Patient Care | March 2016 Hearing Review

Breaking free from conventional thinking can help you compete and win lifelong patients

It is not easy to bring patients into the clinic these days. So when a patient does walk through the door of your office, you want to give them an exceptional customer experience. Establishing trust, making the necessary tweaks to achieve a high level of customer satisfaction (delight) at every step, and laying the groundwork for future patient advocacy not only creates long-term value with your patient, it creates long-term dividends for your business.

Creating an exceptional patient experience that is memorable, patient-centric, and reflects your professional values as a hearing healthcare provider can be a sure-fire way for you to differentiate your practice, create advocates, attract new patients, and break free of the conventional sales and marketing methods that are falling short on delivering the desired business results. But it is a strategy and philosophy that takes time to implement. It is also underscored by your ability and willingness to change.

When it comes to making purchasing decisions, your patients are now firmly in the driver’s seat. They have access to a goldmine of information online about their various hearing aid choices. They can read up on the manufacturers. They can use social media to solicit opinions from friends and strangers. When patients show up to the clinic door they come with at least some knowledge or preconceived notions of what hearing healthcare means.

Patient careWe have to accept that this is now the norm in the industry and realize that talking at the patient does very little to establish trust. It is their journey, their story to tell. And we are there to listen and guide them with our expertise.

So are you ready to break free of the “business as usual” conventional thinking that has permeated the hearing healthcare industry for too many years? If your answer is “yes,” then we’d like to present you with three ways to set the stage for long-term clinical and business success.

#1) Build Trust

Trust is an inherent part of any patient/clinician relationship. For a long-term relationship to grow and flourish, patients need to trust in your expertise, and conversely, you need to invest time and energy in creating a patient journey that allows for a person’s trust to grow over time.

Typically, patients come to a clinic with a healthy dose of skepticism that stems from a fear of the unknown. First, they’ll deny that their hearing is bad. They may question if you are the right provider for them. They may also question the value they will receive from their hearing aid investment. And they’ll wonder what will happen if they are unhappy with their purchase and want a return.

By some estimates, about half of the customers who want to buy a solution don’t do so because of fear of risk associated with that purchase? On the flip side, nearly three-quarters of buyers who see personal value within the product they are buying proceed with a purchase. To overcome a person’s fear of risk and skepticism of the process, you need to build trust. And to build trust, you need to connect with patients on an emotional level and find that personal value by understanding the “why” that drove them to pursue treatment for their hearing loss.

As one of my hearing healthcare colleagues said recently, our job as professionals is to cause our patients to think less. When we feed them too much information, we run the risk of driving them away to do yet more research. Better to focus on the emotional journey a person is on, and drive them to move forward with their decision.

A few trust-building tactics to try:

  • Build an initial connection through understanding.
  • Practice active listening. Are we empathizing, reassuring, and sharing success stories? Are we adapting our approach for each individual who walks through our door?
  • Listen, hear, and honestly address their challenges and concerns.
  • Try to understand your patient’s perspective.
  • Find common ground to make people comfortable.
  • Tell success stories of patients with similar backgrounds, hearing loss, and circumstances.
  • Connect with people on an authentic human level. This might mean talking about the grandkids, or perhaps sharing that you also have hearing loss. If you can’t find that common ground, story telling can help bridge the gap.
  • Focus on their interests and their “why.”

#2) Focus on Patient Satisfaction

While 90% of patients indicate satisfaction with their hearing healthcare provider, only 81% say they are happy with their hearing instruments.1 The reality is most patients begin to question their hearing aid purchase the minute they leave the clinic and resume their daily routine, with the most often cited reasons for hearing instrument return being wearing discomfort and a perception that the hearing aid didn’t meet expectations.

More broadly, the industry continues to experience a gap between what a patient expected when they walked into the clinic, and what they ended up experiencing. Trust and patient satisfaction are intricately connected in this scenario, and the primary driver of trust is the quality of the patient-provider relationship. Moreover, 90% of patients with a high trust in their healthcare professional follow their recommendation, and those patients highly satisfied with the practice tell others in their circle about their experience.

Consider these satisfaction-building tips:

  • Embrace a consistent sales process, one that is also readily adapted to the needs of the individual. Understand how to move patients forward in their buying journey.
  • Audit that patient journey. Identify small incremental ways to improve patient satisfaction at every stage.
  • Consider calling visitors to your clinic “clients” instead of “patients.” It is a small change in terminology, but it can mean the world to a person and can shift their mindset. The word patient implies they are sick. When they are your clients, it means you as a professional are consulting with them. Several hearing care professionals I’ve worked with have adopted this change in their practice to great effect.
  • Invest in developing skills that engender patient trust in your practice, your team, and your counsel, establish a sales process, invest in front office training and call monitoring services, including customer experience training for your full team.
  • Adopt a sales process that incorporates your personal philosophy and values made up of motivational interviewing—a goal-oriented, client-centered counseling style focused on eliciting behavior change (not a cookie cutter, linear approach).

#3) Aim for Long-term Patient Retention

The Baby Boom generation (defined as people born between the years of 1946 and 1964) represents an outstanding opportunity. They are active, healthy, and informed. They also want to be an active participant in the decision-making process as it relates to their healthcare. They don’t want to be sold to or marketed to. They want to be engaged and valued over the long-term relationship. Yet, on average, more than 20% of a hearing healthcare provider’s patients say they will go elsewhere when it comes time to repurchase, and up to 50% forget where they purchased their hearing aids in the first place.2

Becoming memorable is part of creating a long-term patient retention strategy. This means building trust and focusing on creating an exceptional experience at every step of the patient journey. It also means listening to the patient to understand their “why,” so they are fit with a technology appropriate to their expectations and lifestyle needs.

Four Tips to Turn Patients into Long-term Advocates for Your Practice

#1) Don’t fall back on pressure tactics. Pull—don’t push—your client through their buyer’s journey using a prescribed sales process that is geared around motivating your patient to take action. Let your professionalism and your interest in their welfare do the selling for you. As an industry we tend to rely too heavily on disease-state marketing; very negative messages that tend to frighten people off. Focus a client’s attention on the bright side of life and we can help them experience life more fully.

#2) Speak their language. Tune your message and dialogue to focus on how hearing aids can help them do more, experience more, perform better on the job, and/or enjoy their favorite leisure activity.

#3) Create an ongoing dialogue to keep them engaged and moving forward. Encourage patients to contact you with questions or concerns and give them a variety of ways to stay in touch.

#4) After the purchase make them advocates. If you have built a great relationship with your patient, ask them to tell others about your efforts. Connect to them on Facebook, and ask them to refer your practice to others using tools such as Google My Business reviews.

Most hearing healthcare providers will agree, given the changes facing the industry and the increasingly competitive business landscape, it is not easy to bring patients into the clinic these days. So when a patient does walk through the door of your clinic, you want to give them an exceptional customer experience. Establishing trust, making the necessary tweaks to achieve a high level of customer satisfaction (delight) at every step, and laying the groundwork for future patient advocacy not only creates long-term value with your patient, it creates long-term dividends for your business.

Note: This article is the second in a three-part series on in-clinic success. In Part 1 (February 2016 HR), we defined the concept of in-clinic success. In Part 3, we’ll turn the spotlight on some hearing healthcare pros who have forged stronger emotional connections with patients by understanding their “why.”

References

  1. Abrams HB, Kihm J. An introduction to MarkeTrak IX: A new baseline for the hearing aid market. Hearing Review. 2015;22(6):16. Available at: http://www.hearingreview.com/2015/05/introduction-marketrak-ix-new-baseline-hearing-aid-market

  2. Kochkin S. MarkeTrak VI: Factors impacting consumer choice of dispenser & hearing aid brand; Use of ALDs & computers. Hearing Review. 2002;9(12):14-23. Available at: http://www.hearingreview.com/2002/12/marketrak-vi-factors-impacting-consumer-choice-of-dispenser-amp-hearing-aid-brand-use-of-alds-amp-computers

Steve Eagon

Steve Eagon

Steve Eagon, MA, is Director of In-Clinic Success at Unitron, Plymouth, Minn. He is responsible for the mySuccess partnership program designed to support customer success at the clinical and business levels. Eagon has served as an audiologist in private practice and ENT settings, and is a co-founder of one of the largest retail network services in hearing healthcare.

Correspondence can be addressed to HR or Steve Eagon, MA, at: [email protected]

Original citation for this article: Eagon S. Steering into the Winds of Change, Part 2. Hearing Review. 2016;23(3):32.?