Final Word | Van Vliet | February 2014 HR

Striving for Solutions, Not Annoyances

By Dennis Van Vliet, AuD

Manufacturers and clinicians both need to make good business decisions to survive. Peeving each other isn’t a good way to maintain a relationship.

Now and then, I’m the target of impromptu lectures on pet peeves. Not that I have anything to do with the cause of the peeve, it is just that my colleagues seem comfortable sharing them with me.

It is good timing right now, because I’m reading James McQuivey’s book Digital Disruption. There is plenty of good thought-provoking material in the book. It is the kind of read that constantly distracts me because it fosters thinking about the topic and how it relates to my world rather than causing me to focus on the next paragraph, which has even more good stuff.

This isn’t a book review, you’ll need to read it yourself to get the full effect. My purpose is to give credit to the author for the idea that we can be more successful approaching our work by striving to provide more of what our clientele want, as opposed to focusing so much on what we can do—even if we are really good at what we do. If we make bushings and our customers really want flanges, we need to try to see what it will take to retool to meet their need.

When I hear about pet peeves, it occurs to me that, if someone is wired up enough about a topic to tell me, they are telling a story about what they really want, and that is good information for me to share so that we, as an industry, can work toward satisfying that need.

Software. “Sorry, username and password do not match our records.” The software isn’t sorry at all, the coder just put that phrase in to tell you that you must have lost a few brain cells since you cannot remember your password, and you somehow got it mixed up with the other dozens of passwords that you are apparently too feeble to keep sorted out.

Passwords are only the start. My friends complain that (seemingly) arbitrary changes in software from one version to the next keep us searching for what we want at each update. We know that the changes aren’t arbitrary; they are supposed to make things easier for the user. However, once we have gone to make the effort to remember where a particular thing is in the software, it is frustrating to have to learn it all over again!

Maybe they should put a reminder if we go to the wrong (old) place looking for a control: “Looking for the Compression threshold control? Click here to get a refresher on the enhanced compression controls.”

“Some assembly required” hearing aids. As a group, when we are working in a clinical setting, we are busy. Time is a problem for us. The time it takes to assemble a receiver-in-canal product is 5 minutes less than we get to spend with the patient.

One audiologist I spoke with was particularly irritated about the complexity of the assembly for one product she recommends. It requires several small components. If one of the little pieces falls on the floor and is lost, the fitting must be rescheduled because spare parts aren’t provided. She noted that she expects to put together furniture she orders, not hearing aids.

Connecting hearing aids for programming. Flex strip connectors are common, and provide a method of connecting to hearing aids that eliminates bulky boots and hardware. When they work well, everyone is happy. When they don’t, they evoke frustration.

Tangled cords and kinked strips in the clinic are a symptom of a problem begging for a solution. Wireless connecting is one solution. Some of the wireless systems are simple and reliable; others are unfortunately complex, and can create compatibility problems in clinics that use several manufacturers’ wireless systems. One practitioner I spoke with offered the prediction that, in a few years, we will sit around reminiscing about how inefficient it used to be to connect with and program several brands of hearing aids.

“Nickeled and dimed.” Individual practitioners commonly share an irritation about being charged fees for the little stuff: battery doors, ear hooks, wax filters, etc. I see both sides of the equation here. I know from my experience working with a manufacturer that considerable resources are expended to develop and produce the little things that support fittings. I also hear anguished complaints from hospital-based colleagues who need a purchase order just to get simple supplies.

There can be any number of simple solutions to this problem. My suggestion is to have one conversation about how the issue will be resolved going forward that both parties agree to. Maybe the solution would be to add a small fee to every hearing aid that covers the extra stuff as needed. Maybe it would be an annual fee for supplies. In any event, irritating a customer multiple times per year is a problem that needs to be solved.

The Final Word? As practitioners, we strive to anticipate and solve the problems that our patients encounter. We look to provide services and products that our patients need. Hearing aid manufacturers have two constituencies to serve: the practitioners and the ultimate consumers of the products. Manufacturers and clinicians both need to make good business decisions to survive. Peeving each other isn’t a good way to maintain a relationship. All parties need to look at and respect what the other needs and work toward a mutually acceptable solution.

Van VlietDennis Van Vliet, AuD, has been a prominent clinician, columnist, educator, and leader in the hearing healthcare field for nearly 40 years, and his professional experience includes working as an educational audiologist, a private-practice owner, and VP of audiology for a large dispensing network. He currently serves as the senior director of professional relations for Starkey Technologies, Eden Prairie, Minn. Correspondence can be addressed to HR or: [email protected]

Original citation for this article: Van Vliet, D. Striving for Solutions, Not Annoyances. Hearing Review. 2014, 21(2):50.