By Oliver F. von Borstel, MBD
Many independent practices or private small chains which sell hearing aids are struggling to stay afloat, pay wages and bills, and survive the current business year. I have many such clients who can no longer see the future. Most of those businesses often focus on selling hearing aids accessories related to better hearing (e.g. remote controls, microphones, TV headsets, etc.).
As they have done for ages, they are counting on a good margin from the hardware. But margins on hardware get smaller and smaller. Owning a Hearing Aid Practice is not as attractive as it once was, when an owner of a couple of practice locations could become wealthy in a short period of time.
Moreover, competition has grown drastically in the last three years with the arrival of advanced hearing aids which are no longer just ‘amplifiers’, but much more.
Clients of mine are afraid of the coming OTC ‘threat’ as well as customers buying hearing aids online. They ask me, “What should I do?” Often I get clients in the shop asking me to fit hearing aids they bought somewhere else… “What should I charge for fitting?”
My answer is always, symbolically: “Do not charge anything… convince them to do a hearing and speech test with you!” I’ll explain this further in a moment.
The Past in Hearing Aid Dispenser Land…
A lot has changed in the hearing aid industry in the past 20 years, as things are not as they were. High margins and territory protections have disappeared, and real high-tech hearing aids have entered the market some 3 years ago and continue. The client target group has changed as well: it used to be “old people” but now includes a younger demographic.
The stigmatization of wearing hearing aids is melting away for two main reasons:
- Hearing aids have become much smaller but more powerful.
- Wearing ear buds has become common and ‘fashionable’ among youngsters and baby boomers!
Another fact is that Big Boxes (e.g. big chains and third parties) have since entered the market and are able to charge prices small business can’t compete with.
What do existing businesses have to do to become successful again or become more successful and much better than others?
I will answer this in a minute… Allow me to explain step-by-step what an independent dispenser must do to face the changes in the market and stay successful and profitable.
What is Better: Product Selling or Solution Selling?
Unfortunately, most hearing aid dispensers, whether big or small, focus on ‘product’ selling instead of Solution Selling! Let me explain the differences and how important they are.
- It is called ‘box moving’
- It does not have a total solution character, with the price or discount as the main feature.
- There is low client loyalty because they ‘shop further’ to see if they can get it cheaper somewhere else.
- The main difference is that it is about the solution or the total solution, with the combination of the HIS, practice and product to present individually the best and most optimal Hearing Aid Solution.
- In our industry clients do not need just a ‘product’ but rather a complete hearing solution to really improve their quality of life and those of their spouses, family members, co-workers, friends etc.
- Once this is achieved the client and his/her spouse become FANS: they proactively spread the news through word-of-mouth, telling others, regardless of the money they spent, to see YOU for a Hearing Aid Solution!
Be Better than the rest! Focus on Personal Concern and Excellent Personal Services
Future revenues will not come from ‘hardware’ such as ‘hearing products’! The independent dispenser was used for many years to generate income, turnover, and profit year upon year by just selling hearing products. Those days have since gone and many businesses struggle or are taken over by competitors.
Like the IT sector in the 1990’s, giants such as IBM skipped the PC business and concentrated on services that make life easier and more profitable for both their clients and themselves. Being a professional in this industry back then, I could not believe that IBM would survive…but they did!
Practices must learn to put the focus on two major strategies:
- Do not sell ‘products’, but individualized HEARING AID SOLUTIONS
- Surprise patients and their spouses with something they did not think about themselves!
- Personal Concern and Excellent Service! Now you have Top Level Quality SERVICES.
What clients want is being helped for the entire time they use the new hearing aid solution, often regarded as a lifetime of 5 years. Doing this is a perfect customer relationship strategy: Give them reasons to stay with you!
Secondly, if you have a service model strategy, you will earn money with it.
What Services Might a Practice Consider Implementing?
Here are examples:
- 6 days a week open, or even 7 days!
- In-Home services
- Hearing Testing
- Installation of accessories
- Hearing aid cleaning and service
- TeleCare 24/7-services
- Experience rooms in your practice
- Trained, inspired, and motivated personnel where the Customer is King in attitude & behavior is the philosophy
- Focus on helping and not on ‘selling’
- Package for maintenance and repair
- Spare parts for free
- Batteries included, free for 5 years
- Frequent personal and individual contact by phone
- Frequent personal contact with always the same HIS per client
- Frequent contact, for example, every 3 months engaging in personal contact by phone: “May I ask you, how satisfied are you with the Hearing Aid Solution?”
- Layout of your practice: Is it old-fashioned, the same as what others have, with worn furniture and dusty? Make it unique and outstanding!
- Serve your clients drinks like in a first-class hotel!
- Nespresso coffee and assorted drinks
- Drinks not out of a can but personally served in a glass!
- Cold filtered water dispenser
- Waiting room? Make it a “living room”! Examples:
- TV on
- Hearing Loop connected to the TV and a Microphone to demonstrate technology
- Music in the back ground
- Table with recent magazines and Testimonial Albums and Journal Articles
- Flowers and plant: Real ones, not plastic stuff!
All services suggested help to increase your revenues. Make a total solution model per client, including hearing aids, accessories, services, repair, batteries, etc. In a total concept, these services are included in a total price: Total Hearing Aid Solution Package.
Once the client is convinced, he/she will see the total value of it and price discussions can be either
- Avoided, or
- Dealt with easily because you can refer to a total professional package.
What to Do Now?
Reconsider your client approach: personal, practice and your marketing. Lift it on a higher quality level. Think about what made Steve Jobs successful: “Get closer than ever to your customers. So close, in fact, that you tell them what they need before they realized it themselves”.
Most important is that a hearing professional can convince a client individually with facts and arguments that just buying a hearing aid is not all: It is about the Personal Concern and Exceptional Service for the coming 5 years–The professional After Sales Services.
Customer is King and it is not just “selling a hearing aid” and all is settled. Prepare for arguments and facts to show them the value of the Total Hearing Solution you offer. Prepare to convince them that it is more than worthwhile to invest in a 5-year Total Solution Hearing Solution. Containing much more valuables than just ‘hearing aids’.
My advice: always avoid words like ‘price’, ‘expensive’, ‘price tag’, ‘a lot of money’ etc. Better: use terms like investment for the coming 5 years, or, investment for a better life quality. And remember: Hard selling is out and does not create FAN’s!
Oliver F. von Borstel, Expert of Ethical Selling Hearing Aid Solutions & Audiologist/HIS Personal Coach. He founded 13 years ago Masters of Business Development BV in Europe, a recognized firm in supporting hearing aid dispensers worldwide to become more successful. Oliver is a accredited member of the Dutch National StAr Audiologist Association.