Last month, HR reported on the introduction of a new hearing instrument company, Sona Hearing ( see October 2010 HR Online). A member of the Sonova Group, which also includes hearing aid manufacturers Phonak and Unitron, sona is introducing new hearing instrument solutions that offer novel fitting options and a number of simplified business processes that are unique to the industry.
Sona was officially launched in the first half of 2010 in Belgium, The Netherlands, and France; and in the second half of the year in the United States, Switzerland, and Germany. The new brand is aimed at the mild-to-moderate hearing loss population and first-time users.
Sona’s North American Managing Director is Barry Hylas, who has spent more than 30 years of his career in the pharmaceutical, medical device, and home care industries. Sona’s global marketing director is Thomas Lang, who in 2001 joined Phonak as a research and development engineer, then became a project leader for the company, and also worked as the product manager for Savia and other brands.
HR interviewed Hylas and Lang to find out more about their new company and sona’s offerings.
HR: In a period where we’re seeing more industry consolidation and a trend toward fewer hearing aid manufacturers, what draws sona to the market?
|Barry Hylas, Sona Hearing managing director||Thomas Lang, Sona Hearing global marketing director|
Hylas: We see a lot of manufacturers who are competing almost solely on the basis of innovative hearing instrument features—and this has been the traditional approach for entering the hearing care market for decades.
The goal of sona is to provide innovative business solutions and unique services, with the best technology available. Our products are developed from within the Sonova Group and offer outstanding features. But we really don’t want to fight the hearing aid feature war. We certainly offer advanced products, but our real strength is in providing unique integrated solutions ideally suited for first-time users. These involve products, an advanced fitting and counseling approach, and business solutions that help grow a practice.
Beyond this, we’re now seeing a new type of consumer who is looking for hearing aids. The age 50 to 65 group of hearing-impaired clients is more demanding in terms of what they want from a hearing aid, and they’re a lot less forgiving in terms of the traditional approaches in fitting. They want a hearing aid they can take home that day; they want some real choices in terms of the features and price levels that are being offered; they may even become more demanding as they gradually develop into experienced hearing aid users. Due to their busy lives, time becomes a constraint. Successful first fitting has a real advantage. The same is true for after-sales services. They expect more. This is why sona offers a unique repair concept where we can ensure continuous product availability. In short, this is a new user group that requires new solutions.
|FIGURE 1. Sona Hearing provides three core benefits: advanced products, business solutions, and fitting and counseling options—all designed to improve the interactions between the hearing impaired consumer, dispensing office, and hearing aid manufacturer.|
We see sona’s role as helping to bring the dispensing professional closer to patients by simplifying the business processes, by improving the logistics of interacting with the manufacturer through novel business solutions, and, of course, by providing top-notch products that are flexible enough to satisfy end-users’ needs (see Figure 1).
So, what we really give to dispensing professionals are more tools and time for satisfying the needs of their patients, as well as better systems that contribute to the operation of an efficient and profitable dispensing practice.
HR: And that’s the idea behind, for example, the sona smart:stock program?
Hylas: Exactly. Smart:stock is an automated solution that ensures permanent product availability and immediate dispensing, while reducing the overhead of a dispensing office. Essentially, a dispensing office is able to carry sona products free of charge and risk. They don’t pay for the devices until they “activate” them for the client, and sona automatically restocks the office’s inventory whenever it falls below a certain level.
HR: What do you mean by “activating” the hearing aids? Can you tell us about flex:performance and sona hearing aids?
Lang: The hearing aid is selected using the sona flex:performance concept: the performance and price level of the hearing aids are determined at the time of the fitting by selecting and uploading into the hearing aid one of three defined packages of algorithms. The hearing care professional will select the package that best suits the patient’s hearing, lifestyle, and financial needs. Once everybody is satisfied, the hearing aid is then “activated.”
Also, one of the great advantages of this system is that established customers can opt to test and buy a higher performance level without having to be completely refitted, paying only for the new algorithm package. This is an excellent tool for the clinician to increase customer satisfaction—especially for price-conscious first-time users—and create new revenue for the dispensing office without necessarily replacing the hearing aids every time.
Sona’s products are designed to be small, intelligent, and flexible, and were developed for those patients with mild-to-moderate hearing losses. They incorporate a range of automatic advanced features, like feedback cancelers, directional microphones, and impulse sound limiters in 6, 12, and 18 bands, corresponding to the three performance levels from which patients can choose.
|FIGURE 2. The sona:vogue and sona:intro family of instant-fit hearing instruments.|
We presently offer two hearing aid models: a micro behind-the-ear (BTE) instrument and a very small completely-in-the-canal (CIC) aid. The sona:vogue micro is a slim-tube BTE with exchangeable housing colors, and the sona vogue:intro is a CIC with an open-fit dual-vent design and #10 battery (Figure 2). Both are instant-fit aids, and targeted to be applicable for about 60% to 80% of the patients encountered by a dispensing office.
In particular, the products are designed to appeal to first-time users. Sona is geared for price-conscious consumers who are looking for high-quality precision-fit hearing aids with excellent value and unique after-sales services. To draw a comparison to the airline industry, you might think of our products being “economy” to “business class”—products suited for the majority of users.
With sona, you can also offer your clients the experience of better hearing during their first visit. Our unique:fit system is an element within our programming software that automatically optimizes the first fit, and our client:view is an interactive feature that allows them to follow along as you’re programming the device.
HR: What do you see as the most exciting aspect of sona?
Hylas: I think one of the most exciting things about sona is that we have products and business solutions that can substantially expand business for clinicians by providing performance-level upgrades, while at the same time helping satisfy the needs of first-time users right from the first appointment.
Our industry has a lot of good hearing aids, and when properly fitted, consumers do well with most of them. Sona’s product technology is exceptional, but sona is much more than “being about a product.”
What sona offers are excellent products for a range of customers—particularly first-time hearing aid users—who may be more demanding of dispensers. We also provide new practical solutions for the running of an efficient, profitable practice. — K.E.S.