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The progressive lens is as a sophisticated product also a very sensitive product. Only when it is precisely positioned in front of the eyes the wearer can fully experience the design performance. So only the rigorous work and skill of the optician makes it a success. In this sense the progressive lens is the ideal product for the tight cooperation between manufacturer and ECP in the ophthalmic optical industry.
In the beginning the ECP’s had to learn all the special aspects of the new lens type, how to determine the correct centering position of the lens relatively to the eye, how to measure precisely the interpupillary distance for far or near vision using special devices, how to center the lens using the painted markings, verify the correct marking with help of the engravings, control the power of far vision and add of the progressive surface. The new lens required a lot of new expertise from the optician. So quite naturally the increasing experience of the ECP’s was a cornerstone of the market penetration of the new product, which was so different from the accustomed single vision and bifocal lenses.
During the first years of the Varilux launch the number of returns was very high mainly because of the centering errors . So Essilor created Varilux consultants in the different markets supported by corresponding experts at the head office to educate ophthalmologists and opticians how to handle the new lens and to offer trouble shooting. Michel Gillet, a pioneer of the Varilux market introduction, was initiating and organizing these activities. Additionally at the beginning in some markets the launch was restricted to a limited number of opticians or labs particularly committed to the innovation . That thorough and permanent training is key for the PPL success has been demonstrated by the problems when American Optical launched its Ultraview in the US in the middle of the 1970’s. The number of non adapts was rather high and the launch accompanied by an expensive promotion campaign did not meet the expectations of AO . SOLA supported the introduction of their progressives by a “hotline” organization which had the mission to train the ECP’s and the labs on the new lens type and to take care of trouble shooting.
As the inventor of the progressive lens Essilor was also the pioneer in the service field for PPL’s. In special courses and seminars the new characteristics and methods were presented and explained, instruments and working tools facilitating the determination of the pupil distance, the identification of the engravings and the marking of the reference points on the lens surface were developed. So the progressive lens with its strong interdependence between product performance and ECP skill contributed strongly to the partnership between manufacturer/labs and ophthalmologists/optometrists/opticians.
With the introduction of the personalized free-form lenses these devices became more elaborate offering semi-automatic measurements of the parameters of the frame, its position in front of the eye of the wearer, the visual habits of the wearer and so on. In the future manufacturers will have to focus their efforts still more on the sophistication of the service. One direction of these efforts should be to involve more the consumer. The process of the lens purchase should become an event, and should be embedded in a series of attractive services. In such an “experience environment” customer information, optometric analysis, product demonstration (simulation) and customer specific product selection has to form a single unit, making the purchase of lenses a memorable experience to the customer .