How to Compete with the Online Sale of Hearing Aids

Many people have engaged in the online shopping versus brick and mortar shopping debate. Both brick and mortar stores and online merchants have certain pros and cons that differ based upon the types of products offered and the specific needs of the individual shopper.

If you are not planning to sell hearing aids online, how can you compete with companies that do?

5 Advantages of a Brick and Mortar Store

  1. A core benefit is the most obvious one, the ability to touch and see objects in person. Online stores can provide the consumer with pictures and videos, but actually holding the product can provide some tactile impressions that simply cannot be matched online. Particularly when it comes to the sale of hearing aids. The ‘in-store” experience simply cannot be matched online.
  2. Instant gratification, the ability to buy an item and bring it home immediately. Not every hearing aid can be sold and brought home immediately but the option for many patients does exist.
  3. The ability to support local merchants. Don’t underestimate how strongly some of your patients feel about supporting their local economy. Your demographic is keenly aware of the interconnectivity of their financial well being to the financial well being of those around them. Even the younger demographic has slowly but surely begun to embrace the concept of “buy locally” with everything from food to clothing to home goods and so on.
  4. Your customer can speak directly to an expert about their purchase (in case there is any doubt that means you). You can provide information about the products and more importantly answer questions about the products that are bound to arise. Online stores provide answers to frequently asked questions but that’s of no use to a patient if their question isn’t listed.
  5. You can provide service that is simply unavailable to online shoppers.
    • Walk in service hours
    • Include batteries with the sale and mail the batteries to the patient’s home.
    • Keep an ample supply of loaners, always welcome if your patient will be attending a once in a lifetime event days after his hearing aids need to be sent out for repair.

The most important thing to remember about service is that no two people will define service in exactly the same way. Ask questions and teach your staff to ask questions. Find out from your customers what you could do to provide a better experience and then do it.

Your demographic is concerned about their health, they have a hefty amount of discretionary income and they will be more than happy to spend it on your services if you give them plenty of reasons to.

How I Bought a Chandelier

And yes this has everything to do with buying and selling  hearing aids.

Times have changed. Consumers are buying en masse online and retail is feeling the effect. Read more in The Atlantic about the “Great Retail Apocalypse”.  Unfortunately, many hearing healthcare providers are failing to fully grasp how that’s impacting the hearing aid industry. If anything, hearing aid consumers are a bit behind other consumers when it comes to using the internet to research and to make a purchase.  As we age, we’re less likely to want to figure out new ways to buy what we want.    But if by learning a new trick or two, the average consumer can (in their mind) save thousands of dollars, they’ll figure it out and in a hurry.

Buying a Chandelier

Back to the chandelier…I am in the market for lights that will hang over an island. Store displays are limited, so I started my search online. I knew the color, size and shape that I wanted. Eventually I found just what I was looking for. I read the reviews about the lights and one reviewer mentioned seeing the exact same light for half the price.

I did a reverse image search and sure enough found the exact same light for more than 50% off the price of the original light, however, the manufacturer was not the same. Initially I figured the light was somehow different, so I researched the new company and found that the first company manufactures a few of its products under a different name. It sells one product line to higher end stores and one to discount stores…. same light.

I ordered 2 chandeliers that should arrive today.

Price, Quality, Quantity Pick Two

What does this mean for you? It means that your consumer is potentially online learning everything they can about hearing loss and hearing aids. By way of an example, I pulled the trigger on my chandelier purchase (all things being the same in my mind) based on price.  That does not mean I bought chandeliers for $1 a piece.  It means, I had a certain quantity that could not be changed and a certain quality that I wanted.  I would’ve paid the original price but I was willing to spend time searching for the lowest price possible.  Something that the Internet makes extremely easy to do.  And if it works for other purchases they’ve been making, why wouldn’t they at least consider trying the same approach for a product that costs thousands of dollars?

Purchasing decisions are based on selecting 2 of the following 3 options (price, quality and quantity).  You can select 2 of those options, but not all 3.

If you can’t compete on price

And you can’t compete on quantity (you are selling either 1 product or 2 products)

Quality is all you have left.

Educate them about the benefits of seeing you and why they shouldn’t buy hearing aids online. Amazon sells hearing aids online and Alibaba, Amazon’s biggest competitor sells hearing aids from China.

I am your demographic and if I was in the market for a hearing aid, I would take the same approach to purchasing a hearing aid that I did to purchasing a chandelier.  You need to give me compelling reasons not to treat a hearing aid purchase in the same way that I would treat the purchase of a chandelier. In fact, if you can’t give me a list of 5 reasons that I shouldn’t buy my hearing aids online for the lowest price I can find, then you have a problem that needs to be resolved today.

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.




Does Your Office Staff Know That It’s All About a Sale?

For reasons that appear to rooted in our sub-conscious, the phrase “to sell” evokes a negative emotion.  In an attempt to make it more palatable in our profession we refer to the process as “a consultation”, “an evaluation” or any number of other equally and occasionally interesting terms.

If your objective is charity work, then give hearing aids away for free. However if you aren’t independently wealthy as a hearing healthcare professional you typically have to sell hearing aids to make money.  You can have the best marketing program on the planet, but if 8 out of 10 people who come through your door leave with out buying anything, you won’t be in business very long.

To sell, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, means to persuade another to recognize the worth or desirability of something.   Too often the belief is that the product, whatever the product is and the attributes of the product should be all it takes to buy the product.

Wrong, customers buy with their emotions long before the rational part of their brain kicks in.  While that’s easy to understand when it comes to some products (clothing, cars, weight loss programs and creams that remove wrinkles), it’s true of everything that you buy.

The sales process for any product can be very complicated. Many factors are involved. But more often than not its because everyone from the person who answers the phone to the person who checks you out understands that they are selling the patient.  They are persuading the patient to choose your office for their hearing healthcare needs.

  • Yes it was a great idea to call us.
  • Yes, we’re so happy you came for your appointment today.
  • Yes, we’re on time and happy to see you.
  • We’re sad you’re leaving today but you’ll be back to see us again in a few weeks.

Every so often really listen to and watch how your staff interacts with your patients.  Do they really grasp that the patient is the customer and the customer is the reason they have a job?  Or do they act annoyed because the customer interrupted whatever task they were in the middle of?

It may sound corny, but from a patient’s perspective this is going to go one of two ways.  I’m sold or I walk.  It makes more sense to make sure that every step along the way gives the patient one more reason to say yes instead of one more reason to say no.

High End Customer Service – First Impressions

It’s time.  You’ve attracted a new patient to your office.  They actually showed up for their appointment (probably 15 minutes early or 15 minutes late depending on which is more inconvenient for you).  They are ready to be called into the back so you can begin the hearing test.  How do you provide “High End Customer Service” at this point in the visit?

We’ve gotten past the décor (it should go without saying that your back rooms should be as appealing as the waiting room).  The staff in the back should be as courteous as the staff in the front.  What’s different now is that the patient is probably meeting the healthcare professional for the first time.

According to Malcolm Gladwell, author of “Blink , your mind takes about two seconds to jump to a series of conclusions.  Those conclusions are important and occasionally spot on, but more importantly we all make them.  Sub-consciously, your patient has already made a series of conclusions about you before you open your mouth.

Without knowing it, this is often a make or break moment.  The first two seconds can set the tone for the entire visit.  What you are trying to accomplish is to let the patient, who is at this point feeling very vulnerable, know that they can trust you.

Here are 5 things you can do to establish trust.

  1. Do not be late.  Being on time conveys reliability and if people know you’re reliable, they are more willing to trust you.
  2. Make eye contact.  This takes practice for some people.  Too little can be just as bad as too much.
  3. Monitor how you feel.  If you’re anxious about a personal matter, your patient will pick up on the anxiety.  They have no idea why you’re anxious but they assume it relates to them.
  4. Dress appropriately – this should be a no brainer, but we ‘ll include it anyway.  A lab coat may be cliché, but if you’re fresh out of graduate school and look 18 years old, you could use all the help you can get to not look any younger than you already are.  Remember, if you are 26 years old you are decades to a half a century or more, younger than your demographic.
  5. Watch your body language.  Smile.  Smiling forces you to relax which in turn should help your patient to relax.  Do not cross your arms in front of you or hold a patient’s chart in front of you.  Everyone has nervous habits when meeting someone for the first time.  Know what yours are and learn to control them.

What is the point of all this? You are trying to sell a hearing aid.  The cliché, you never get a second chance to make a first impression is accurate.  Overcoming objections is difficult enough.  Don’t make it worse but needing to overcome both the patients reasons why they don’t need or want a hearing aid and their bad first impression of you!!!

Buying and selling a hearing aid is an emotional experience

We’re interrupting the Customer Service blogs for an important message.

Buying and selling a hearing aid is an emotional experience.

For every new patient with a hearing loss who walks through your door you’ll hear a few versions of the same story.  I can’t hear, I don’t want to admit I can’t hear. I don’t want to be here.  I’ve heard horror stories about hearing aids.  I have access to the Internet which has provided me with half-truths, innuendos and unrealistic price expectations.  Now let’s get started with this appointment so I can ruin your day, by telling you at the end of this visit that I want to “think about” buying a hearing aid!

Buying a hearing aid is an emotional experience, but so is selling one.  And many times the seller’s lack of joining in the emotion of the experience is what kills the sale.  I’m an Audiologist…and have been since 1986.  Grasping the concept that what I did for a large part of my day was selling was the hardest lesson for me to learn.  Too often we expect the results of the test and our recommendations to be enough.  It isn’t.

Your job is to uncover the emotional impact the hearing loss is having on the quality of life of your patient.  You need to connect to the patient and a piece of paper with X’s and O’s is not the way to do it.  That doesn’t mean the audiogram has no importance, it most certainly does.  It tells you, the highly trained professional that most of what will be coming out of the mouth of your patient in the few moments after you complete the test will be a glossy version of their reality.

For example, when you ask a patient with a relatively flat 50dBHL sensorineural hearing loss “Mr. Jones, where do you have the most problem hearing.”  And he answers you with the following. “I don’t really notice a problem.”  Your first response should not be to pull out a speech banana to show him what sounds he’s missing.  Your first response should be.  “Mr. Jones, I’ve been doing this for a long time, I know exactly what you can and can’t hear.”  Your next response should be. “Let me ask you a question.”

You’ve taken a detailed medical history, now is the time to take a detailed quality of life history.  By asking questions about the patient’s real world experience you’ll begin to make an emotional connection.

“Quality of Life History”

  1. Mr. Jones, What do you do for fun?
  2. How many grandkids do you have?
  3. Where do you go on vacation?
  4. What are your favorite TV shows?
  5. What was the last movie you saw in the theater?
  6. How often do you go out to dinner?
  7. Do you have any hobbies?

The point of this is in how you respond to Mr. Jones when he answers your question.  For example, “Mr. Jones, how many grandkids do you have?”  When he says, “three”, ask another question because how many is not important…how he interacts with them is.  Keeping asking questions…”What do you do with them when you see them?” “What do you wish you could do?”  “How does it make you feel when you know you didn’t hear what your grandson said?”  You are looking for the proverbial “button to push” and everyone has one.  Mr. Jones has one and so do you.  (Please refer back to, the first paragraph and remember how you feel when a patient says, “I want to think about it.”)

You aren’t being heartless; the goal isn’t to bring the patient to tears.  The goal is to create a compelling reason for the patient to want to solve the problem.  Because if you don’t get him to do something about his problem now, he’s likely to wait a few more months or years to try again.He has a problem that’s why he’s in your office.   What he doesn’t realize is that you are interested in what that problem is.  More than likely he’s anticipating that you want to “fix” his hearing loss.

Hearing loss (AND THIS IS IMPORTANT) is not his problem.  His problem is that his favorite grandson no longer wants to be with Grandpa because Grandpa doesn’t understand what he’s saying.  Yes, I realize it’s because of his hearing loss, but the difference between, “I have a hearing loss.” and “My grandson doesn’t want to spend time with me anymore.” is huge. Recognize this, understand the problem, solve the problem and you’ll have a patient for life.