By Gina Perrone, ACA, BC-HIS
“The bottom line is that, in today’s market, there is an increasingly wide range of hearing aids…” [“Best Practices Trump Direct Mail,” HR Editor Karl Strom, January 2014 Hearing Review, p 6] and that now applies to the baby boomers who want it now, who want Bluetooth capabilities, and who are very tech savy. It applies to Internet sales as opposed to the older “has-been” marketing of direct mail wherein the patients are elderly and easily confused by today’s technology.
I have worked for several online companies and currently…[see] demographic models on the Internet similar to what private practices see. There are those who have customer services doing the programming, who offer linear or large behind-the-ear cheap products, who do not offer support and who often deal with a lower income echelon and a monaural fitting.
Not so with today’s baby boomers!
Let us examine, rather, the success and the demographics therein for the Internet users. [Our firm] is currently fitting 100% digital, 99% RICs, [for] mostly 40-to-60 years in age (unless a son, daughter, or friend of the patient does the purchasing). [We have] a return rate well below the national average (net 8%), with a clientele of physicians, engineers, IT professionals, sales professionals, all of whom could easily afford to go physically to a clinic or office, all of whom could easily afford higher priced instruments— but these clients want it now, see physicians/audiologists first to rule out any medical problems, want the convenience of doing everything via the net, and are all very capable of reading, researching, and adapting to hearing enhancement out of the gate. We have been doing well over 30 aids per month for several years with a 99.5% binaural rate.
The adjustments needed, which are minimal since our team has over 50 years experience in the industry, can easily be obtained by using their remotes or mini-medias, and over the years, a repair might come in that is wax related in the receiver.
The baby boomers have done their research on the net about hearing instruments, about the companies that make these instruments, and about the availability of online purchases from a reputable source endorsed by other consumers, blogs, and media resources.
“Best Practices Trump Direct Mail.” While this may be true for direct mail, it is certainly not true for online. In comparison with the big chains, the clinics, the physicians’ offices, etc, all of which this author has either been employed by or owned offices, the Internet sales mean immediate replies for help via smartphone emails. There is no waiting a week for an appointment or phone call back if the consumer has a question. We even provide loaners if an aid is out for longer than our turn-around of a week to 10 days. There is no time off for weekends or nights for us; our clientele have immediate access to us, and most questions are specific and can be answered simply (eg, Why does the remote not beep for all 6 programs but only for 5 programs? Answer: Because the Bluetooth phone program does not have a beep.).
And most surprisingly, these baby boomers want it all! Not just one or two programs because they will get confused; the more they have, the less problems we have in programming!
Slowly, the Internet will be changing the way hearing aids are channeled to the consumers. These consumers first go to mostly ENTs/audiologists and get the best workup possible. Then they check around the Internet because these people are incredibly busy and don’t want the hassle of [follow-up] appointments—they will tell you if they have a problem! And they want a quality product and a good price!
In actuality, it isn’t so much price that drives these baby boomers as convenience and their understanding and lack of fear of the Internet. While it may pose a problem to the traditional settings we have today, this is the reality of tomorrow, just as programming via your smartphone or computer is almost here! Those who endorse it will in the end benefit because we will reach many more hearing-impaired people and open up unbundling in the market place.
It is here to stay and working very successfully.
Gina Perrone, ACA, BC-HIS
Ms Perrone states that she has 35 years of experience in the field, and has previously worked at Costco, Sams Club, Zounds, Miracle Ear, owned two businesses, and was past national sales manager for a major hearing aid manufacturer.