by Brian Taylor, AuD
Not long ago it was possible for a hearing care practice to thrive with a nominal investment in marketing. Through the first 20 years of the digital era, roughly 1995 to 2015, a practice could run a catchy promotional advertisement in the local newspaper or offer a “digital hearing aid” consumer seminar with a technical expert that would attract a sizable number of new customers. That era of low hanging fruit is over.
Today, thanks to Wi-Fi, social media and Smartphone apps, patients have access. They have access to more information, access to low cost alternatives to hearing aids (i.e., PSAPs) and access to the thoughts, opinions and outcomes of other patients (one example is Hearing Tracker).
Consequently, patients have much more control of the entire buying process. To stay competitive, audiologists must be more agile about how they connect with persons seeking help for their hearing loss.
The Progression of Value and Creating a Memorable Patient Experience
Most providers agree that the way patients engage in the buying process has undergone a remarkable transition over the several years. Gone are the days when you could post an occasional promotional offer in your local newspaper or conduct an Open House event and generate immediate sales. Today, providers must be more creative and nimbler in their approach to marketing. They must adapt social media and other forms of electronic marketing to generate office traffic and develop loyalty in today’s more frenetic marketplace.
Everything from using social media, to conducting more memorable hearing assessments, to generating more word-of-mouth referrals via video testimonials archived on your website, are needed to stay competitive these days.
Long term success in this new competitive era begins with your ability to rethink how patients engage with your practice. In their landmark thesis, Welcome to the Experience Economy, Jim Pine and James Gilmore introduced business managers to the concept of the Progression of Economic Value, which asserts the more emotionally engaging and memorable the service experience provided to customers, the more value your business creates for them, and consequently, the more customers are willing to pay for your services.
Their more elaborate follow-up book, The Experience Economy, serves as a launching pad for orchestrating a more memorable patient experience in a hearing care practice. Most providers, by nature, are natural caregivers, and the ideas laid out in the book simply serve to formalize the provider’s ability to foment a personal relationship with each person seeking help and guidance.
The Loyalty Loop
Beyond the patient-hearing care provider interaction during an appointment, persons with hearing loss connect with your practice in fundamentally new ways. This means traditional marketing strategies must be redesigned to account for how patients engage with your practice.
David Edelman of McKinsey Global Digital Marketing, Inc. has created a starting point for how to plan your marketing strategy in an era when there is no low hanging fruit. Called the “Loyalty Loop,” Edelman has found that customers consider many alternatives prior to making a purchase. And, once they do make a purchase, customers often enter an extended undecided phase with a business. The Loyalty Loop is shown in Figure 1.
According to Edelman, businesses often overemphasize the “consider” and “buy” stages, allocating more resources than necessary to build awareness and encourage purchase. In the era of near universal smartphone use, what customers are looking for is a digital relationship with a business. Given the ubiquitous nature of Facebook and other social media these days, the “evaluate” and “consider” stages – essential parts of that digital relationship – are more relevant to the customer than ever. After all, in 2019, a consumer can instantaneously consider, evaluate and buy a product on their smartphone – and complete all three processes with a different company.
For practice owners, business managers and clinicians, the importance of a digital relationship that complements the personal relationship is a sea change to the traditional business model.
Marketing investments must be made on an easy-to-use website, laden with video content with testimonials from real patients that assist other help-seeking consumers navigate the evaluation process and spread positive word-of-mouth about your practice. Today, an easy-to-navigate website, authentic social media presence that reflect your core values and the ability to implement a memorable patient experience are merely table stakes in the pursuit of business excellence.
The result of these tactics, if you are a provider, is to create an emotional bond with your patient that leads to a successful outcome. Using the Loyalty Loop as a roadmap ensures you are accounting for all the stages of the patient’s interaction with your practice.
Your website, Facebook page, clinical protocol and office management system are simply tools designed to assist you in creating an engaging patient experience that reflects your own values and beliefs. It all begins and ends with the timeless art of connecting with people – the natural “sweet spot” for many audiologists and hearing instrument specialists.
Clinical Success in Spades
Perhaps the ability of hearing care providers to incorporate concepts like the Progression of Economic Value and the Loyalty Loop, which, together, underscore the need for blending the personal and digital relationships with customers, was best summarized by business guru, Shawna Suckow, at the recent Aspire business development conference in Phoenix.
Suckow, who is an expert on leveraging consumer and societal trends in the marketplace, uses the acronym SPADES to describe how these trends can be used to create and execute your own business strategy that accounts for the personal and digital aspects of relationships with customers:
Social Proof: Build an on-line reputation based on trust.
People: Emphasize the human connection in all your communications.
Authenticity: Be relatable. Don’t be afraid to show your flawed, genuine, likable self.
Differentiation: Own one unique word or phrase to describe your practice.
Education: Aim to serve persons with hearing loss and their communication partners by educating them, not simply providing them with information.
Stay Relevant: Never stop learning about how customer behavior is changing and stay agile enough in your business that you can adapt your processes to these changes.
No matter what your role within a practice – owner, manager, clinician, front office support – the models of consumer behavior outlined in this article can be used to stay relevant in your own community and differentiate your practice in an era when customers are looking for both a personal and digital relationship with your practice.
It’s up to each provider to bring these concepts to life to better service the ever-evolving needs of today’s consumer.
Brian Taylor, AuD, is the director of scientific and product marketing for Signia. His most recent book is Audiology Practice Management, published in March 2019 by Thieme. Brian served as Editor-In-Chief at HHTM from 2018-2019 and currently serves as Editor-at-Large.