From personalized online shopping to laser-focused loyalty marketing, businesses worldwide have embraced a customer-centric approach to sales and marketing. Unfortunately, my field – hearing healthcare – has been slow to embrace this trend, and customer satisfaction (not to mention the bottom line) has suffered as a result.
For hearing aid shoppers, the customer experience has been the same for more than 30 years: you buy whichever hearing instrument your audiologist recommends, and you pay up-front before even trying it. With an experience like that, it’s no wonder that more than half of all patients who visit an audiologist for a hearing test never return to be fitted for a hearing aid.
There is a great deal of distrust and skepticism among patients in this business, and one of the biggest impediments to better hearing is the hearing aid sales process itself, because patients simply don’t feel they have a real choice or a voice in the selection, demonstration and trial of a hearing instrument.
It took one manufacturer to change the way people buy and sell personalized medical devices like hearing instruments, and enhancing the customer experience is at the heart of this new strategy.
Hearing aid manufacturers have been searching for a solution to address the “dropout rate” among hearing aid purchasers – people who failed to return to a provider and buy a hearing aid, despite having a hearing test indicating they needed one. And although providers like me have been hearing the same excuses for years – hearing aids are too expensive, they just aren’t right for me, I’m too embarrassed to wear them, etc. – I was initially skeptical about whether a truly risk- and obligation-free trial program could work, even though that’s what my patients want.
We have done every sort of marketing promotion you can imagine to get people in the door, but in the past it hasn’t amounted to many sales because patients still couldn’t get over paying thousands of dollars for something they never had an opportunity to try. And how could anyone blame them? Imagine if you were shopping for a luxury sedan, but were only allowed to test-drive a used compact car before making your purchase. That’s how hearing aid selection has worked in the past.
In January, one manufacturer – Unitron – introduced a new, patient-centered trial program that removes the most common barriers to purchasing and wearing hearing aids through a 100 percent risk- and obligation-free “test drive” that is unlike anything else in the industry, allowing patients to experience the benefits of a real hearing aid in the real world, without the up-front costs of an at-home trial or the stripped-down features of traditional in-office demo units.
The difference is in the ability to “change the technology” and upgrade to different levels of amplification with a simple, remote software download. Patients don’t have to spend hours at the audiologist’s office waiting for adjustments, or wait weeks to try their new instruments. Each trial unit is completely personalized for the patient’s individual hearing needs, which makes the trial completely personalized, too.
Now, my patients can walk out of the office with the level of hearing technology that’s right for them and try it in their daily lives – at the park, at the club or at the opera, wherever they want to enjoy better hearing – before committing to purchase. And, the program lets patients upgrade to higher levels of performance without replacing the instrument – an audiologist downloads new software to the hearing aid, and the patient walks out of the office hearing better immediately without spending additional money on completely new hearing aids.
Hearing is an essential part of our lives, and today’s hearing instrument technology is powerful enough to help millions of people hear better every day, yet customized for a patient’s unique type of hearing loss and lifestyle needs. Giving people a chance to try personalized hearing instrument technology with no obligation is an essential next step in improving hearing for everyone.
After a three-month pilot, I was thrilled to see that the personalized trial initiative had improved my business like never before, from attracting dozens of new patients to dramatically increasing sales and improving customer satisfaction.
In the past, when I sent out direct mail to my patients and announced a promotion, I had at the most a one or two percent response rate. Now that we have incorporated Flex, the response rate is around nine or 10 percent, and I have had more than a few patients tell me personally that, had they known the process could be so trouble-free, they would have been fitted for hearing aids years ago.
As the owner of a private practice, I am always trying to find ways to help my providers sell more hearing aids. Now, with a truly individualized trial program that is focused on patients’ needs, I’m really just letting the hearing aids sell themselves. A customer-focused approach is simply better for our patients and it’s better for our business.