What would you want from an online hearing aid company?

Dear Members,
I am beginning an online hearing aid company after many dissatisfying years working for a large retailer and I need your help. First here are a couple ideals my company is being built around.

  1. From a retail standpoint or local hearing aid office, hearing aids have become too expensive. They “bundle” their pricing. For instance I can sell a top of the line set for $2500-$3000 max, as opposed to $4000-$9000. So you would get your hearing tested, buy the product online,have somone to walk you through getting started with them, be able to get adjustments etc. if you do so in an office a conservitive estimate of 10 visits after delivery for the life of the aids says you would pay $100 per visit in a “Bundled package”
  2. We will eventually have dipsensers,ENT’s and Audiologists in a network for you to go to in your local area to get fit in person if you wish for far less than a traditional hearing aid office.
  3. Once we begin to grow we will have a “No Automation” policy…forever. that means whenever you call during hours of operation you will get a live operator
  4. Our customer service will be the best and will put our patients satisfaction first…no matter how big we get…period. I call it PatientFirst
  5. A very, very, very simple website that anyone can use quickly without getting frustrated.

A couple questions for you please if you will help me build the ideal company:

  1. What else would you want from an online hearing aid company?

  2. Would you rather not have “24 HOUR” Customer service. Assuming we were available 8am-9pm EST?

  3. If you were my Patient and I offered a referral program to someone you refer to my site that buys, perhaps pay you $100 per refferal ,would that peak your interest?

  4. Any negatives you have encountered through online hearing aid companys you would fix or change entirely?

Please post or email me at info@hearagainusa.com with answers and thank you so much for helping me build a better company
***You will not be marketed to for emailing comments and ideas

I’ve been involved in the hearing aid industry since 1994 and have practiced in both the UK (which also have a socialized medicine approach as well as private sector) and the US.

The problems I have with your idea(l)s are as follows:

  1. The reason most companies charge a one off fee for the hearing aids is because people are reluctant to pay for a test, and frequent follow up visits are often required only because the hearing professional has not programmed the hearing aids correctly or offered the right rehabilitation advice. So I think you would have a hard time convincing people to pay extra for the test and the follow up visits, even if the purchase price is lower.

  2. In person fitting is essential, especially with modern technology. Modern aids need to be calibrated in the patient’s ear before they can start wearing them. Without doing this the aids are not going to be operating as intended by the manufacturer. This will cause more dissatisfaction and returns, or patients having to pay for visits to fix the problems you have caused.

  3. No automation is good :wink:

  4. Blah blah. Not many businesses promise bad customer service. The proof is in the pudding, or something like that.

  5. Simple is good. Plenty of useful content would be good too.

As to your questions:

  1. I think 8am-9pm would be reasonable. 24/7 is just going to increase your overheads.

  2. Referral programs are good.


In all honesty as an industry professional I am interested to see what you can achieve. Can you compete with the prices of programs such as the one offered by Farm Bureau (American Hearing Benefits), that offer 40-60% off with all the benefits of a traditional hearing aid business, for example.

I would also like to see how your business performs online, in view of the fact that most of the demographic are older people who are less computer savvy than younger.

I personally believe that hearing aids are best fitted by hearing professionals in a professional setting. I’d like to see insurance being forced to cover hearing care, to make it more accessible to middle to low income people.

In any case, I wish you well with your plans.

Actually, patients do not mind be billed for testing. Correct me if I’m wrong but you are a hearing aid dispenser/specialist? Which by law you cannot bill Medicare or third party payers for testing. Hence when someone comes in saying they can get a free hearing evaluation from so and so. I have to clarify for them the HIS basically has to give it to you for free, they can’t bill insurance.

Based upon what your stating “frequent follow up visits are often required only because the hearing professional has not programmed the hearing aids correctly or offered the right rehabilitation advice”, you can fit a modern hearing aid spot on the first time you see the patient? This I find hard to believe. Follow-up visits and adjustments are part of the big picture and thankfully with todays hearing aids we have that flexibility (as opposed to conventional hearing aids).

Thank you for your reply, but please allow me to clarify briefly how my company will work.

  1. You would go to the website either after being tested by your Dr/Audiologist/ENT or HIS, or to get info on who to go to get a test.
  2. After tested you could either pick an aid based on your loss or a participating contracted HIS/ENT/Audioligist can pick one for you.
  3. I pay the "contracted’ professional to take care of you for the life of the aid

What I meant when I was talking about price bundling is that is how the industry is now…I don’t agree with that! I am licensed in two states and i was the trainer for the largest privately held hearing aid company in the US (77 Locations) so I know the biz and I am not happy with how it is going. My goal is to do something about a stagnant market (Only 22% who need have, see KOCHKIN’s marketrak surveys from Knowles electronics, or Better hearing Institute Website for details.
T
he number needing aids is now increasing faster than we can keep up with,ie every year we sell more as an indusrty but market penetration(or the number of people who need em and get) remains 20-24% (ast 15 years or so)

As for one on one attention I believe that is best left up to the consumer, i have fit thousands of aids and have had 70% be happy with their intial fit with no changes until their loss changes in year 2 or 3 of ownershipIt is all in counseling,expectations and know how.

All the aids would be programmable(no analog…fake…junky amplifiers) to allow for future expansion. Online and direct mail sales of HA’s are up 91% over the last 7 years equating to roughly 250,000 sold online alone. So there’s is a little more detail about the plan, not trying to be critical of your comments I just feel strongly about the need for this and someone has to have the “gonads” to change things!

Of course patients mind being billed for a hearing test. They just don’t realize that they don’t have to. Some hearing centers just tell them what they must pay once they arrive (or leave), like a doctor’s office. My patients are always delighted to find that the test was free. As for your comments on billing insurance, I think you’ll find this varies by state. Of course as you know most insurance doesn’t cover anything hearing aid related.

My comment about the follow up visits was based on the fact that modern digital hearing aids usually require some kind of follow up and subsequent adjustment. But I’ve come across hearing professionals (both audi and HIS) who are useless at programming aids. Patients have had to go back over and over again to get them right, and still they can’t get it right. I have several patients who now come to me for service because their dispenser/audi could not correctly program the aids.

So my point is that if you happen to go to a bad dispenser/audi you could end up paying for their ineptitude if you don’t have the bundle pricing. With the way my office charges, if I make a mistake that requires multiple patient visits, the patient does not suffer financially for that mistake. So it is in our financial interest to get it right as quickly as possible so we are not paying for repeated return visits.

I did not mean to question your credentials or experience, you clearly have a good industry insight.

I guess my question would be how interested professionals are going to be in merely accepting a fee for test, fitting, and follow up from your company. My boss who owns the franchise I work for currently makes a nice profit on each aid I dispense. Under your online proposal these figures would drop sharply. The only way he could continue to make the same profit would be if you could send him a whole bunch of patients and make lots of fees. But there are only so many Internet shoppers in our area, so would this make up for the lower profit margin? By helping your business (and similar businesses), companies would be participating in eroding their own business model and pricing structure. Wouldn’t it be in their best interest to simply refuse to participate in your program? After all if you can’t find offices to see the patient, your business can’t work. So if I am a franchise owner with 10 offices, how are you going to persuade me to work with your new company?

First of all, referral programs are what makes people interested, so keep it. If you won’t have a 24 hour customer service, have a priority email address so people can send you their questions even during late nights. Just make sure that you have staff members that can reply the next day.

First of all, referral programs are what makes people interested, so keep it. If you won’t have a 24 hour customer service, have a priority email address so people can send you their questions even during late nights. Just make sure that you have staff members that can reply the next day.


2007 Lexus SC Specifications by Lexus U.S.A. - 2007 Lexus SC Specifications by Lexus U.S.A.

[quote=ZCT]I did not mean to question your credentials or experience, you clearly have a good industry insight.

I guess my question would be how interested professionals are going to be in merely accepting a fee for test, fitting, and follow up from your company. My boss who owns the franchise I work for currently makes a nice profit on each aid I dispense. Under your online proposal these figures would drop sharply. The only way he could continue to make the same profit would be if you could send him a whole bunch of patients and make lots of fees. But there are only so many Internet shoppers in our area, so would this make up for the lower profit margin? By helping your business (and similar businesses), companies would be participating in eroding their own business model and pricing structure. Wouldn’t it be in their best interest to simply refuse to participate in your program? After all if you can’t find offices to see the patient, your business can’t work. So if I am a franchise owner with 10 offices, how are you going to persuade me to work with your new company?

What it boils down to is if we as a whole are only penetrating 22%(last S.Kochkin marketrak survey 2005), and the first wave of boomers retired last year, we need to look at how the market is currently. The way I will set it up is similar to a couple businesses currently out there that pay the dispenser a flat fee for delivery and aftercare. Basically if I can get you to say 70% market penetration from 50% in your area thats 20% more than you would have had because otherwise you have allready been at 70% with your own marketing etc. its basically a whole other segment you would get and money you would not have made otherwise. There are several thousand dispensers,audioloigists,Docs, and ENT’s doing this with other companies right now. My theory is volume over large profit margin per unit. It is Wal-martesgue if you will. The only difference is not sacraficing quality
or professionalism. The biggest factor in the equation is finding enough good people if you own your own offices to successfully make a profit. Good people A. are hard to find and B. there are a lot of good people who can’t sell. I have been around people that have been in the business for 30-50 years who are still lucky to get one keeper out of twenty trainees who will be loyal and be able to sell consistently(and actually care about their patients). So basically if you are employed now and can make a great living doing what you do and help a lot of people thats great! But in order to penetrate more effectively some things must change and thats the direction I am taking.