Changing the conversation at BSHAA 2016

Selling Hearing Aids Or Providing Holistic Hearing Solutions

I have just come back from a two-day speaking event at BSHAA 2016 where I had hoped to challenge delegates thinking on technology, our business model and what exactly they do. I think I did just that for the two separate groups I spoke to, the sessions were certainly spirited with excellent discussion and not a few nodding heads to some of the statements I made. In essence, I told them our current business model is broken, that they should adopt technology as opposed to fearing it and they needed to take control of the conversation around hearing care. Let’s talk about that conversation.

The Product Conversation

Across the world, the conversation about hearing care is hearing aids, it is all about product, we as a profession have even encouraged it because to speak about an intangible such as service is difficult. When product is the conversation, value can be easily distorted as we have seen  happen. This leads our prospects to believe that the solution to all of their issues is buying a hearing aid, that you as a professional simply put them on them, push a button and everything is right with the world.

This simple view has been encouraged by us, we incessantly speak about product. That encourages our prospect to think it is all about hearing aids, this encourages questions over the prices that are charged for hearing aids. Questions that we then answer with discussion of the service we offer, it is too late for us to discuss this when the questions are asked. Once a price has been discussed, everything after that is viewed as sales talk, when information is provided before a price is discussed, it is seen as just that, information or advice.

What Are You?

Ask yourself, in your own thoughts what exactly are you? Are you a hearing aid seller, have hearing aids become the overriding impetus for what you do? I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, I am just asking you to question yourself about what you consider the answer to hearing loss is and what you do in your professional life. We do so much more than just sell hearing aids, we provide care and service for people who need our knowledge and understanding, people who have problems with their ability to hear.

Change Your Focus

We should be considering how we can change the conversation away from product, we need to do so if we as professionals are to remain relevant. We need to think about holistic solutions to hearing problems, for instance, if someone comes to you with perfect hearing except for a mild to moderate kick down at 4 and 6K. Do we fit them with a set of hearing aids? Probably not. However, they have told you that they have some issues hearing the television and the arguments with their spouse over volume is causing some problems. What do you do, tell them to come back in a few years when their loss is bad enough for hearing aids?

A Solution Based Focus

That is what many of us do because we have allowed our focus to be purely on hearing aids as a solution. Our focus needs to be wider and we need to be smarter, we need to think about a solution based focus for all difficulties suffered by people with their ability to hear. Not just the ones that are bad enough for us to sell hearing aids to. In order to do this, we need to think outside of hearing aids to any and all technology that is or may become available that can help. In this one case it might be TV Ears or Turtle Beach HyperSound. In other situations it could be a SoundHawk or a set of Here Actives from Doppler Labs. These type of technologies don’t threaten us, they in fact deliver opportunities for us to change towards that solution based focus I am talking about. We aren’t a one trick pony, but by hell if we continue in this manner that is what we will be seen as.

A Broken Business Model

Our business model like countless others across the world is broken, it is a model that is designed for the last century based on the singular product that was available for the difficulties we treated. Consider that for a minute and you will realise it’s truth. We need to re-consider our business model, the services we offer, the products we offer, the very processes and practices we adhere to. There is a list of things that we can utilise to begin to change how we provide care, there is also a list of products that would change how we provide solutions. Currently if a Patient has a problem with an aid, they have to come to our office, usually for you to say the wax guard needs changing. That is unproductive for both you and your customer. Wouldn’t it be more productive for the Patient to Skype you, let you view the offending device and talk them through a couple of quick checks? In fact, if the ability to connect to the aid remotely was thrown in so you could run an analysis wouldn’t that be better?

Use The Damn Technology!

Too often I hear things like, “My Patients wouldn’t use Skype!” More often than not that is horse shit, yup I said it. It is not our Patients who are afraid of technology, they are busy using Skype to talk to their kids in Australia and their family in America. It is more often us, who are afraid of technology. I am not saying that the scenario I have discussed is for every Patient, but why don’t we offer it for the Patients who would appreciate it? I will say it one last time, our business model is broken, we need to innovate around it so that we as a profession remain relevant to our customers. Because if we don’t someone else will.

A Final Note

As long as the conversation around hearing care is dominated by products we will always be at a disadvantage. Everyone of us needs to realise that and change the conversation. We need to ensure that people understand that we provide holistic solutions to hearing problems that combine products with rehabilitation, aftercare and service. Because if we don’t, we won’t be relevant in the process, product will be relevant and we will be relegated to button pushers.

 

About Geoffrey Cooling

my name is Geoffrey Cooling and I am the author here at Just Audiology Stuff. I have been involved in the Hearing Healthcare Profession for several years now. I initially worked as a Hearing Healthcare Professional for a large national retailer in Ireland. After several years in Practice I was approached to work for a manufacturer, where I was employed for five years. I am now the Co Founder of a business called Audiology Engine. We design websites, undertake content marketing and generally look after everything digital for audiological practices. I am also a contributor to many hearing profession periodicals and websites. I have written two commercially available books, The Little Book of Hearing Aids which is written for hearing aid consumers and Audiology Marketing in a Digital World which is written for Audiology Practice Owners. They are both available in Paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon. I also write for consumers on the website Hearing Aid Know, which is a website with the mission of demystifying hearing aids, their types and their technology. I have a great interest in commercial strategy as it applies to Healthcare in general and specifically to Hearing Healthcare. I also have a great interest in the psychology of sales and human interaction. I have been involved with social media for some time, both personally and professionally. I find the engagement and discourse on some social media channels fascinating. I instituted social media strategy for the company I worked for as an experiment. That experiment soon spread throughout the company and I am proud to say that the company is probably one of the most active in the industry. I would like to point out that all views, opinions and thoughts here are mine own. Unless of course they have been planted by the pod people, you just can’t take your eyes off the pod people. Those views do not necessarily reflect upon any views or opinions held by my employer, if I ever get another one. I think that our industry is in the middle of a time of huge change, I think that the change will be forced by both internal and external pressure. I think that private Independent Healthcare Practices will have to be smart and lithe of feet in order to meet these changes. I hope that some of my blatherings are of benefit to those Practices, Independent Hearing Healthcare Practices need to survive. I believe that if that occurs it will be of real benefit to Patients. I hope that I, and my writings will play a small part in their continued success.

7 Comments

  1. Pingback: Forandre samtalen på BSHAA 2016 • Høretrøbbel.no

  2. Holistic audiology care has to include solutions for places where we all know hearing aids are unable to help people hear: houses of worship, theaters, meeting rooms etc. Discuss assistive listening technology with those clients who do not/are not ready to use hearing aids and for those who do use devices – include the telecoil option in the counseling process and offer a demonstration. And please, do NOT call telecoils “Old technology” It is younger than the automobile or the airplane. http://hearinghealthmatters.org/hearingviews/2016/dispelling-myth-old-telecoil-technology/

    • Hi Juliette! Nice to “see” you. Instead of calling telecoils “Old technology”, how about calling them “proven technology.” Kind of like a real estate agent calling a smaller house “cozy.” 🙂

  3. Great ideas, Geoff (as always). Here’s an approach that I use that is technology-based and indirectly product-focused, but not for the patient. So often we can get caught up in explaining the technology, which can just cause the patient’s eyes to glaze over. They’re interested in benefit more than tech, so we should focus on that.

    But how much tech do they need? We can provide them with ideas, and up until recently I did so by simply asking “On a scale of 1 to 10, how socially active are you? How demanding are your situations for communication? “1” would be generally low social activity and “10” would be very active and demanding.” This helps, but is left to to patient as a subjective measure.

    Well, last year Unitron introduced their new platform and took datalogging to a new level with their “Log It All” feature (which I prefer to call a “Lifestyle Analyzer.” This nifty feature can be used with their Flex:Trial demo models to look at exactly how demanding the client’s needs might be, and from an objective point of view.

    Now my approach has changed with the use of this feature. I still explain that the amount of technology they need is largely based on their communication demands, but now we have a device that can actually measure it so that they’ll get the right technology. Because if they get higher tech than what they need, then they might be overspending. If they get lower tech than what they need, they won’t be satisfied.

    I fit the Flex:Trial units, making sure to probe mic verify to ensure benefit, and then have them come back 3-5 working days later. We download the Log It All information and review it together. It generally matches up to what their subjective impression is, but then I can also reassure them that if the instruments they get don’t meet their needs, Unitron’s instruments can be upgraded to a higher technology level at any point in the future (with them paying the difference at the time).

    The results are mixed, depending on your point of view. My average sales price (ASP) has decreased a bit (from $2,400 per unit to $2,150), but my close rate, particularly on new users, has increased significantly, more than offsetting the decrease in the ASP. In addition, the patients feel more confident in the decision making process, and love the idea of being able to upgrade later if they decide they need it.

    How this relates to your topic is that it deflects the conversation from the product to more focus on the client’s needs. We can use the technology to objectively determine what would likely work best for them without overdoing it. In addition, it effectively starts the adaptation process earlier than if we just ordered aids for them and fit them a week or two later. And, interestingly enough, cost becomes less of an issue once we’ve used the Log It All feature to prove need to the patient.

  4. Great article Geoff. Itemisation / unbundling is a fundamental part of this conversation.

    If clinics want to add PSAPs, hearables, smart ALDs and apps to their toolbox it is probably wise to start working on fee based service models.

    Eventually fee for service will be replaced by fee for value, but that’s another conversation.

  5. Dennis L Gunn, NBC-HIS

    Hats Off

    Enjoyed the comments. I salute all of those professionals who advocate for general improvements in our services.

    Certainly if we are not already providing a variety of technical products, or if our level of customer service is wanting, there are immediate steps that can be taken to increase our appeal to the market, and to better fill our client’s needs.

    However, I submit that the fleeting reference to rehabilitation in the closing of Geoff Cooling’s article is the most appropriate avenue to building direct and long term benefits for both HIS dispensers and our clients. For me, it is by far the more important issue, because it has as its core the fundamental flaw in our profession’s planning for growth, and some would maintain the eventual survival of our profession.

    Most of us are acutely aware of the flagrant inconsistencies that dominate our profession nationally, with no uniformity between States in licensing standards for education, training, apprenticeship, experience and skills. Some may know of my long advocacy for a movement in the profession to bring the States together in order to hammer out a shared set of criteria for future licensing of new HIS dispensers, one that would generate a new level of respect and stature, and one that would serve to benefit the competitiveness of coming generations of HIS professionals. However, that issue is only indirectly the theme of my message here.

    If we seek to elevate our profession, to improve our business model, to secure the future of our profession, to adopt a holistic approach to our services, and to directly and majorly improve the benefits to our clients, then I suggest a simple plan and goal that will immediately set apart our HIS services from competing discount marketers, web retailers and – if the truth were told – even many AuD dispensers. The plan is to get serious about rehabilitation.

    Let us go beyond just the natural, beneficial consequences of amplified sound to the broader client benefits of applied rehabilitation techniques. Yes, absolutely, it will take more of our time with clients, but that is what personal services are all about. It is also what the discount houses and web retailers cannot provide within their current business models.

    Accepting current realities, we cannot expect any time soon to see uniformity in State licensing, or the national adoption of rehabilitation services, but there is one thing that each of us can do to advance our competitiveness. We can set out on our own to learn, prepare and provide quality rehabilitation services
    to our clients, recognizing that it is the missing “other side of the coin’ benefit from our current dispensing services. This goes to the very heart of holistic care and the theme of Goeff Cooling’s excellent article.

    So hats off to the professionals who start taking the step that can change the face of our profession, and by so doing, directly benefit our clients, and at the same time solve many of the pressing problems that challenge us today.

    Dennis L. Gunn, NBC-HIS
    216 Lafayette Street
    Pittsburg, Texas 75686

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