I gave a presentation at an Optical conference recently to Independent Opticians about hearing healthcare as an offering within their business. It was a fascinating event and I heard many different points of views. I presented what I felt were the pros and cons of delivering hearing care in-house or working with an external partner to deliver hearing care. Afterwards, I was surprised to hear someone say that I was anti-partnership. I don’t think I was, I think I was just trying to lay out the pros and cons. It started me thinking though, as things are want to do.
Why do independent opticians need to consider hearing care?
That is rather simple, if they don’t offer hearing care, their customers will go somewhere else for the service. The risk is that they will go to a direct competitor for the eye care services. In order to retain customers, they need to ensure that they offer hearing care services.
Entering a partnership
I said at the conference that there were pros and cons to a partnership and that a partnership need to be entered into carefully. Any business relationship needs to be entered into carefully, business goals need to align, as does commitment. Let’s take a look at those pros and cons.
The pros of external audiology providers
- No Hassle
- Increased Revenue For Little Work
- Retention of Customers
- Little or no investment
The cons of external audiology providers
- The Right Room
- Lose Control of Brand
- The danger to Your Own Brand
- Possible Loss of Customers
I think the pros speak for themselves really but let’s take a look at them. I think the key for Opticians is that offering the service helps to retain their existing customer base. That and, of course, is the hope that it will also grow their base. Partnering with an external provider cuts down on the hassle that comes along with setting up a service. Partnering will also ensure that there will be little or no financial investment in offering the service. That doesn’t mean there won’t be an investment.
There will be an investment of time and energy to introducing an external hearing care service. That investment needs to be ongoing in order that the partnership is successful. This is not a service offering that you enter into because everyone else is doing it. This is a service offering that you enter into because you are committed to making it a success.
When entering into any partnership with an external provider you need to be aware that you are losing some control over your brand. You have worked diligently to build and shape your brand, when an external provider begins to interact with your customers, you are endorsing them.
In fact, the actions of that external provider will reflect on your brand. Your customers will not see the hearing care service as XYZ hearing care, they will see it as your hearing care offering. That means that you will lose some overall control of your brand and that partner can represent a danger to your brand.
The final thing that needs to be understood is that once your customers become customers of your external hearing care provider, they will remain their customers no matter if your relationship finishes. That means that if your external provider moves to an Independent Optician in the same town, so do your customers for their hearing care.
These are exceptionally important things for you to consider and understand. I don’t mean for you to fear them, what I really want is you to be aware of them and factor them into picking a partner.
Picking the right partner
In order for you to pick the right partner you need to be able to discuss all of these points and more with them. Your agreement to partner needs to be based on your need to protect your brand and your partner needs to be aware of that and willing to facilitate it. You need to ensure that you are a good fit, this isn’t a marriage, but it probably has at least some of the same rules.
A good relationship is made out of a clear understanding of each others needs and agreements to facilitate them. Sometimes there may well be hard patches, but open dialogue and discussion can usually ensure that things are dealt with before they became insurmountable.
The commitment is key
Commitment is key here, and that goes for both sides. Too many times I have seen Opticians bring someone into their practice and then waste everyone’s time by not getting their staff involved or following a strategy to actually generate hear care appointments. That will not work, it will not generate business for anyone. It is an exercise in futility.
Having said that, too many times I have seen hearing care professionals drop interest because appointments aren’t being generated which leads to them not attending. Again, what’s the point of that?
The commitment of both sides to the process is needed. Hearing care professionals need to facilitate the strategy in every way possible. Independent opticians need to ensure that their entire staff buy into the strategy. When done well, joint service offerings work well for everyone. When done badly, they cause issue for and damage the brands of everyone involved.