Final Word | December 2017 Hearing Review

If we want to watch broadcast television at home, we are fortunate to live in an area where an antenna will capture a good variety of stations, all for the one-time expense of the antenna hardware. If we desire any cable-only programming, we are forced to sign up for a cable package that has the one or two stations we’d like, and dozens of stations we have no interest in, or can get for free over broadcast. The situation made me think that I should look for some alternative that saves money without sacrificing quality or convenience. Part of the convenience is having recording available so that we may watch a program at a time that makes sense for us. If we were to “cut the cord,” we’d need a video recording device that could tune in to our target programs, or an online app that offers the desired programming and recording.

I wasted about a half-day one recent weekend trying to see if a recording device could do that for us, but the device had a noisy cooling fan, the apps were limited, and it didn’t do as much as my current cable system with accessories. Oh yes, there was still a monthly fee for the “service!”

In the end, the alternative to the status quo I tried out wasn’t a good value, didn’t offer convenience, and was noisy. Sound familiar?

Yes, I was acting like a hearing aid candidate trying to make decisions, weighing all the things that are important for my needs as I see them, and testing the patience of the retail folks and their online support people. It was a good exercise for me because it allowed me to get into the head of a typical consumer who has an idea of what might be needed, but doesn’t see the value that might be provided with the standard offerings. When I asked about the fee for the “service” provided with the recording device that would allow me to cut the cord, the customer service representative kept pointing out more and more features and capabilities that the device offered—but didn’t ask me what it was that I needed.

As a result, the product I tried ended up being a return for credit. The recording device is offered as a “thing” that provides a function. We are used to purchasing “things” and appreciating what it is that the “things” do. If we add a service component that performs functions that we don’t want to do, or can’t do, we might understand that our lives will be easier if we pay the fee and let someone else keep the “things” in service. However, if it isn’t packaged the right way, the consumer may opt out as I did. In the case of cable TV, I think the desire to economize, especially on a recurring fee for a service that provides much more than we need, is a reasonable reaction. However, if it turns out that there is no good alternative, we may suck it up and continue with the cable that we have now. I’m sure that’s what the cable providers are hoping, but things are changing and many cable users are rethinking their options.

Consider the person who may need help with their hearing. Today, they will have a larger knowledge base than they did in the past because much more information is now available. They undoubtedly know there are sources for hearing aids that are offered at prices which may be much less than we can offer with a full-service model. Some consumers who put a very high value on bargain purchases, and are capable of maintaining hearing aids on their own, may get by with a non-traditional delivery model. Some may not and will need our help.

How will consumers find their way to the delivery model that is appropriate for them?

The Final Word? Our job is to look at the people we see, ask good questions, determine what else is available to them in the community, and match what we offer with their needs in such a way that there isn’t a question about where they should go for help. Much of the battle is over when we have the honor of seeing patients face-to-face. The bigger challenge is arousing their curiosity enough—and building a reputation strong enough—that people will take the time to learn from us and trust our recommendations.

Old-school marketing still works, some say. I’m not comfortable with some of the big splashy ads that I see, but an informative ad that might meet my tasteful sensibilities may be too soft to attract the attention needed to get people in front of a clinician. There are many barriers in common marketing and practice today in my opinion. I believe that we will need to figure this out, and the solutions will need to be for our own communities, and for our own unique practices.

It is time to recognize that action will be necessary for many of us to ensure prosperity for our practices. The goal is to set up a professional plan to have the opportunity to offer our expertise to prospective patients in a way that they see our approach makes sense for them. They won’t want to “cut the cord” from us if we do it right!

Citation for this article: Van Vliet D. Cutting the cord (or not cutting the cord). Hearing Review. 2017;24(12):50.

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