Omnichannel is the new buzzword across the hearing aid industry and profession, but what does it actually mean? The Wikipedia definition is “Omnichannel is a cross-channel content strategy that organizations use to improve their user experience. Rather than working in parallel, communication channels and their supporting resources are designed and orchestrated to cooperate”.
In essence, it means that the consumer experience is a joined-up one, no matter which channel or touchpoint they are using across an organisation. It isn’t a new thought process, however, it has expanded since the digital revolution. Omnichannel is more than a buzzword, it is a strategy for survival with modern consumers.
An omnichannel strategy is going to be essential for everyone in the hearing aid provision sector, including the Independent sector. But what is it, what does it look like and finally how are you going to deploy it? Before we talk about that, let’s look at what some of the big boys are doing.
I spoke recently on Linkedin about the Sonova investors presentation and its focus on moving forward with an omnichannel retail strategy. However, they are not the only with their eyes on the prize. I recently picked up on a social media share of the Amplifon strategy moving forward. It was a fascinating insight. Below is a video outlining their thoughts on the future user experience.
Amplifon sees their future as one where all of their channels come together to offer a seamless customer experience. An experience that is driven by the customers’ wants and needs. While they understand that the digital channel is hugely important, that doesn’t mean that they have lost their focus on the face to face in-person experience. In essence, Amplifon feels that a blended model offers the customer the best experience.
They plan to offer on the go touch points through their mobile app which involves remote appointments. However, they make it clear that the in-shop experience is still one of the most important touchpoints for the customer and the business. Amplifon is also very clear about how this new strategy will offer vast amounts of data that can help them deliver to the customer in the moment.
They talk about how data gathered through their different systems will allow them to better serve their customers. They say:
Through our advanced data management system, we are able to build a map of behaviour, purchase choices and to even estimate trends that may develop. This map guides us to the direction chosen by the customer, making their experience even more personalized and meaningful.
Technological and digital advances allow us to support our customers also remotely through chatbots which give them quick initial support to resolve simple problems.
This will naturally develop into a real e-health platform that will connect our hearing care specialists to our customers to carry out virtual appointments and remote fine-tuning of their hearing aids.
Sonova also feels that the blended model is important, but they see omnichannel in a wider view, they believe that in the future consumers will want more than the traditional model. They believe that the way to both the untapped market for hearing aids and indeed to the heart of the modern consumer is through multiple channels including online provision.
They also make it clear that any online provision needs the interaction of a hearing care professional either remotely or in-store. That distinction is important. I don’t believe that Sonova sees a future that is either or, personally I don’t either. I think there will be consumers who want to purchase online and who will be very happy with the online support that they need.
However, there will be many who will want an in-person face to face appointment at some stage. It is clear to me that Sonova feels that a blended model approach is imperative for the best experience for consumers. The Sonova concept is more true to the omnichannel strategy. Having said that, I could see a retailer like Amplifon move towards the Sonova strategy if they felt that it was the right thing to do for both their business and consumers.
Omnichannel for Independents
Okay, we have taken a very high look at two omnichannel strategies from two big industry players. What does it mean for Independents, how can they compete in an omnichannel world? The simplest way is to join it, to design a strategy and employ technology to provide it.
Let’s take a look at the elements that you need to consider and how you may begin to use them. The key is that your offer ensures that consumers can use the touchpoints they want to engage with you. More importantly, you can use the touchpoints that they want to communicate with them.
Key to all of this will be the ability to collate the information in a simple and powerful manner. An intelligent practice management software system is imperative for this to work. Be warned! I will explain a bit later what that intelligent system should offer.
Your website will be one of the key elements in your ongoing strategy, it is one of the key places that consumers and prospective consumers engage with you. Considering the needs of consumers, both the people actively engaged with you and the prospects that aren’t, what do we need to offer to ensure a better experience?
- Easy to use and informative website
- Multiple channels of communication, both online and offline, think facebook messenger, WhatsApp, mobile number to text, chatbox on-site, phone number, a submission form etc
- Simple online hearing test with data capture
- Online booking facility
- Patient portal with customised information and e-commerce options
What you offer may not change in the short term, although I would encourage you to look at options for online sales of devices. However, how you offer it will have to change and change quickly. While I believe face to face in-person visits will remain an integral part of the journey, consumers will want remote appointments. They will expect it and if you aren’t offering it, you will lose out.
You need to become completely comfortable with the remote systems offered by hearing aid manufacturers and you need to integrate them into your patient journey. Not everyone will want them, however, the people who do will go elsewhere if you don’t offer them.
I believe that as time goes by and we meet a newer cohort of customers, more and more of them will expect remote support. I think that in-store visits will drop to a few over the years that they remain your customer.
Offering Remote Services
Remote follow-ups and aftercare don’t have to be provided by the most qualified person in the room. We need to begin to understand what other qualified people in our practices can provide and how that will fit within our offerings.
Hearing Care Assistants can undertake follow-ups and aftercare. They can free up time for other appointments by taking the pressure off. The key to this strategy is the involvement of that personnel from the beginning. The consumer needs to be informed from the beginning that they will deal with a dedicated team for their ongoing support. That way, there are no surprises.
Using Manufacturer Apps
Another part of this strategy will be the use of manufacturer apps as a foundation stone of our offering. Every customer must be introduced to the apps, not just the ones who have smartphones. Explain the apps, explain the power of them and the options for ongoing communication, aftercare, and the power delivered over better hearing.
Then let them decide for themselves if this is something of value to them. I think you will find that many will see it as a valuable tool. It may even spur some consumers to get their first smartphone. I believe that modern smartphone apps are outstanding, they offer the consumer the opportunity to really control their experience. Again, I think if you aren’t offering consumers this, it will come back to bite you.
Ensuring This Strategy Works For You
The centre of this strategy is the ability to gather information and use it to offer a better consumer experience. To do this, you need a customer management system that integrates with all of your other systems and gives you clear information on what is going on with each consumer.
Some of the patient management systems now offer deeper integration with your website. They allow online booking of appointments for instance. There are a few that will offer online hearing tests with captured data integration.
Hopefully, in the future that data integration will also include some sort of hearing test results from the online hearing test. Auditdata in Denmark has begun to offer a new kiosk hearing tester. It is designed to be a stand-alone device used where it is most suitable for the consumer to run a self hearing test.
What makes it different from other offerings out there is that the test offers an audiogram output that can be sent to your practice management system. I would imagine it probably only works with their office management system at the moment, however, they are masters of integration at Auditdata, so it may well be made to work with any system.
App Integration With Your OMS
In the future I would hope that manufacturer’s apps would better integrate with your OMS. That would give us complete view of hours worn, sound environments exposed to, changes to sound profiles and finally requests for remote assistance, automatic booking of remote assistance sessions and an overview record of those sessions as appointments.
At the moment, you will need to enter all of this data yourself, but it is important data for you to keep. It means that you have an overall view of your customer and their journey to date. It also means that you may well be able to automate some of that future journey moving forward.
Your future success will be based on your knowledge of the consumer and your ability to provide them the service they want in the way that they want it. That will mean that you need to use all of the tools at your disposal. While we don’t have a singular joined-up tool available to us, that doesn’t mean the consumer cares. We must work with what we have until someone comes up with something better