While determining which hearing aids to suggest for their patients, dispensing professionals often select the aids based on the patient’s budget constraints. A common mistake, however, is assuming that the patient wants to compromise features (and/or benefits) for price. In truth, that compromise should be made only by the patient.

When was the last time you made a major purchase of over $1,000? Did you take the sales professional’s advice for which option is best for you and not look at any other products? Or, did you look at options, relying on the sales professional’s input and opinions and make an informed decision? Have you ever spent what you intended and were still disappointed with the purchase? Have you ever spent significantly more for a major purchase and been glad you did?

There are many hearing care professionals who approach the hearing aid consultation process with anxiety about the price issue. Some think they are successful if they can determine what a patient is looking to spend then match an audiologically appropriate product to that figure—thereby avoiding any price objections or “sticker shock.” In this way, they are successful at side-stepping price discussions and become very successful at selling entry or mid-level products. However, when fully examined, it can be seen that they focus on the short-term issue of price, often forgetting the fact that the patient needs to be satisfied with their purchase for the long term. In some cases, the patient may gladly pay more if the extra expense can be justified to them.

It should be stated clearly that it’s a sign of a conscientious dispensing professional to be concerned about a client/patient’s overall needs (including financial limitations). The conflict arises, however, when dispensing professionals change hats in the transition of being a hearing care professional who has identified a hearing problem to a consultative advisor who is essentially “selling a product” (or the merits/benefits of a product) and the services that go with it.

Those practitioners who are able to recognize the change in roles and make a smooth transition into recommending a number of options may experience a greater level of success in their practice.

Interpreting Your Patient’s Language and Providing a Frame of Reference for Technologies
Recently, we received a call from a patient who found the ESCO Web site under a search for “hearing aid financing.” He had recently been to an audiologist, and he began the conversation with us by stating that both he and his wife were in need of hearing aids. They have two kids in college and didn’t have a lot of money to spend on a hearing aid purchase. In short, they wanted to spend no more than about $3,000 each. He also said his audiologist had recommended a specific hearing aid for his binaural loss, and he wanted our opinion as to whether that was a “good” hearing aid.

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We, of course, pointed out to the patient that the audiologist would know which brand, style, and model of hearing aid is best for him. And, upon being informed of the exact hearing aid, we assured him that, if his audiologist recommended the product, we were sure the hearing aid was a good “mid-level” digital hearing aid that would serve his needs.

However, at this point, he stopped us and wanted to know what was meant by the words “mid-level.” We explained to him that there are what the hearing industry refers to as “entry level,” “mid level,” and “advanced technology” hearing instruments. Even though the added features of advanced technology are impressive—and reminding him of his $3,000 budget—he likely wouldn’t be a candidate for those aids since advanced hearing aids are more expensive. These hearing aids could possibly be “double the cost or more,” we said.

As the patient requested, we quoted him a monthly payment for a $6,000 purchase if he were to enroll in our program. We also advised him that he should contact his audiologist. He ended the conversation by stating that he was now thinking that, if he was going to make a purchase, he would buy advanced technology hearing aids.

What is ironic about the situation was that the audiologist recommended exactly what the patient initially asked for: a good product suited for his audiological needs at a reasonable price.

In other words, the audiologist did what audiologists are supposed to do: look out for the best interests of their patient. Yet, the fact of the matter is obvious: What the patient really wanted were options. He wanted to know what hearing aids are best, and he wanted options to be able to pay for them. He was looking for value and he was given no point of reference. By choosing not to offer advanced technology hearing aids or a payment plan to this patient, the practitioner likely risked losing both him and his wife as patients. Unfortunately, the practitioner will never know how close he came to losing this patient.

Sometimes there is a disconnect between what patients say, what practitioners hear, and what a patient really means:

Patient said: “I don’t have very much money to spend on hearing aids.”

What practitioner heard: “I can only afford entry or mid level products.”

What patient may really be saying: “I only paid $800 on my last hearing aid; I want good value for my purchase, so why should I spend more?” or “I only have $2000 in my savings account and that’s all I planned to spend on this purchase. What other payment options are available?”

While the practitioner should not ignore a patient’s cost concerns, at the same time there also should be some products recommended above the range of what the patient says he/she is willing to pay (ie, while taking care not to denigrate the considerable benefits of those products in their price range). This provides them with a frame of reference for the purchase, and also safeguards against the inevitable moment when they run across an advanced technology product that’s being used by a friend or family member.

An effective way to communicate value during the consultation process is to present options along with payment plans. Within the context of monthly payments, the practitioner can accommodate a patient’s budget while presenting the best range of solutions that are available.

Organizing Your Product Offering
One major challenge in presenting options to patients is organization. The variations of styles and multitudes of products available can be overwhelming. Realistically, the dispensing professional cannot load the patient with 40 brochures and expect to be successful. It is necessary for him/her to narrow options based on style preferences and lifestyle characteristics.

Relative to financial concerns, it is important to use the amount the patient is willing to pay as a starting point. For example, if the patient expresses a wish to spend $3200, the practitioner might give one option in the patient’s price range, as well as at least two additional options of advanced technology along with an explanation of the additional features of those aids. Patients that would have likely been dispensed entry-level products in the past may very well find themselves considering the upgrade.

The “Wow” Factor
The emotional or “wow” factor is often forgotten. A patient can be comfortable with the style and other aspects of how the practitioner illustrates the benefits of a quality hearing aid. However, if there is the opportunity to “wow” the patient, they will then leave the office with a higher perceived value of the instrument, your services, and they may be interested in options that allow them to pay for the extra features. Keep in mind that, if patients aren’t aware of advanced features, they aren’t likely to want them.

In cases of patient dissatisfaction, the fact that the practitioner gives a limited number of options may reflect more directly on the practitioner. If the patient has several options presented to them, dissatisfaction may be more directed toward their choice in hearing aids rather than to the individual practitioner who presented a number of hearing instrument fitting options.

Always Offer Payment Options
An effective way to overcome price objections is to offer financing. Our experience with the HELPcard, for example, shows that dispensing professionals who offer financing proactively with product options have a much higher closing rate. Not surprisingly, this also translates directly to the bottom line of the practice or business.

Other hearing care professionals choose to let patients ask for financing. Again, experience using the HELPcard suggests that, if the practitioner waits for the patient to ask about financing, they likely aren’t realizing much benefit from having the program available.

For many dispensing professionals, offering a payment option may seem foreign in their sales presentation. However, services are available in 2005 to make the entire process automatic, so that the practitioner can organize and present their products along with payment options in one step. For example, ESCO’s Access to Hearing Healthcare software program can greatly facilitate the counseling and financing process.

Presenting Value
Even though the patients you see often have a preconceived idea of what they want to spend on hearing aids, patients don’t want “cheap hearing aids.” Patients want the best hearing aids and hearing care services they can buy at the lowest possible price.

As dispensing professionals, we need to remind ourselves that it’s all about value: the value your patients perceive you are providing them for the money they are spending. The fact is that price should become an issue after you have provided them with your list of recommendations and explained why the best option is best, regardless of the cost.

In other words, be positive but honest about each product’s benefits within the context of price, and let your patient be the one to make the compromise to a lower-priced product. It is essential that the dispensing professional not make assumptions and make that compromise for them.

Todd Matejka is vice president of finance at ESCO Financial, Plymouth, Minn.

Correspondence can be addressed to: Todd Matejka, ESCO Financial, 3215 Fernbrook Lane North, Plymouth, MN 55447; email: [email protected].