Answering the “How Much Do Your Hearing Aids Cost?” Phone Call

Probably the most frequently asked question on in an incoming call to a practice selling hearing aids is “How much do your hearing aids cost?” It also tends to be the most challenging call your staff will have to handle.

Why?

The reason it is the most challenging is that the person asking the question is probably looking for the lowest price quote and that will determine where they go to get hearing aids. Another possibility is that they have already been somewhere else, gotten a quote, and now they are seeing if they can find a better price by shopping around.

If you don’t have the lowest prices then just giving the caller your price range will not result in them making an appointment. And that is what most practices do. The typical response is “Our hearing aids range in price from x to y”.  Sometimes the price quoted is for a pair, which makes it sound even worse.

The Script

We’ve assembled a script that will guide your staff through the dreaded “price question”.  If you’re a member of Oracle Hearing, the script will be included in the weekly email.  If you aren’t a member of Oracle Hearing this is probably not the only problem you’re facing in your practice and not the first time you’ve been faced with a problem that you don’t know how to resolve.  Call us, we can help.

 

Does Your Staff Understand Hearing Loss?

The target market of the typical Audiology/Dispensing office consists primarily of hearing impaired adults over the age of 50.  The first thing every employee in your practice should learn is how to communicate with the hearing impaired. As professionals who deal with the hearing impaired we have been inundated with lessons on how to communicate with the hearing impaired.  Too often we forget that our staff does not gain this knowledge through osmosis.

How to Communicate with Your Target Market

I’d suggest you begin with a role play exercise.  The purpose of this exercise is for your employees to experience, however briefly what your target market experiences when they contact your office.  Each staff member should have the opportunity to be both the “patient” and the “front desk person”.

The key component of this exercise is to make the person playing the “patient” hearing impaired.  Establish air conduction threshold levels for each staff member and then establish threshold levels while they are wearing earplugs.  Although earplugs will most likely create only a mild hearing loss, the sudden onset should unsettle the “patient” enough for demonstration purposes.

Start with a Phone Call

This session should last approximately an hour.  Begin by splitting the group in half, “patients” and “front desk person”.  Place the “front desk person” at the front desk and the “patients” in an exam room.  Begin the session by having one “patient” call the office for an appointment.  Provide no script or feedback at this junction.  The purpose of the role play is so that the “patient” gains insight into what it’s like to be a member of the hearing impaired community.  If there are an even number of “patients” and staff and sufficient phone lines more than one patient/staff conversation can occur at the same time.

Check In

Next move to the front desk area, you want to create the same situation patient/staff, role paying while checking patients in at the front desk.

After everyone has had an opportunity to be both the patient and the staff member discuss the following?

 Evaluation

  1. Was communicating on the phone harder than you thought it would be?
  2. Did you have a difficult time communicating with the “front desk person”?

Discuss how your staff can improve how they communicate with the hearing impaired.

  • Think about how fast you speak.  Slower will make you easier to hear and to understand.
  • Facing someone with a hearing impairment and allowing them to see your lips will make your words more understandable.
  • Use body language and gestures to help get the point across.

Other Disabilities

Your Staff also needs to understand that many of your patients will have issues in addition to a hearing impairment.

Visual Impairments/Disabilities

Sight loss can slowly develop from gradual aging, or it can strike as suddenly as a disease or injury. It can involve anything from wearing thick glasses to seeing only straight ahead, to seeing blank spaces or blurs or only light and darkness.

  • Make an effort to avoid nonverbal responses, such as nods or headshakes. Remember that body language, like outstretched arms or facial expressions, may be un-seeable.
  • Smiling when you talk is one exception to this rule; the patient may not see it, but it will come through when you speak.
  • When you first approach a blind person, always say, “Hello,” followed by a reassuring pat on the arm or shoulder or a handshake. If it’s someone you don’t know, introduce yourself.
  • Don’t be afraid to use common expressions like, “Nice to see you”; even blind people say it.

Confusion and Memory Loss

Confusion can cause memory loss, or memory loss can cause confusion. So can infection, dehydration or medication. Someone who clearly remembers an event that took place ten years ago may completely forget something you said ten seconds ago. He or she may keep asking you the same question over and over again—not just because they forgot your answer, but because they forgot they even asked the question.

In addition to being very patient, there are practical communication steps you can take to help confused relatives remember things and become less dependent on you:

  • Patience is a virtue it is not just a saying.  You may need to repeat something more than once, not because the patient was unable to hear the question, but they were unable to process the question.
  • Your staff needs to understand that someone with a processing disorder when presented with the following list of commands
    • “I need your insurance card, please fill out this form and the Audiologist will be with you in a moment.”
    • May process only the last or first command.
    • Instead the staff member may need to say.
      • “I need your insurance card.”
      • Once the staff member has the card they can say, “Please fill out this form.”
      • Wait a moment and then say “Please have a seat.”
  • Make written reminders specific—“Your appointment with Dr. Goldman is 11 AM on Thursday, May 16,”

Impaired Speech

Patient’s who have lost the ability to speak through stroke, voice-box removal or brain injury create a special challenge. Because in addition to speaking clearly, respectfully and reassuringly, you now have to decipher what the patient wants to say. Exactly what and how heavy this burden is can often depend on what caused the speech loss:

  • Someone who had his or her voice box removed is probably more prepared for speech loss. A special device may be fitted to permit speaking with air belched from the stomach.
  • Patients who have suffered a brain injury may be able to speak but unable to find the right word. Always keep pencil and paper on hand so the patient can write instead of talking. Keep on hand means a notepad and pen should be set aside for this purpose.  At times, appearances are everything and being prepared for these types of situations demonstrates your commitment to every patient’s needs, not just patients who require no extra effort.
  • Just as the name implies, the speech loss that strokes cause can be sudden. This can be particularly disconcerting to staff members when the patient is an existing patient.

Remember that whether it’s a hearing, vision, memory, or speech impairment, the patient is still likely to be mentally alert. Treat them with respect; never patronize them or talk down to them.  Word of mouth can make you or break you.  Bad news travels much more quickly than good news, but good news does get around.

 

 

 

Delivering Quality

What do we mean when we say “quality” and how do you know if you’re delivering it? 

Quality can be defined as: “The standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind or the degree of excellence of something.  Obviously quality can cover both ends of the spectrum.  We’ll take a leap of faith and assume you’ve chosen to provide your patients with superior quality.

Quality of What? 

You’ve opted to provide superior quality, but of what?  The product, the service or both?  In this industry the product is fixed.  Vendor XYZ hearing aid, Model ABC is the same no matter where it’s purchased.  That leaves you with service.

Time to Revisit Your Office

We become complacent, it’s human nature.  In our personal space there is a degree of disorder that we are willing to accept when it’s just “us”.  But if “company” is coming over suddenly that degree of disorder is no longer acceptable.  Too often we treat our patients more like one of “us” and less like the “company” they really are.

How Patient Friendly is Your Office?

From Wendy Leebov, the following five patient needs are primary in providing an environment conducive to patient comfort, satisfaction and a quality patient experience.

1. Wayfinding:  Patients are stressed when they have any sort of problem finding or making their way to your offices.  Maps, transportation options, convenient parking, graphics and signs are all important to consider in order to remove impediments and reduce unsettling confusion.

2. Physical Comfort:  Chairs, lighting, room arrangements, furniture design, assistive devices and railings, smells, colors, textures, and noise all influence the patient’s comfort level.

3. Privacy and Personal Territory:  People appreciate the ability to control the extent to which they interact with other people.  The optimal environment caters to people with different preferences. 

4. Peace and the Absence of Noise:  The Devil’s Dictionary (Ambrose Bierce) defines noise as “a stench in the ear.”  Unwanted noise increases people’s perception of pain.  Noise interferes with relaxation and often leads to irritability and anxiety.  In their doctor’s office and other ambulatory care settings, people expect peace and quiet.

5. Sense of Security:  People want to feel protected, protected from slips, slides and falls, confident that the equipment will hold them, and so safe that they can let go of watchfulness and close their eyes.

Friendliness Questionnaire

Use this questionnaire to assess the friendliness of your office.

Questionnaire

Special Needs Assessment

Your demographic is older, less mobile and possibly larger (as we age we pack on pounds) than other demographics.  Here is a great primer developed by the American Medical Association about how to address the needs of obese patients.

Ensuring that your office is “senior friendly” should be an ongoing process.  Use this checklist as a starting point, adding features as they’re identified by you, your staff and your patients.

The criteria customers use to evaluate when making a purchase is rarely just the price point of a product. The decision includes an assessment of store location, convenience, hours, sales help, displays, policies and many more mundane but critical details. Each patient weighs each criterion a little differently (creating niches for you to possibly exploit), but in the end only one store gets the sale. Success in retail doesn’t mean doing it well; it means doing it the best.

Look for more regarding superior quality customer service next week.  I realized half way through this blog just how much I could write about providing quality customer service.

 

What to do About Online Competition?

The latest, greatest fear for many of you is the threat from websites selling directly to the end consumer.  Will it be the end of your business at least as you know it?  I don’t think so.  Brick and mortar stores have been battling online competition for much, much longer than you.  They are still in existence.  They may have had to change the way they do business in order to compete, but they’re still there. 

Interestingly, there’s been a swing in the other direction.  From the NY Times

“After years of criticizing physical stores as relics, even e-commerce zealots are acknowledging there is something to a bricks-and-mortar location. EBay and Etsy are testing temporary stores, while Piperlime, the Gap Inc. unit that was online-only for six years, opened a SoHo store this fall. Bonobos plans to keep opening stores, and Warby Parker, the eyeglass brand, will soon open a physical location.

The companies say they are catering to customers who want to see what they are buying in person, and who see shopping as a social event. As they build the locations, though, the retailers are reimagining some long-established rules — carrying less inventory, having fewer staff members and embracing small and out-of-the-way locations. In the process, they are creating what could be a model for efficient in-store operations: the store as a showroom.”

Price, Quality, Quantity

Will every company that began in cyberspace add a brick and mortar presence?  Who knows?  But one thing that all successful businesses understand is who their customer is.  Zappos is a great example.  They cater to people who value quantity and quality.  The old adage,  “Price, quality, quantity, pick two” should always be considered.  Zappos chose the latter two.

Bargains are not to be found at Zappos, but if you need a boys football cleat in a wide width and you aren’t sure of the size, you can order a 3W, 3.5W, 4W in 6 different styles.  I’m a VIP customer so they ship overnight.  I have 365 days to return all of them or none of them and I don’t pay the shipping.  I don’t have the time or the inclination to drag my son all over town looking for shoes that fit or a price I can live with.  I’m busy and I’m willing to pay the price for quantity and quality.

Who is your customer and what do they want?

The hearing aid experience is very much a show and tell experience.  Patient’s want to “see” what it’s going to be like.  They want to “test-drive” what they’re about to buy.  If you don’t want to be viewed by the consumer as no different than an online store, then act differently right from the start.  The patient doesn’t understand the service side of the hearing aid industry.

They don’t realize they may need adjustments for fit or modifications to improve the listening experience…but they do understand “try it before you buy it”.  And that is a distinct advantage that you have over the online companies.  You already do it; you already provide a quality experience, enhance it and then promote it.

If you want them to come and see you, then make it a wonderful experience worth their time and money. If you don’t in their minds provide quality, then they are left with quantity and price.  Quantity is pretty much a fixed variable that leaves them with price.  And battling a larger online company in a price war is a recipe for disaster.

 

 

Same Old Routine

After selling the same thing day in and day out we tend to become blasé about the customer, the product and the benefits.  I don’t want to insinuate that you’ve become burned out from your job.  But in all likelihood after repeating the same things over and over and hearing the same stories over and over, parts of your day have become routine.  And the minute something becomes routine, we start to take short cuts.

The problem with this scenario is that the hour you’re about to spend with a new patient is anything but routine for them.  In all likelihood it took at lot of courage on their part to make the appointment and possibly even more to show up at all. 

Start the visit by acknowledging the effort it took for them to show up.  Remind yourself of this simple fact before you enter the exam room.  Then take the time to say thank you for coming in and then launch into your routine.  It’ll change your outlook about each patient.  More importantly it will provide an immediate positive connection to each patient.   How many times have you taken a significant step in the right direction (losing weight, quitting smoking…)?  I’m sure you genuinely appreciated any positive feedback you received from friends and family.  Your patient should expect no less from you.

The Holidays…A Season of Giving

Do you tell your patients how much you appreciate their business?  It’s the Holiday Season, traditionally a time of gift giving and receiving.  You have been fortunate to be able to establish, achieve and maintain a measure of success in a business in a struggling economy.  Like anyone who runs a small business, you will experience some lows but along the way you will experience the joys of owning a business.

  1. You control your destiny.
  2. You can decide your work/home life balance.
  3. You choose the people you work with.
  4. While you assume the risk – you also reap the rewards.
  5. You can challenge yourself to fend off boredom.
  6. You are following your passion.
  7. You can get things done faster.
  8. You can feel the pride that comes with building something all your own.

I’m sure you could add a few more things to the list.  But now that we’ve made the list and you’ve looked it over, take pause.  All of this is only possible if patients show up at your door and buy your products.  So use this “season of giving” as an opportunity to thank the ones who have made your dream a reality.

 

 

 

Teaching Your Front Desk Employee to Make You Money

What is the job of your front desk employee?   If you ask them, my guess is that nothing on their list of responsibilities would include making you money.  It would probably look like this:

  • Answer the phone
  • Mail batteries
  • Take messages
  • Enter data into the computer
  • Recall patients

If this is the case (and I’m sure that it is), it’s time for an employee/employer chat.   The majority of practice owners want to make money.  The majority of front desk employees want to get paid to do their job.

Make it clear to everyone you employ that your number one goal and therefore their number one goal (while employed by you) is to make sure that your practice is as profitable as is humanly possible.   The concept may seem simplistic, but the goal should be to change the mindset of your employee’s so the next time you ask them for a list of their responsibilities it’ll should look like this:

  • Answer the phone and make an appointment or solve a problem
  • Mail batteries – as quickly as possible to increase patient satisfaction
  • Take messages and make sure they get to the correct person and make sure all calls are returned.
  • Enter data into the computer making sure that the information is complete, accurate and up to date.
  • Recall patients with a plan to exceed the required monthly goal.

In a perfect world you wouldn’t need to explain the primary goal of your business.  We don’t live in a perfect world, so take the time to make it clear to your staff what’s important to you.

 

 

 

 

When Was the Last Time You Asked a Patient What They Wanted?

Or are you spending every visit with them telling them what they need, what they want and what they should do.

If you asked you’d find out one of two things.

    • They don’t have a clue what they want
    • They know exactly what they want.

If they don’t know what they want, then it’s ok for you to provide options.

If they know exactly what they want then you have two choices.

    • Give it to them.
    • If you’re unable to give it to them, negotiate.

We all know how to do this, we learned it when were young.  Here’s an example.

We nagged our mom…”Mom, mom, mom.”

Her response “What do you want?”

Our response, “A cookie.”

Her response would vary,

“Here have a cookie.”

“No, it’s too close to dinner, how about a (fill in the blank).”

She was a busy woman who learned that the quickest most efficient way to communicate and to understand what we really wanted, was to ask the obvious question.

 

 

 

High End Customer Service, Why Bother?

Welcome to Oracle Hearing Groups entry into the blogging world.  Since, we’ve decided to overhaul many of the systems we’ve had in place for years…we’ve decided that it was time for everyone to step back and take a look at their practices too.  What better place to start then with customer service…the backbone of every industry.

You probably already know it, but it bears repeating, health care providers may succeed or fail based on the quality of their customer service.  Poor service drives Americans to switch providers, or drives them away from better-qualified providers, leading to inefficiency, higher costs and lower quality of care, according to a report, by Katzenbach Partners entitled “The Empathy Engine: Achieving Breakthroughs in Patient Service.”

The report says healthcare providers should respond by ramping up the quality of their customer service and becoming “empathy engines”—transforming their organizations to allow frontline employees to focus on patient problems and innovate to deliver solutions.

Americans care about healthcare customer service and will switch providers to find better service. One in four Americans has switched or considered switching doctors (26 percent) or hospitals or clinics (23 percent) because of negative experiences, according to the research. Americans in large numbers give healthcare customer service poor marks – and as a result are making decisions that lead them to seek care elsewhere:

Healthcare customer service lags behind other industries—sometimes in surprising and disturbing ways. While it’s not a surprise that most people (51 percent) think hotels are better at customer service, nearly half (40 percent) thought banks provided better customer service than hospitals and clinics. Shockingly, a significant number (18 percent) think that even airlines are better at customer service than healthcare providers.

These bad perceptions are based on real experiences – nearly a third of visitors (32 percent) and nearly a quarter of patients (23 percent) said healthcare employees did not do a good job of making them feel like their individual needs were understood.  It’s time to step back and re-evaluate.  There are many components to “customer service”.  We plan to devote an entire series of blogs to this topic.  Your reputation is your patient’s or potential patient’s impressions of your practice.  Let’s start with first impressions.

Five Things You Can Do to Provide High End Customer Service

From Start to Finish, beginning with outside your Front Door!

  1.  Does the immediate area and the businesses surrounding your office reflect your identity?  If it’s obvious that your neighborhood is in a state of decline it may be time to consider a move.
  2. Is your signage clearly visible from the road?  Go outside and take a look.  Has it been cleaned lately?  Does it show any visible signs of damage?  If the sign is lit can it be seen at night?
  3. Do you have adequate parking, both for handicapped and non-handicapped patients?
  4. Is the entrance to your building pleasing to the eye?  There is nothing worse than entering an office building that appears disheveled, dated and in desperate need of a landscaping company.  Your office may not be representative of the outside of your building but patients impressions are being formed long before they enter your front door.
  5. Your front door should be transparent.  The prospect of opening a door walking into a waiting room full of people can create an enormous amount of anxiety for many patients.  A transparent door allows your patient to survey the environment before stepping in.

Your patient hasn’t yet stepped inside how do they feel?  Is your patient at ease with their decision? Or, is your patient experiencing pangs of remorse because based on their experience up to this point they’ve seen nothing that makes them think that picking up the phone and calling you was a good idea.