Go Zeiss Yourself

To this day, I have yet to meet a single human being that is satisfied with Zeiss’ customer service and sales practices. The next series of posts will show how my views toward Zeiss have evolved toward utter disgust. 

Unlike your local ophthalmic equipment vendor, who acts a middle man for various companies, Carl Zeiss Meditec has its own sales force that directly markets and sells the products it manufactures. You can only obtain a Zeiss quote through your local Zeiss sales representative.

When I first reached out, the Bay Area rep wined and dined me, which was nice for someone whose standard of living was on par with an aspiring actor. Since I was only 35 miles away from Zeiss’ headquarters, I even got a personal tour of the facility. I told him what equipment I wanted, and he told me that he would send me a quote within a week or two. However, after that week or two had passed with no further communication, I sent him a follow-up e-mail. Long story short, after ignoring a few more of my follow-up e-mails, he finally got back to me with a quote, telling me that I should rush to sign the purchase order if I wanted to lock in their “fiscal year end discounts.” Stupid me, I did exactly what he told me. I ended up using my own funds to make the 10% security deposit for $13,000. Since I was planning to buy the equipment anyway, it really didn’t matter when I was going to make the purchase. However, this guy knowingly muscled me into putting myself into an uncomfortable financial situation before I had secured any financing.

Despite my rep having horrible follow up, I still remained in my best polite behavior because I still didn’t have any funding, and I was hoping for the off chance that he might be able to help me through his financing connections. I also didn’t want him to blow me off because I didn’t look serious enough. I have no idea why I was so naive and idiotic at the time. Maybe it was because the bureaucracy of medical training was still engrained in my head, and I felt compelled to be subordinate to others. I should have been more vocal and complained to his higher ups for treating a customer this way. Funny thing is that when I bought a Topcon FA/fundus camera a few month later, the Zeiss guy was sad that I didn’t buy from him. I told him that I sent him an e-mail for a quote, but he had never responded.

In retrospect, as you can see, my local Zeiss rep was lamer than a used car salesman with a cheap toupee. What’s even sadder is the fact that I think he got laid off a few years later. I remember his successor hinting at how unreliable his predecessor was. That’s pretty sad when someone is even beneath Zeiss’ work ethic and moral standards.

Despite my initial garbage experience with the Zeiss sales rep, I still spent $130,000 on 4 machines from them because I had used all Zeiss products in residency, and wanted to stick with familiar equipment. To this day, even though their customer service is pure caca, I’m still satisfied with their products and technology. Here’s what I ended up getting in 2010, along with my train of thought at that time:

1. Humphrey Visual Field 750i

The 750i is the only model with automated kinetic perimetry.  I was planning to see my own neuro-ophthalmology patients, and anticipated needing a kinetic field at some point. Getting a Goldmann perimeter, although cheap these days, wasn’t as practical because it requires a technician. I wasn’t able to try out the kinetic field test myself, but there really weren’t too many alternatives out there for automated kinetic perimeters anyway. Haag Streit had the Octopus perimeter back then as well, but the majority of the community was still using Humphrey perimeters at that time. In retrospect, I should have explored the Octopus more seriously.

2. IOL Master 5.5

IOL master was an obvious must. I used the 3.0 in residency, and got fantastic results. Apparently, the 5.5 was going to be more accurate, going through denser cataracts, and having a post-LASIK formula included. A few of my attendings in residency told me that I should absolutely get the 5.5. However, one ophthalmologist in San Jose told me that the post-LASIK calculations weren’t very accurate, and felt lukewarm about his purchase. Either way, I ended up ordering the 5.5.

3. Humphrey Atlas 9000 Corneal Topographer

I’ve used the 995 Atlas in residency, and didn’t think too highly of it. Anyone with astigmatism ended up being a keratoconus suspect. The resolution wasn’t too hot either. A few months before I graduated, Rush upgraded to a 9000, which was better. It was almost reminiscent of a Pentacam. The 9000 also had this neat feature that simulated what a patient would see with various types of higher order aberrations. I wasn’t sure what that clinical utility might be, and I still haven’t found it to this day.

4.  Cirrus 4000 OCT

By far my most expensive purchase. I debated between a refurbished Stratus versus the Cirrus. The price difference was a little more than double. The resolution with the Cirrus was definitely better. Also, the Cirrus had a limited anterior segment OCT function, and allowed capturing images through undilated eyes. Since I was planning to do medical retina, I wanted as close to the best equipment possible. I thought that the Heidelberg Spectralis was better, but not for $100,000+. Had I gotten the refurbished Stratus, I would have had the option to trade it in in the future toward upgrading to a Cirrus. There’s also the Cirrus 400 and 4000. I still don’t know what the difference is, but I got suckered into getting the 4000. This post has some alternative OCT products that you should consider over Zeiss products.

Looking back, I’m super glad that I went with the Cirrus and IOL Master 5.5. The Stratus would have definitely been unusable and below standard of care within 2 years. I’m neutral about the Humphrey 750i, and probably would have been just as happy with an Octopus. The Atlas 9000 Topographer was overkill for $14,000. I still haven’t made my money back on this purchase.

In terms of the deal, Zeiss used so many angles to get my business. I got a couple “discounts,” which I now doubt were true discounts, but just the standard mark downs from the retail price. Pretty much, most companies will never sell at their list price. It’s very similar to our fee schedules. We alway charge more than what we truly expect to get paid. Anyway, I received a “multiple product discount,” “fiscal year end discount,” free freight, and free image storage software. Overall, I got a 13% discount from the list price. And by the way, I never got the Zeiss Forum software they were going to thrown in for free. Since I didn’t really need it, I didn’t say anything.

It was partially my fault for being such a sucker, but I had no experience negotiating large purchases, and frankly, I had no idea what I was doing. It’s just unfortunate that Zeiss had no qualms preying on my naivete.

Howie’s comments: Because of Zeiss’ name and large market share they think they can get away with what’s described above, as well as tactics described in this post. Many docs in our google group have had the same experience as described above when buying directly from Zeiss. When I read Ho Sun’s Zeiss posts from his original blog, it made me decide not to purchase directly from them; I went through a used/ refurbished equipment vendor. Four years later all of the equipment still works (knock on wood)! There are many companies that produce diagnostics with equal quality and more favorable prices than Zeiss does, and we will discuss them in future posts.

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