The Apple Store as a Model for Hearing Healthcare

I’m going to start a consulting business for hearing healthcare professionals. People are going to fly me across North America and pay me obscene sums of money to get my input on their practices. What’s the secret I’m going to share?

Be more like the Apple Store.

Everyone loves the products sold by the Apple Store. Everyone loves the experience of the Apple Store. Nothing brings in more money per square foot than the Apple Store.

To me, the greatest strength of the Apple Store is the accessibility. Every single product is available for anyone to experience; not just to look at, but to actually handle and physically use. Apple knows that 99% of its customers aren’t buying the $10,000 iMac computer, but they still make it available to anyone coming through their doors. The people are accessible as well; anyone can sign up for educational sessions or Genius bar appointments. That accessibility is the biggest factor missing from they typical hearing device experience.

Let’s imagine someone built an Apple Store for hearing devices and picture what that customer experience would look like:

Tim is a 45 year old man picking up some things from the mall. He doesn’t think he needs any help hearing, but he’s intrigued by this new store. There are no sales banners or advertisements, just huge clean windows through which he sees crowds of people looking very interested and excited. Curious, Tim enters the store and sees rows of clean wood tables under bright lighting with various products presented. Tim walks up to one and picks up a hearing device and checks it over. He’s never actually held one before and is impressed by its sleek design and small size. An employee comes over and offers him a pair of clean domes so he can try the devices out himself. As Tim is inserting the them, the employee explains that what he hears is just an approximation – if he’d like his own set of devices then they would be custom-fitted for his hearing. Tim is impressed with the sound quality, its far better like he expected. He reflects that his only real experience with hearing devices up until now was with his grandfathers’s, but that was many years ago. These devices are very different from those giant beige things. He thinks about his aging mother and how these new products might help her in some of the situations she seems to have difficulty in. Tim spends a couple minutes playing around with the hearing devices’ accompanying app on a smartphone that’s set up beside them.

He puts them down and has a quick look at the various other accessories around the store, including remotes, TV streaming boxes, and special microphones. On the walls, between gigantic posters showing off the same products he’d just been holding, are everything a person with hearing devices could need. Cases for the them, boxes to help them dry out, cleaning supplies, even stickers and jewellery to decorate them.

Tim makes his way to the back of the store where a group of people are listening intently to an employee give a presentation on hearing device maintenance. A nearby computer monitor offers electronic sign-ups for upcoming group sessions. Some of the topics Tim sees listed include “Helping your Partner with Hearing Loss,” “What First-Time Users Should Know,” and “Tips for People with Hearing Loss in the Workplace.” There appear to be spaces to book one-on-one counselling sessions as well.

Tim is about to leave, but something catches his eye. Presented on a table are a number of devices that look more like headphones than hearing devices. He tries a pair on and reads the information provided. Apparently, these are “hearables.” Another employee comes along and explains to Tim that they are essentially wireless headphones which can double as an entry-level hearing device. When Tim tries them on, he is impressed with how well the employee’s voice cuts through the noise of the store. Tim thinks about a particularly noisy café that his coworkers enjoy going to and imagines that these products could help him catch some of the conversation he’s been missing there – plus he needs a new pair of headphones anyways. He picks his favourite colour, and the employee swipes his credit card on the spot with no need to wait in any line. Tim also asks how to go about getting his mother’s hearing assessed and learns that there are special testing booths and counselling suites in the back of the store for just this reason. The employee gives Tim a card with the website where he can book an appointment for his mother, but he also suggests that Tim book one for himself. “As a baseline,” he says. Tim scoffs at the suggestion, but then thinks for second. Those hearing devices he tried when he first entered were actually quite impressive. If it turned out he might need them sometime down the road that wouldn’t be the worst thing.

So, what was accomplished in this scenario that typically doesn’t happen in a conventional hearing care setting?

  1. By making hearing devices accessible, Tim’s perception of them was changed. He may not require devices for a number of years, but when he does he will be more willing to adopt them.
  2. By making counselling services accessible by online registration and with more flexibility, more people will take advantage of them, leading to better device satisfaction.
  3. By making the facility accessible and appealing to walk-in traffic, an appointment was generated for at least one person who would not have had an appointment otherwise.
  4. By making non-conventional products available a sale was made to someone who is not presently a suitable candidate for hearing devices.

Now obviously it would take a lot to build this Apple Store-type hearing health centre from the ground up, but there are still steps that any clinic can make towards achieving the same goals. Start by making everything you offer as accessible as possible. Make devices and accessories fully available for clients in your waiting room to handle and try. Make your clinicians’ expertise available by offering drop-in or group counselling services. Make your clinic intriguing and inviting to new clients. Finally, expand your potential client base by offering products that others aren’t.

We are all looking for ways to improve our practices and expand the delivery of hearing health technology and services. However, maybe there’s no need to reinvent the wheel when a proven wheel made of stainless-steel and glass already exists.

 

 

(I was only sort-of joking in my introduction. I’d be thrilled to be a consultant for you. How long does it take to incorporate a consulting business?)

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