Birds of a feather dispensing better

Do you recall the best customer service you ever received? I’m sure it felt effortless, like their service and product was tailored just for you. That’s because it was.

How should our approach be tailored? Which methods suit which customer? You’ll hit the mark for some, creating loyal customers; while for others, it can seem a mystery. We are naturally drawn to those we have common ground with; knowing how to leverage that through ‘mirroring’ can be a feather in a successful salesperson’s cap.

The beak generation

To successfully mirror your customer, you need to profile their behavioural type and know how to respond, in this instance, to their ‘bird’. The DOPE model – dove, owl, peacock, eagle – was developed by US-based self-help author Richard Stephenson from the work of Dr Gary Couture and psychologist Dr William Marston. Even without any explanation, I’m sure you could infer the behavioural types from these labels, but let’s break it down.

  • Doves are natural diplomats – patient, sensitive, supportive and loyal. They seek a sense of belonging and want to feel like a supportive and caring member of a small group. This is the customer that sneaks in unnoticed and waits quietly, only asking for help when no one else is waiting
  • Logical, analytical and reserved are traits we associate with owls. They look for predictability, put logic before feelings and seek structure, facts and figures. Owls arrive at the practice armed with quotes and pamphlets, a list of frames they have researched and a question for every aspect of the dispense
  • The peacock is charismatic, outgoing and animated. They prioritise people before tasks, seeking recognition and, to an extent, popularity. The whole practice knows when a peacock arrives – they involve their family, friends, every staff member and even other customers in their frame selection. They concentrate on the process rather than the end result
  • Confident, ambitious, decisive and impatient are qualities of the eagle. They seek results and look for a challenge; power and authority are high on their agenda. Your eagle may not have booked an appointment but will expect to be seen the same day anyway. They will make decisive selections and usually a same-day purchase. The perfect walk-in

Flying in sync with your customer

I asked my fellow teachers at the Australasian College of Optical Dispensing (ACOD) to take the DOPE behavioural test and picked their brains about their preferences as optical customers. The results were enlightening and entertaining.


Our doves want to feel welcome but need space to come to their own decisions. A welcoming smile and the offer of help can be all they need. ACOD trainer, Elizabeth Sumner, a dove, explained, “I prefer to select frames on my own, then get the opinion of others once I have narrowed my options down, having spent ample time going through what is available.”

This was seconded by ACOD director and senior trainer Chedy Kalach, a fellow dove. “I like to be approached by the staff initially and to check back occasionally. I don’t like no acknowledgement or too much serve. Basically, greet me and check on me as needed.”

Be warned, though, doves are the most high-risk group – they may never come back if they have adaptation issues, don’t like their frames or don’t feel welcome in the practice. This is backed up by Elizabeth’s comments: “If the staff won’t leave me alone and keep trying to assist me after I inform them that I want to browse independently, I’ll most likely leave and not return.” Win over a dove, however, and you have a customer for life.


Owls seem time consuming because they are. You’ll need to pull out your full arsenal to impress them. Offer detailed quotes and information, use multiple methods – physical samples, digital displays or perhaps technical information – to explain the features and benefits of your products. Used correctly, a bit of jargon will impress an owl.

ACOD trainer and proud owl Lara Markham’s response to my questions was almost as detailed as the service she would wish to receive in store. “Selecting a new frame is something that takes me ages! I definitely appreciate the input of people’s opinions close to me. However, once I’m set on a style it’s hard to talk me out of it. I’ll have most likely looked into a few key styles online and have a shortlist of potentials prior to even going into a store. I am that annoying person that will try on several frames of similar styles multiple times and still need to go away and think about it. I will also compare similar styles from different stores. I often end up choosing more than one pair, just to be sure I’ve made the right decision.”

Lara continued, “Having the style of frame I want is one reason I would return to that store for my next set of frames. However, I really value good quality assistance from staff. I love when they show passion about what they’re doing. I appreciate when they’re able to listen and understand my needs and when they clearly explain the pros and cons of each product so that I can make my own decision.”


Moving onto our vibrant peacocks, ‘engage’ and ‘assist’ are your watchwords. They might need to hear five other people tell them the same thing, so don’t feel offended if they don’t take your advice. Offer to take photos and make the experience as hands-on as possible. Peacocks thrive on interaction and will enjoy having you talk them through the whole dispensing process.

ACOD’s resident peacock, director and senior trainer James Gibbins, said he relies on input from his family and optical dispensers when selecting frames and loves to show and tell his latest selection to our ACOD students – a happy peacock will be your biggest advocate.


Eagles, meanwhile, appreciate concise explanations and may not want help with frame selection. Senior ACOD trainer Carly Toms explained, “I rarely ask opinions – the frames need to do the job and feel comfy.” Eagles value you going the extra mile to find them suitable appointments and keep them informed on accurate timeframes. If you win them over with efficiency and skill, they will trust you to show them the best lens and options, rather than needing to be offered the array an owl would like.

People win over birds

There is a common thread between the birds: people over product. Even with decisive eagles who are results driven, it’s the people that draw them back. As Carly said, “I have to like the people that served me; they need the people skills to get me to return.

Your next step is self-awareness. Take the quiz to discover the behavioural type that comes most naturally to you and therefore the customer type you’re likely to feel most at ease serving. Your second highest-scoring bird is the behavioural type you can easily adapt to and access.

Adapting to your lowest scoring categories may take more effort. Be aware of this and, where possible, work as a team to let colleagues shine where they have the best potential to do so. I’m sure they will appreciate the owls among you serving, say, the engineers.

Click here more on the DOPE test.

Author: Virgilia ReadettVirgilia Readett has been working in optics since 2012 and is based in New South Wales, Australia, where she teaches with the Australasian College of Optical Dispensing (ACOD). She holds a certificate IV in optical dispensing, certificate IV in training and assessing and a BA majoring in communications.

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