Launch Consulting guest hosts Sandra Niehaus and Neil Crist sit down with Chris Enslin, President of Eyefinity, and Charlie Biegel, Chief Operations Officer of Eyefinity on this episode: Forging the Future in Customer Experience.
Eyefinity is a proven leader in the eye care industry. But the eye care industry, like much of healthcare, is built on outdated tech. Eyefinity set out to reimagine the eye care experience for millions of patients through innovative, modern technology. On this episode, we explore Eyefinity's challenges and success in navigating change, and learn firsthand what working alongside Launch Consulting to forge a seamless and satisfying customer experience is like.
Alongside industry leaders, we share conversations on the challenges and innovations that come out with disruption, and real world examples of successful change. Presented by Launch Consulting and Navigating Forward, this is Navigating Together.
Neil Crist (00:00):
Hi everyone. I'm Neil Crist, Business Unit Leader for Launch Consulting. On this podcast today, we have the rare opportunity to sit down with two innovative and inspirational executives -Chris Enslin and Charlie Biegel of Eyefinity, a leader in the eye care industry.
Together with my colleague Sandra Niehaus, the Human Impact Studio Lead at Launch, we sit down to chat with Chris and Charlie about Eyefinity's recent transformation.
The eye care industry, like many parts of healthcare, is built on outdated tech. Eyefinity's goal was to reimagine the eye care experience for millions of patients and modernize their technology. Launch has been a partner with Eyefinity since the inception of this project, every step of the way, through delivery. We're excited to share more about the process and the challenges to overcome in delivering this innovative new eye care experience.
Alongside industry leaders, we share conversations on the challenges and innovations that come with disruption, and real world examples of successful change. Brought to you by Launch Consulting, this is Navigating Forward: Navigating Together.
Sandra Niehaus (01:21):
Today, we have the privilege of sitting down with Eyefinity president Chris Enslin and COO Charlie Biegel. Welcome Chris and Charlie.
Charlie Biegel (01:29):
Thank you, Sandra.
Chris Enslin (01:30):
Thank you, Sandra. Happy to be here.
Sandra Niehaus (01:33):
Chris, we'll start with you. I was wondering if you would mind sharing a little about your background leading up to taking on the role at Eyefinity?
Chris Enslin (01:42):
Yes, absolutely. I grew up in technology, by education and then after starting my career in consulting. I had the privilege to work for large multinational companies, started off with Siemens and then spent 11 years with Dell Technologies and then moved to Walmart in their technology group, where I spent seven years. Most of the time there was with point of sale and taking care of their emerging technology groups that also included pharmacy and optical. So that was my introduction to a little bit of healthcare, which then brought me to the chief technology officer for Vision Works. They are an optical retailer that has about 700, 720 locations across 40 states in the US. And I was really excited about that opportunity because I love purpose-driven organizations. And again, with the changing marketplace, the aging population, transformation happening in optical retail, it was a perfect opportunity for me. So, after sitting in that seat for a while, we were acquired by VSP global and I was then really humbled to have the opportunity to extend my scope to also take on the Eyefinity president position, which was really in my sweet spot, giving me an opportunity to solve large complex problems and to work with a great group of engineers. And there we are. That's where I've been for the last almost two years. Now.
Sandra Niehaus (03:31):
What parts of your experience at say Walmart, as in particular that seems like such a different sort of company as Eyefinity? what, what have you pulled from that experience that you're bringing to, to bear here at Eyefinity?
Chris Enslin (03:47):
Yes, there are quite a number of things that translated really well at Walmart. It was right at the time when we had fierce competition from Amazon and Alibaba and the retail industry was really transforming. customers decided how they want to shop your channels. And it is so similar to optical today because of the consumerization of healthcare. It's no longer just about the price and the products and the assortment, but it's really bringing the personalization and the experience components to, really experience platforms. And that is what is so interesting to me because it's the ability to learn and, and translate some of those experiences I had and try and reinvent those in healthcare, especially in eye care.
Sandra Niehaus (04:45):
Thank you, Chris. Charlie, can you also share your background leading up to your role at Eyefinity?
Charlie Biegel (04:51):
Sure. Sandra like Chris, I also have a technology education background, I have a broad background in technology spanning both B2B and B2C segments across multiple industries, including the computer industry telecom internet services, and now health and retail. Prior companies include AOL, Motion and Digital Equipment Corporation. In my current role at Eyefinity, I have the pleasure of overseeing our product development group, our customer support and customer onboarding functions. Yeah, it's, it's really interesting in almost all the positions that I've worked in I've been in a situation where the businesses were rapidly transforming and technology played a critical role in that transformation. And as I joined Eyefinity, one of the things that attracted me about the company was it too, was a company that was transforming itself from a shrink wrap software provider to a software as a service company. And, that, that challenge of transformation really excited me about the Eyefinity opportunity.
Sandra Niehaus (06:12):
That's great. Thank you so much, Charlie. I'll turn it over to Neil for a little background.
Neil Crist (06:19):
So thank you, Charlie and Chris, for that, it's always fascinating for me to research the background of technology companies to understand their origin. And Charlie, you talked a little bit about the evolution from shrink wrapped software to, to where you are today. So just for the listeners, I wanted to set a little bit of context and provide a little bit of history on Eyefinity. So if Eyefinity was founded in 2001 as a technology startup in the Sacramento Roseville area, backed by VSP vision VSP vision is the nation's largest and only not for profit visions benefits company serving more than 85 million members for eyecare needs, Eyefinity technology solutions, not only support eye doctors and their practices with practice management software, but also support electronic health records, claims filing, ordering eyewear and other areas as well. Over the years, Eyefinity has made some key acquisitions most notably in 2008 with the acquisition of officemate and acuity logic in, in 2010 in 2013, Eyefinity launched its electronic health records platform EHR in 2014, launched Eyefinity practice management EPM, and then more recently launched telehealth capabilities today. I think what we'll spend time talking about is the preparation for launch of the next generation platform, which your teams have been heads down working on for quite some time. First, Chris, congratulations on the upcoming launch of the next generation platform. It's a great accomplishment and we're honored to have been a part of and continue to be a part of that journey that Eyefinity is on. And if you don't mind, I'd love for you to share a little bit about, what you're most excited about.
Chris Enslin (08:13):
Yes, Neil, it's pretty easy to answer that question because I am most excited to take, Eyefinity from just an order entry system to really an elevated experience platform. And, you know, a lot of times we think about Eyefinity as just technology and bits and bites and algorithms, but really our total ambition around where we are taking this with the next gen platform that you're helping us with is really that elevated experience maximizing each of those moments that matter along the journey. And that is really the most exciting thing about our NextGen platform for me.
Neil Crist (08:55):
And it really gets back to that notion of purpose driven that you mentioned earlier, which I love
Chris Enslin (09:01):
Absolutely. I love our purpose Neil, since you brought that up because it is so simple, it is just really, we say our purpose is to advance the practice of eye care through technology and innovation. For me, the priority is the ability to make people see right. It is the simplest thing and it is one of our most important senses. And we are in such a wonderful position to be able through technology, to enable our doctors to give a really quality eye exam so that when our patients pick up that perfect pair of glasses and lenses, she can see great. I just love that because it is so simple, but so powerful. And I love listening to the stories that we get from our store associates, from our doctors. And then the most exciting is when you hear from the patients about how great the experience was and how it really changed their lives, right? They can see they can perform better at school. It's easier to learn. They can do their jobs better. That's really what, what gets me up every single morning,
Sandra Niehaus (10:19):
Charlie, as, as you look ahead to this next generation platform, what are some of the challenges and opportunities that you have noticed and faced
Charlie Biegel (10:31):
Sandra, there have been so many challenges. it's challenging as a market leader in a rapidly changing industry to innovate fast enough, given the demands of supporting a large, customer base. and in our case, a customer base that spans multiple technology platforms. but we knew it was imperative to remain relevant and more importantly, to help our eyecare practices meet the challenges brought on by digital acceleration occurring in our industry and in the broader marketplace. Another challenge we faced was expanding our view of who the customer is for our technology and our platform. We've traditionally thought of the customer as the practices that buy our software, the doctors and our technicians, but we had to expand our thinking to include the patients and the customers that come into their practices every day. And then on the human side, change management has been a challenge, modernizing the way we work while building a new platform under some really aggressive timelines, has been, very, very challenging. And, oh, did I mention we did all of this during a global pandemic? not, not an easy task, but from an opportunity perspective, you know, building on what Chris, said earlier, we have a chance to help modernize an entire industry to make our eyecare practices worry less about technology, allowing them to focus on what they do best, which is provide great care to their patients and customers each and every day. I can't think of a better opportunity than that.
Sandra Niehaus (12:17):
So Chris, from the beginning, as I've worked with, Eyefinity, it was clear to me that the company has an authentic, real care for the experience of the customers. Can you talk about how taking that human centered view has affected your approach to making this new platform a reality?
Chris Enslin (12:36):
Sandra, thank you for asking that question because it really starts off with VSP visions, core beliefs, right? Our core values that is we care, we trust, we enable diversity equity inclusion, and we are one team. And if you start off with a base like that as your core values and you connect that into what we are doing for people to enable them to see better, quite simply, that is where that human-ced approach becomes essential to living out your purpose. So another thing I learned at Walmart is all that the customer wants is to know me, understand me, help me and delight me. So if you keep it as simple as that, and you connect that to that human center or centric experience, we really change then with the help of our partners, like launch to think differently, right. To work differently. So when you place the customer at the center of everything you do, and you put yourself in the shoes of Sally, the store manager, or doctor.
Chris Enslin (13:54):
Lynn, the optician, or the OD, that is where you think differently. And the empathy comes out in our designers and our teams because they really follow their journey, with every single persona that participates in our end to end experience. And that's why with, Neil can attest to this, bringing great thought leadership to bear as we build out and invest in a user experience, resources, people that are experienced in building these very human centric solutions and interfaces. So that was a really profound change in how we do things at Eyefinity.
Sandra Niehaus (14:38):
What sorts of tactical changes or, maybe mindset changes did you see were needed to further deepen Eyefinity's human centric approach?
Chris Enslin (14:52):
It was very interesting when we allowed people to really open up, be creative and ideate together, right? And not start off with a requirement that someone writes down on a yellow, sticky label or pad, but really immerse yourself. It's almost that anthropology of putting yourself in a practice in an exam lane and watching and observing. And as soon as our people in the product space that Charlie runs, connected directly with engineers and doctors, it truly became one team and it's no longer my job, your job, not my job, not their job. It truly is solving end to end. And I love, how I hear the teams talk today, just earlier in a meeting today, the person who leads product for our organization, Troy, he was talking about how we are now fixated around outcomes and not output the team. It was a complete mind shift on how people think about the outcome is a truly making the patient feel special. Am I delighting the patient? And it's no longer about how tight the code is, or, you know, we think very differently at how we develop this platform. It is a work in progress, but the maturity around the thinking has just exponentially improved over the last 18 months.
Charlie Biegel (16:28):
we're fortunate at Eyefinity to have a deeply knowledgeable and experienced staff. Some of who has spent their entire careers in the eye care industry, and they are super passionate about serving our customers. So we were able to tap into that passion by connecting the need to change and modernize our own processes directly into how that would help us service our customers better. And I think that really resonated with the staff, in addition, involving those closest to the work in crafting the new ways of working was absolutely critical and then providing them with the training to sharpen and modernize their skill sets, along the way, for example, we dramatically changed how we determine what features to build and how to best bring them to life. And we trained our team on a new product discovery process, and the team has been able to directly see the results of this process reflected in customer feedback. And so it's, it's kind of been a nice flywheel effect, to see how the process change has helped, really link and tie in, to serving our customers better.
Sandra Niehaus (17:53):
You mentioned the, the process change as far as discovery and refining those, those epics or stories in the backlog. Were there other types of team level process changes that you've you've saw were Aspen that you you saw were especially effective?
Charlie Biegel (18:10):
I would say that, on the engineering side really embracing automation to its fullest, from a, testing and build deployment perspective has been absolutely critical to achieving a new level of velocity in our engineering organization. And that wasn't an easy change to make at, at the start, particularly when you're working under tight deadlines for delivery. but the team has been able to chip away at, at that over time. And we started with virtually no automation and, we've, we're probably at a 40 or 50% level now, and that continues to grow every day.
Neil Crist (18:54):
Charlie, I'd like to, to go a little bit further on just sort of for a moment, switch gears, to talk more about the technology side. I'm just thinking back to, you know, two plus years ago, as you're embarking on a lot of these technology investments, can you share some of the technology drivers in your mind as you set out to take the team on this journey?
Charlie Biegel (19:20):
When we started this, we really wanted to focus on speed and agility for delivery of new capabilities. We also desire to deliver a great user experience while providing a platform with robust APIs that would allow for innovation around the edges of our product. Likewise, we had goals around reducing our technical debt associated with maintaining multiple platforms in the market. And really the cornerstone of our evolution was a shift to a cloud only delivery model. moving, moving away from offering a choice of on premise or cloud delivery and really embracing the cloud.
Neil Crist (20:09):
I also wonder, you know, the, the movement to the cloud, I think particularly for the eye care industry. I think if you, if you walk backwards, you know, two or three years, I don't know that that at least I would've anticipated a cloud only solution being accepted in the marketplace. And I think maybe COVID is part of that, but have you seen demand or acceptance for that movement to the cloud accelerate?
Charlie Biegel (20:36):
Yes, Neil, that's a great question. And we were very hesitant in making that decision at first because we have such a large install base that is running our software on premise. And as I started to talk to the CTOs and CIOs of our customers, it became very clear to me that they were ready to embrace, a cloud only delivery model. And in fact, in other places in their enterprise, we're already leveraging cloud only solutions. So it wasn't as big of a leap as I think we all thought it would be internally at the outset. That's
Neil Crist (21:17):
Fascinating to see that shift. I wanted to also, you know, ask another question around when you're making these kind of investments. I think about not only are you making technology investments, you're also choosing partners to help bring you forward. Do you mind talking a bit about your selection criteria and how you decided or came to, to partner with launch consulting?
Charlie Biegel (21:42):
We really were looking for a partner to help elevate not only the way we build software, but help elevate our thinking in terms of how we create software for the marketplace in general. And it was important to us that we have a partner that have a broad range of expertise, from user experience to business analysis, to, hands on keyboard writing code. And we definitely found that in launch consulting, in addition, it was really important for me to pick a partner who is willing to work alongside of us and really embed with our team versus, standalone and work side by side with our team, which is the more traditional model that I've seen. And I think it's a Testament to launch and their flexibility on this engagement that, they were willing to switch their, their work model, to really embed with our team and help our team through this transformative journey that we're on,
Neil Crist (22:52):
You know, on the launch side of this equation. One of the, I think the joys that our team has had is being exposed to the passion that both you and Chris have talked about, each and every Eyefinity employee, not only have a ton of experience in history in this industry, but they, they really do care about the industry, about patients, about doctors and those experiences, and that shines through in everything that they do. And so I think the, the blended team approach really did, I think, produce a great outcome.
Charlie Biegel (23:27):
Yes. And when you think about how our teams came together, all of this happened right at the start of the pandemic. and so the Eyefinity team essentially doubled in size, right as that pandemic hit and the normal cycle of team development, you know, forming storming and norming had to be all done virtually remotely. And I was super impressed with how our teams navigated through that challenge and how quickly they were able to gel and how productive they became in a very short period of time. COVID was not just a complication for our teams working together. It was a massive disruption to people's ability to access eyecare. many practices closed for a period of time. And it really forced us to consider how our platform could power experiences in a contactless and remote environment by incorporating concepts like telehealth and retail only eyewear appointments, which to that point, no one had ever heard of a retail only eyewear appointment. It was always centered on exams, right through to the digital pre and post appointment experiences. So it really did force us to think differently about how our platform fits in the, in the ecosystem.
Neil Crist (24:59):
Chris, I, I wanted to ask you one of the things that may not be widely known is that the next generation platform is actually deployed. Some would call it probably a beta in the hands of, of eyecare practices today. Can you talk a bit about how that's accelerated learning or how you think about how that's informed the product and also maybe even some of the early outcomes that you've seen?
Chris Enslin (25:25):
The first piece, the moment that really stood out to me personally, was when I walked into one of those locations. And for the first time saw technology come together with people and process, I never realized the full power of the experience until I saw those three components come together and how that allowed the patient to move seamlessly through the experience. The optician was much more confident with, consulting on the best pair of glasses. There was great transparency around what, benefits coverage was. So the patient or the customer really didn't feel like this was this big black box. they really felt like they could develop a trust relationship because it was so transparent afforded through the technology and the platform. And then the process, really helped us in the beta store to do the second thing that I talked about, and that was learn from five stores course, correct.
Chris Enslin (26:41):
Enhance change some things around and then use those learnings to put that into the next release for the next wave of pilot stores. Right? So that brings me to the third thing. What that did was it built tremendous confidence in the 700 stores that were still to come, right, because nobody really likes that amount of change. But when they saw the maturity of the team, this beautiful collected team, we put together and not just saying the words, but demonstrating that we were listening, taking feedback from beta, building it into pilot, learning from pilot, building that into the next wave of go live, right. That really built confidence and excitement. And now you can ask Charlie when we visit stores, they all go, when when's our turn, when can we go? There's just a tremendous amount. And that makes me so proud because, you know, you talked about cloud Neil and, and Charlie very eloquently, explained what cloud and moving to pure cloud, meant to us. But again, it means a lot more to our practices and our doctors and our customers, because with cloud, all those enhancements, right, that were reported by the Beto stores, when we release to pilot, everyone gets it and they all get it at the same time, right. There's no waiting for rollout or upgrades. And I think that is just the beauty of, you know, those moments that stand out for me on this next gen platform,
Neil Crist (28:27):
Just the notion of people, technology and process coming together and transforming that experience for, for patients. And, I'm sure the patients recognize it. They recognize something's different.
Chris Enslin (28:42):
We always joke about this, Neil. you know, if patients that visited some of our locations before this NextGen platform, it is so unbelievable for people to stand at a checkout when their order is taken. something that used to take minutes, right, are now done in seconds. I mean, people are used to spending an hour or two or more just for an eye exam and selecting glasses, but now with the automation and the transactional level intelligence that the launch team and Charlie's engineering teams have built, you really have a much more pleasant experience at point of sale or checkout.
Sandra Niehaus (29:26):
So thinking about the complexity of a platform like this, can you expand a little bit on the challenges of it being designed to serve multiple sets of customers?
Charlie Biegel (29:36):
Sure. You know, Eyefinity is really at the nexus of connecting eyecare providers with patients and consumers and the broader eyecare ecosystem. And from the outset, we realized that we needed to focus not only on the experience of eyecare staff, and the experience they have interacting with our product, which is important. but also on the experience eye care staff could deliver to their patients and consumers and for patients and consumers, visiting eye care practices, navigating the complexities, such as finding, an exam slot at a time that's convenient for me, understanding what their insurance benefits are selecting eyewear, that's both stylish and meets their budget, completing the visit in a timely fashion as, as Chris alluded to so they can get back to work. All of those things can be very difficult for, patients accessing eyecare. And we realized, you know, our product alone can't solve these challenges. As Chris mentioned, it's really the practice staff and the processes combined with our product capabilities that enables the delivery of magical moments for patients. And our goal is to, to deliver capabilities that are easy for practice staff to learn and use, and simultaneously allow them to deliver those magical moments for their patients, making the eyecare experience, more convenient, personalized, and, and streamlined.
Sandra Niehaus (31:20):
Charlie, I know you go on store visits. Do you have any stories that you might share about, recent observations?
Charlie Biegel (31:27):
I always love it when I can get out to the stores and see our technology in action and how, the, store associates and, opticians and doctors really embrace our technology. And for me seeing that technology in action and how much that has changed, the, the experience as a patient or customer coming into those practices was really exciting. And I think one of my first observations was our, our software is designed to be tablet and mobile friendly and seeing store associates with, the tablet, strapped to their hand. And it's almost become an extension of them and guiding patients through the eyecare journey side by side, was really transformative from what I've seen in a typical eyecare practice. And so that, that was just exciting to see, and it was exciting to see how the staff, really embraced, the technology and, new ways of, of delivering these patient experiences.
Neil Crist (32:41):
That's a massively different experience of just from my perspective, right? And I think just last month I was at an eyecare retailer and I think Charlie, the traditional model is you have an associate on the other side of the, table with a screen and I'm in the dark, I'm the customer I'm in the dark. And this idea of turning the screen around, having it on your hand, walking through with the customer, with both visual, verbal and other methods to help them make these decisions, I think is so different. So very different.
Charlie Biegel (33:16):
You know, Chris mentioned earlier about transforming our, our point of sale from an order entry to, more of a guided shopping experience with the, with the technology. Now it's evident every step of the way as a patient where I am in the process, how much I can expect to pay. And I think that that level of transparency builds trust, right? Builds trust between the, the patient and the providers.
Neil Crist (33:47):
Chris, how do you think about the path that Eyefinity's on and some of the things you're looking forward to in the future the next six months, even a year out,
Chris Enslin (33:59):
Neil, I definitely, if I look six months or more into the future, I really see, Eyefinity as being that optometric platform of choice. It is just, you know, through pure reputation patient doctor experience. That is what people talk about when they're looking for an end to end, experience platform to run their practice on that is really the, the goal we have in mind every single day, to reestablish ourselves as that optometric platform of choice because complacency kills and we love good competition because it makes us better. And that is the exciting part about it. So that is number one, number two, with a modern platform that is not just this big monolithic code base, but really, micro services that can be deployed and combined into new experiences and new products that we have never thought of before that opens up how we build this ecosystem.
Chris Enslin (35:11):
And the strong ecosystem is only possible when you make it really easy for your partners to be agile, to be able to integrate ideate together and new products or experiences will be born from that. And no longer will be, will a, a legacy platform be, you know, the thing that slows us down that I'm really excited about. And then the last thing, or the third thing is truly to tie back into what Charlie said, in the future internal to VSP vision, we will be that connective tissue or the glue that really connects our members with our provider network, through these differentiating products, services, and experiences that sits in the middle.
Neil Crist (36:02):
Thanks Chris, for sharing that that's really exciting vision we could keep going on and on, on this topic, I know, unfortunately we, we all have other things, other meetings and other things to do, but first of all, I just wanted to thank you both from a launch perspective, we really appreciate your partnership. we really appreciate you sitting down and sharing your experiences as leaders. I think this is a, a great opportunity for, you know, executives that are facing some of these decisions that Eyefinity faced two and three years ago. So I really appreciate your time.
Chris Enslin (36:37):
Thank you very much, Neil. And thank you, Sandra. We really appreciate the partnership and look forward to many more great things to come.
Charlie Biegel (36:46):
Yes. Thank you, Sandra and Neil,
Sandra Niehaus (36:48):
Appreciate you sitting down with us today.