An eye for success Featured

5:59am EDT July 26, 2005
In the 1980s, George Michael topped the charts, singing, “You gotta have faith.” He may have been referring to faith in love, but faith is essential in the business world, as well.

The best business leaders have ultimate faith — that their service or product is the absolute best in the market, that their co-workers and employees will perform successfully, that the client or customer will bring its business back time and again.

Kevin Hassey, president of LCA-Vision, has this kind of faith in his company. But he also understands that faith alone cannot run a business. There are other factors, according to Hassey, that have made LCA, the owner of a nationwide chain of LasikPlus Vision Centers, one of the nation’s largest providers of LASIK vision-correction surgery, so successful.

“One is just having a great product and market it well,” Hassey says. “Second is that we’re pretty much nuts about our satisfaction level — patient satisfaction and associate satisfaction. And then third is being relentless on expansion. So that’s pretty much what we do. We work at the product, we market it well, we make sure that everybody’s happy and we’re expanding. It’s kind of that simple.”

The trust factor
It may seem simple on the surface, but business success can’t be explained in three easy steps — there’s more to it. Take, for example, patient satisfaction.

“We put an enormous amount of effort into our patient rate,” says Hassey. “We believe that our biggest marketing vehicle is word-of-mouth referral business for us.”

But how does the company achieve that great patient rate, that positive word of mouth?

The first step, says Hassey, is building trust.

“We listen well,” he says. “We identify what [the patient’s] concerns are and work to address those concerns. We recognize that when our technicians see someone, it may be the 100th person they’ve seen that month, but to that person they’re seeing, it’s their only pair of eyes.

“They’re trying to have a really serious conversation about their eyes and what their particular needs are and whether LASIK surgery can address those needs. Our folks have to be at the top of their game for every patient, and they’re trained to attend each patient individually.”

LCA also builds trust by providing free eye examinations. Anyone interested in having LASIK surgery can set up an appointment for an in-depth, no-obligation appraisal.

“The preoperative evaluation takes 90 minutes,” says Hassey. “I think the patient is wowed by the fact that we’re able to commit that much time without any financial obligation, and also the fact that we do such extraordinary tests. We don’t want to operate on anybody that isn’t right for LASIK, so we do multiple tests to get to the right answer. People appreciate that.”

They certainly do. Since opening its first American center in 1995 (the company began applying laser operating technology in 1991 in Canada after that country approved laser vision correction procedures), LCA-Vision has performed more than 400,000 laser eye surgeries.

“I think the patients recognize that we truly care about them, and that’s why they refer a lot of family and friends to us,” Hassey says.

Winning by caring
The culture of caring not only helps increase LCA’s sales, it also helps keep employment costs down by reducing turnover, as happy employees are less likely to leave. The company gauges employee satisfaction using tools such as surveys, and takes the responses to heart, using them to do what it can to keep people happy.

“We don’t sit in an ivory tower and assume we know what’s going on with associates,” Hassey says. “Success all about understanding people and product. People means hiring the right ones, giving them the right tools, training them, keeping them happy. The product side is just having an outstanding product that all those people are going to work on.”

And Hassey’s confidence in LCA’s product means he can focus on motivating and encouraging his employees.

“My big goal is that I want everybody to win and celebrate that we won. I try being ... the best cheerleader to help everybody get to their goals,” he says.

Hassey also helps employees succeed by establishing clear rules and expectations.

“Nobody here is just doing stuff hoping that things will turn out OK,” Hassey says. “They know exactly what we want from them; they’ve outlined their own passport to achieving what we want from them and they’re passionate about getting there. So communication here is very direct, very clear. There’s no ambiguity.”

That speaks highly of LCA’s leadership. According to Hassey, great leaders are “clear, demanding and passionate. Clear regarding expectations, demanding regarding meeting those expectations, but also a passionate listener.” So when Hassey’s employees run into problems or obstacles, he’s passionate about helping them work through them.

Part of it goes back to the caring culture at LCA, and part of it can be attributed to his philosophy on leadership, but there’s another reason Hassey wants his employees to be successful — when they win, he wins.

“By and large, my responsibilities are parceled out to all the different people in the organization,” he says. “When their goals are achieved, my goals are achieved as well.” And when that happens, everyone wins.

Standing out
Another not-so-simple aspect of LCA’s success is what Hassey refers to as “relentless expansion.” LCA has 41 centers in 19 states, and plans to open another 10 to 12 company-owned centers this year, focusing on organic, sales-driven growth. The growth is driven largely by an aggressive marketing plan, about which Hassey is rather coy.

“Without giving away many details, I’d say that we believe most importantly in having a great product,” he says. A great product and excellent service drive the referral business — no small feat — but LASIK is a popular and potentially lucrative procedure, gaining new practitioners as fast as new patients. In a field at risk of becoming oversaturated, attracting clients in new markets can be challenging.

Hassey says that differentiation is the LCA key to success when entering a new market.

“Our biggest point of differentiation is focus,” he says. “Two-thirds of the LASIK category is done by private physicians, and they’re doing a bunch of other procedures, as well. We are one of the very few people who focus exclusively on LASIK. It’s all we do, and we just focus on doing very well.”

LCA uses this LASIK-only specialization to stay competitive on price, as well. LASIK surgery is usually elective and generally not covered by insurance companies, and prospective patients are looking for the most reliable service at the best price.

“We view ourselves as LASIK for everybody,” says Hassey, “so our prices are three-quarters of the industry average. We keep the prices down by marketing our product pretty aggressively and by [specializing]. We’re not leading from a glaucoma operation to a LASIK operation back to a glaucoma operation. We’re perfectly streamlined.”

The business is streamlined, but not entirely smooth. While LCA has been successful in opening each of its centers, it has run into a few challenges. One, says Hassey, is working with the brand, keeping it consistent across markets. Another is making personnel decisions.

And the two challenges aren’t exclusive — in a service organization, people are the foundation of the product. Maintaining a consistent brand includes maintaining a consistent staff.

“We really believe that’s important,” Hassey says. “Not settling on anything, not compromising on brand.”

This uncompromising dedication to consistent service has propelled LCA to success. That, and a little bit of faith.

HOW TO REACH: (513) 792-9292; http://www.lca.com