Commoditisation, Services and a question

What do you want to be?


Recently It has become clear that many within our profession are worried about commoditisation of our profession. In essence it is not the skills of our profession which is commoditised but the products we are inextricably linked with.

I would agree that this has occurred and I think it is an ongoing threat to our profession. However, we have brought ourselves to this point with our historical actions. The consumer and their thought processes are guided by the marketing we undertake.

The consumer has reached the conclusion that hearing well is all about purchasing a set of hearing instruments. We have encouraged that conclusion. We need to ensure that this situation changes. Not just for the future of our profession but also for the well being of Patients.

Because I believe that the ongoing well being of Patients is best served by our continued inclusion in the process. I think that a change in the emphasis of marketing strategies will assist us. However that alone will not suffice in the task ahead. Changes will occur within the provision of hearing instruments in the next five to ten years.

Whilst we do not need to take them as they come, we can and should look to accept them on our terms. I tend to try and look at most events, good or bad, adverse or opportune, as opportunities. I believe that whatever technology and consumer driven change throws at us, there will always be opportunity.

It is up to us as a profession to assess where that opportunity lies. These things are for the future, although I think not that far ahead. For now, we need to battle this sense of commoditisation that appears prevalent.

Paternalistic strategies will not work, the consumer is way too savvy for that type of strategy. They will balk at and rail against being told what to do. We will have to convince them that we can assist in this process. That we can deliver to them solutions that address their needs better than anyone else. That we can in fact offer them professional service and services.

Someone recently said that it is difficult to commoditise service. He was right, service and standard of service is a difficult thing to fully commoditise. The differentiation that all Practice owners seek lies in service levels. It lies in physical processes that are undertaken within a Practice. These are difficult thing to give sizzle to in advertising, but I believe wholeheartedly that we must try.

A focus on process and services is what will drive the perception that we are looking for. This focus will assist on the goal of portraying ourselves as medical professionals at the centre of hearing well. The question we individually have to answer is, what do we want to be? So what do you want to be?



About Geoffrey Cooling

Geoffrey Cooling is an Irish hearing care blogger and the author of The Little Book of Hearing Aids and Audiology Marketing in a Digital World. He has been involved in the Hearing Healthcare Profession since 2007 when he qualified as a hearing aid audiologist. He has worked in private practice and for a major hearing aid manufacturer. He has become recognised as an authority within the field of hearing care and hearing aids.


  1. Geoffrey,
    This topic is fitting in a time of our profession that is seeking answers now, solutions very inexpensive, as well as a simplistic answer to an often complicated issue (hearing loss). Your point of we bringing it upon ourselves, can be considered as quite true. The marketing and advertisements of a “product” seems to distract from the clinical and professionalism, of what we do.
    We, as a profession, need to always place a true focus on a relationship with the patient. This can never be achieved by internet sales.
    Great conversation Geoffrey. Great blog as usual, I am going to try and be a regular on your posts. Please, feel free, when something grabs you on our blog to do the same.
    Have a great Thanksgiving!

  2. I believe that, as a profession, we need to help as many people as possible to hear better, as only about 25% of the hearing impaired actually use hearing aids.

    This low adoption rate has numerous reasons, as Sergei Kochkin has repeatedly written about; not the least of which are the barriers put up by the professional associations in the US; and by the complexity and hassle of navigating the NHS bureaucracy.

    Commoditization of hearing aids is already taking place in the PSAP market: Hearing aid manufacturers have been trying this for years (see Wayne Staab’s history on this in Hearing Health Matters); and finally with WDRC making hearing aids palatable to broken ears, PSAP’s are going to get Really Good, Really Soon.

    The debate about the need of the hearing care professional in the hearing aid purchasing process is a microcosm of the ObamaCare fiasco here in the US: Millions of people were completely happy with their health insurance; but they were told when their policies were canceled in the last seven weeks that because of the regulations published in the Federal Register on June 17th, 2010, their policies were not good enough, i.e. they lacked “Christmas tree items” such as maternity care, mental health, prescription drugs, etc… And are being forced to buy much more expensive policies they don’t want or need.

    The same goes for hearing aid sales in the US: Imagine going into a car dealership wanting to buy an economy car for $14 thousand; but you are told the only car you can buy is a $30 grand luxury model loaded down with options you don’t want or need.

    In a free society, it should be up to the individual to choose whether s/he wants a basic commodity hearing aid or PSAP, or wants to go full house with auditory rehab, wireless accessories, etc… — It should .NOT. be dictated by bureaucrats, as the market will quickly sort things out.

    • In essence Dan I think the consumer is starting to set the agenda. However, as you know the fitting of a hearing instrument is slightly more complex than a simple audiogram and first fit. I think that the provision of hearing instruments globally will change, whether that is through the loosening of regulation or the increasing efficacy of PSAP technology. I think we as a profession will have to change and adapt to the changing face of the business. I also think wholeheartedly that it is imperative for the well being of hearing impaired Patients that we remain involved in the process. Whether that is as suppliers or facilitators is what remains to be seen. Widex has never manufactured a PSAP and has recently cautioned against their use. So stop with the generalization “Manufacturers”. You only do it to upset me in anyway! 🙂

  3. Geoff, Widex has always marched to their own drummer; but on this side of the pond, numerous hearing aid manufacturers have built PSAP’s at one time or another, going back 30 years.

    But, the Widex Sensogram is the closest to self-fitting hearing aids, as I documented in this article.

    • You mean that the sensogram could facilitate self fit?

      • @Geoff, you bet the Sensogram facilitates self-fitting: America Hears (formerly Authorized Hearing Service 1979-1999) has been using it for over a decade for their direct-to-consumer program.

        The problem I’ve uncovered with Widex’ implementation of the Sensogram is what it does with the threshold & UCL data once it’s been measured: Instead of using it dorectly to build the program (much as a CI uses the T & C/M data to build a MAP), it “massages” the response, lowering the high frequencies somewhat to increase comfort.

        But, you can take umbrage in the fact that all mfr’s do this, especially on their proprietary “first fit” methods. What’s worse, all of them (save Unitron) also twerk the independent prescriptive methods, such as NAL-NL2.

        • But in defence, NAL is an arbitrary prescription that takes no account of the instrument or the preference of the Patient. Most Manufacturer fitting prescriptions are a customisation of NAL. In fairness Dan, they tend to work well.

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