The recent changes in regulations regarding hearing aids will, no doubt, lead to the creation of an over-the-counter (OTC) hearing device category for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. That’s exciting for many because of the convenience. It brings to mind what we’ve already seen in the optic industry. Remember when glasses without a prescription were first introduced?
Initially, these cheaper glasses were sold in supermarkets or gas stations mostly because opticians refused to sell them. Today, the opticians that survived the influx of this type of product are happily selling cheaper glasses too. They use them as a lead generation tool to acquire consumers and eventually upgrade them to higher-end glasses and contact lenses.
It makes one wonder if the same opportunity awaits hearing care professionals. Therein lies an infinite debate. Should they stick to premium hearing aids or should they also recommend cheaper solutions such as OTC hearing aids, PSAPs (Personal Sound Amplification Products) or even augmented hearing mobile apps?
When we asked this question to audiologist Birgitte Hansen of Hearing Home GmbH, she provided a straightforward answer. Ms. Hansen has helped more than 2000 clients over the past -ten years as a premium reseller for Phonak products. With that in mind, she makes her recommendations with the goal to build long-term relationships via the highest possible satisfaction guarantee she can give. For her, it’s not just about closing the deal.
To that end, she recently started a collaboration with the start-up Fennex. This company provides an augmented hearing app that starts its solution with a hearing test so it can amplify sound selectively, also with wireless headphones. Ms. Hansen says she's actively recommending it to some of her customers. She typically sees an average of ten clients a day; some of which are younger than average and new to hearing aids.
She says, “Clients come to me because I'm an expert in hearing care. Today I had a patient around 50 years-old with mild hearing loss. After a thirty-minute conversation about his professional and private life, I understood that he struggles in mainly one listening situation. His meetings at work are an issue due to his mild hearing loss. Although he recognized the need for a solution, he wasn't ready to adopt premium hearing aids. So, he came into my office with the clear intention to buy the cheapest in-the-ear hearing aids I had. He desired to maintain a level of discreetness for use in meetings a couple of times a week. The Fennex app was perfect for him.”
Other audiologists may have forced him into a trial of a more expensive option and convinced him to buy basic hearing aids for occasional usage. Ms. Hansen showed this gentleman a different solution. The customer, pictured in the photo below, had a hard time keeping his enthusiasm under control when he downloaded the free Fennex app. He was amazed not only by the technology itself but also by Ms. Hansen’s honesty. She went beyond every commercial rule and just suggested that he pursue convenience.
We asked Ms. Hansen the reason why she operated so unconventionally. She said, “Relationship with clients is the most important thing in our business. Our role as audiologists is to offer exactly what the person can handle in that specific stage of their life. I wouldn’t feel proud of myself or my business if I were selling hearing aids that my clients don’t like and are never going to wear. You can lead a client toward their journey to improved hearing, make them aware of their hearing abilities, and give them the best solutions on the market. But, ultimately, they need to be convinced that hearing aids are a great opportunity rather than a constraint.”
When we asked if she was afraid to lose business by suggesting a radical approach like an augmented hearing app she said, “Inexpensive and temporary solutions like Fennex can help people to understand the importance hearing well has in their lives. Fennex or other apps will never replace hearing aids, but they can help us to reach people in need of a hearing solution much earlier in their journey. Mobile apps represent a great opportunity for us. I am 100% sure that when a customer feels grateful I suggested a mobile app, they’re more ready to buy hearing aids. They will come back to me because of the trustworthy relationship that I was able to create thanks my genuine suggestions. I believe that my colleagues should be more open to this new technology and treat it as a tool to satisfy customers in their discovery phase.”