.’ Customer services and accounts departments were connected to internal telephone and email systems so employees could operate from the safety of their homes. ‘The customer service team members worked throughout the challenging period, spending time on calls to customers, listening to their patients’ concerns and providing product advice and solutions,’ says Mitchell.
Menicon pursued a programme of remote education and training for practitioners throughout the pandemic. Between 2020-21, the company delivered 32 face-to-face training and education sessions – 16 in the community, 14 in hospital settings and two in universities – as well as 35 virtual education and training sessions on Menicon RGP products. The company’s Northampton-based training clinic remained available for any urgent cases. Menicon continued to deliver its six-session training programme across its five product groups. It also delivered training to support community practitioners in fitting more complex lenses, helping to reduce hospital waiting times. A newly launched e-Learning Academy also provided a series of free e-learning modules to help ECPs understand the features of the Menicon Miru range.
Menicon continued to expand its product range through the pandemic. ‘During this period, we continued to develop the Rose K range for the treatment of keratoconus and to extend our daily disposable Miru range by adding a multifocal option, with a toric option set to launch in June,’ says Mitchell. Menicon has also launched a new myopia management control system for children called Bloom. This ‘holistic approach’ comprises Menicon Bloom Night (ortho-k lenses) and Menicon Bloom Day (soft daily contact lenses) together with ‘EasyFit software’ and an app for easy patient monitoring and communication. Menicon’s new ‘easy, fast and convenient’ web ordering system was also introduced in August 2021.
‘The Menicon team is extremely proud of what it has achieved in difficult circumstances, responding swiftly at the start of the pandemic, understanding the pressure practitioners were under and adapting its services to provide greater flexibility and exceptional customer service,’ says Mitchell. The company continues to operate as if the UK lockdown restrictions are still in place. ‘We have only this month decided to relax our mask wearing policy with a plan to review it in six months,’ he says. ‘Virtual training sessions are also still taking place with some face-to-face training. More orders are now being sent to practices, but our extended warranty periods and flexible payment terms will remain in force for the majority of this year.’