By Preston Fassel

I recently had some issues with my phone that couldn’t be resolved over the customer service line, and I was advised to go to my nearest dealer. Thankfully, there’s one on the corner down from my apartment, so it was a quick jaunt over there. Stepping inside, I was a bit taken aback by the choice of music. Now, I’m not a prude, but I don’t think a cell phone store should necessarily have a soundtrack describing a variety of explicit sex acts. Although the visit went well overall, the incongruity between where I was and what I was listening to stuck with me for a few days afterwards—I got more than a few entertaining “you won’t believe what they were playing at the cell store” calls to friends out of it. It made me really think how music can change the context of a business interaction, and what an important decision it can be for a dispensary. Interacting with the guy at the cell phone store made me vaguely nervous, even though he himself was courteous and professional. It’s just sort of hard to feel totally at ease while listening to what I was listening to.

It was a message driven home a few weeks later when I decided to drop in on a local chain optical for part of my “Adventures in Eavesdropping” series, and was almost as radically struck by their choice of music—none. It was quiet as a tomb inside, and, just as the lyrics to the music in the cell phone store gave me a sense of menace for their aggressiveness, I felt similarly ill at ease in the dispensary because of how quiet it was. Quite simply, it was eerie being someplace so pervasively silent.

Which all drives home the importance of ambiance in a dispensary, and especially the role that music or ambient sound can play in making your patients feel comfortable. In the dispensary in which I spent the biggest part of my career, for example, we piped in a local religious station. Our office was located on the periphery of a small town where most of the residents belonged to a handful of churches, and several of our patients even had bumper stickers for the radio station. It was a local institution, and our OD wisely chose to keep it as the sole musical selection on our sound system. When patients came in, they immediately knew they were “home” in a way. Countless people remarked positively on our music selection, many of them immediately upon their first time coming in, and it worked to build and maintain a rapport that made interacting with them—and selling to them—that much easier. It was certainly a far cry from my awkwardly discussing cell phones to NC-17 lyrics or hearing my own footfalls echo in the silent dispensary. Takeaway lesson: It’s important to play some kind of music in your dispensary to create a safe and above all welcoming environment for your patients to make the exam and/or frame selection process as relaxing and stress free as possible.

So what’s the right soundtrack for your dispensary? It’s ultimately a matter of personal taste, both yours and your patients’. While a religious station was magic for my old office, which catered to a nouveau riche, largely rural, conservative Christian clientele, the same probably wouldn’t hold true for an office that catered to middle-to-upper-class, young urban hipsters or an office in a more socially liberal area, just as playing Top 40 or EDM would probably scare away clients in more blue-collar, lower-class, right-leaning areas. Choose wisely, and you’ll have patients who feel a world better about spending time in your office picking frames.

You can get more tips about improving the patient experience with our CE, Don't Walk Away, Renée: Analyzing Patient Churn in the Optical World at