2017: 20 tips for independent hearing professionals

Business tips

New start
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Here we are starting another year. It appears that for many 2016 is a year they soon want to forget. While there were many things happening outside our little world which we talked about, there was plenty going on it to keep us interested.

Many people feel under pressure from the changes within the market place and I know that many independent hearing professionals feel the National’s price combativeness creates a particularly difficult situation. While I know that this type of pricing does have an effect, the markets and offerings are different. People who visit independent businesses do so for a host of reasons, primary among them being that they feel they will get better care. It is your job as an independent hearing professional to deliver that. It is your job to ensure that you are differentiated in brand, brand offering and care and service. That means everything from how your practice looks to how you deliver your products and services.

Pretty practices

I have had the pleasure of working with many practices that would be seen as premier independent hearing healthcare practices. One of the things that is ubiquitous across these disparate practices is their sense of brand and differentiation.

They think clearly about and jealously guard their brand. They have a clear idea of who they are and how they will ensure that comes across. Every single detail from the décor of the waiting room and the seating, down to the display elements, is carefully considered. While each of these practices has different styles, each one strives to ensure that their practices are welcoming, comfortable, classy and warm places. They ensure that their staff understand the brand and have designed processes to ensure that the brand ideals are delivered.

Good décor isn’t expensive

I once saw a practice that had a wall paper designed to include its brand colour and logo. It was tasteful and exceptionally well done. The wall paper was used on a feature wall in the waiting room with the other walls painted in sympathetic colours.

The carpet laid was in line with the décor as were the furnishings used in the room. The room, indeed the entire practice was a welcoming place, a classy place to be. The surprising thing was that the paper didn’t cost a ridiculous amount of money. Everything else in the room was also picked carefully with a clear eye on spend. The point here is simple, good décor, doesn’t need to be hugely expensive. The right match of colours can transform a space, matched with the right furnishings and you are on a whole new level.

Furnishings don’t need to cost the earth either, that is what eBay and second hand shops are for. There is much more to brand than just décor, however, décor is a good place to start.

Excel or die

It has become clear to me over the last few years that there is a polarisation within the independent sector. There has been an increase in the premier independent outlets, they are establishing themselves exceptionally well and are doing relatively well within the turmoil of the market. Others within the independent sector are staying static, or their positioning and offering is similar to the nationals. I think that this positioning will kill them. I don’t believe it is possible to compete within that market without volume and big business behind you.

My question would also be why would you want to compete there? The customer that gravitates to independent hearing care does so because they want something different from the national, not a poorly executed ersatz copy.

Come with me if you want to live!

Hahahaha I always wanted to type that, seriously though, your future lays in offering a different proposition. Think premier, think brand, and think independent positioning.

What should you do in 2017?

I wrote an article several years ago detailing what you needed to do to change your practice. The list started at ten things but then just kept growing. I had a look at them lately and you know what, they are still mostly valid. So I thought I would go over them again for you with new eyes.

Some of these tips may not apply to everybody. In fact you may already have instituted most of the things, but I hope that everybody will at least find one tip that is helpful to them. So what twenty things do you need to do in order that your practice sees growth next year?

  • Look at your KPIs from 2016 and decide what areas you need to focus on for 2017. If you do not have KPIs, why not? Then the first thing to do is set some KPIs.
  • If you do not have Practice Management software, not talking Noah here, get one. There are lots available and I know more than a few who swear by Blueprint.
  • Ensure all your patient data is entered into your Practice Management software. Remember, garbage in garbage out.
  • Put in place a clear and in-depth Patient Retention & Referral Strategy. You got them, why don’t you make sure that you keep them? They already like you, or at least they did, ask them to send you someone else.
  • Put in place a clear Patient Journey, you need to see those people in order to ensure they are getting on well and they still think that you rock.
  • Put in place a corresponding clear and rigid Patient Communication Strategy. What letters when? What about Christmas cards and newsletters?
  • Ensure the buy in of all your stakeholders, that means your staff, but don’t forget your patients. If you are changing, let them know you are and ask them for feedback.
  • In your new or old Practice Management software, automate service call-backs as per your Patient Journey.
  • Write some clear, medico legal grade, precise and human letters to be used in your new automatic mail-merges for Call Back letters, Hearing Test Reports, Test No Sales one month contact letter, Test No Sales Annual Test Call Back Letter etc.. etc...
  • Re-paint your practice, unless you have done it in the last ten months.
  • Replace your waiting room chairs unless you have done so within the last three years.
  • Make a New Year’s Resolution that between every appointment you will take five minutes to clean your consultation room, tidying away cables, tubing boxes, cleaning equipment etc. from view.
  • Replace your posters and point of sales (POS) displays if they are any more than three months old.
  • Actually leverage your shop window if you have one, with well thought-out and deployed POS.
  • Review your practice environs critically with the concept of brand presentation in mind, be honest and ruthless.
  • Ensure your web presence does not let you down. You have a beautiful practice, your staff is outstanding, you exude confidence and professionalism, and then they look at your website. The one that looks like it was done by a sixteen year old in 1984, enough said?
  • Leverage your website for campaign offers, educational uses and introduce a regularly updated news section. Your news section will allow you to target search as it changes and keep your site fresh in the eyes of the search engines.
  • Remember your web presence is not static; it needs to be dynamic and constantly evolving.
  • Think clearly and carefully about a social media presence and how it can affect your web presence. Be careful about social media presence, be responsive and be ready for Mister or Mrs awkward to pop up with some irritating comment or painful question. Be ready to answer them clearly and quickly.
  • This list is not exhaustive, think up ten more things you need to do, why should I do it all!

Geoffrey Cooling, author of justaudiologystuff.com and audiologyengine.com.