Hearing aids: What to do when the patient says “It’s too expensive”

Every audiology professional dreads a consultation that ends with the customer saying “It’s too expensive”. What can you reply to this? The economic downturn is real, and makes patients think about their expenses. Consumers cannot or are not willing to pay for their health like before. But is this really the core of the problem? In most cases, probably not. It is more often the sign of a loss of trust. How can you react to a customer who says that the price is just too high? How can you better showcase the true value you bring? Prevention is of course better than cure.

During a recession, people start to reconsider their medical care. Take France for example, where 27% of respondents to the 2012 Europ Assistance-CSA health survey indicated that financial difficulties have made them reconsider certain aspects of healthcare. This was especially the case for less overt diseases that are not lifethreatening, such as hearing problems. Perceived lower reimbursement rates don’t help either. Luckily, there are still many people willing to call on hearing aid specialists. But some of them will end up saying “It’s too expensive,” once they hear what their hearing solution will cost.

What not to answer?

How should you react in this type of situation? Generally, the professional hesitates between aggressiveness, resignation and unhappiness. “I’m not a used car dealer” could be the aggressive response to a client who legitimately tries to get the same for less. However, this type of approach is unlikely to convince the client to jump at the offer. At best, the client will probably want to “think about it”. Another answer: “You find it expensive compared to what?” This reply is often used, but it is manipulative and tends to annoy. So how about: “That’s because of your insurance company”? This answer just shifts the problem: the client should find another insurer… or maybe another hearing aid specialist. Or even: “Yes, but my offices, equipment and staff are very expensive too.” The patient will think: “how is that my problem?” All these possible answers hardly encourage the client to grab his wallet. Let’s try: “The government and health insurance companies are to blame for low reimbursement rates.” This will not solve your problem either. It makes the patient defeatist and puts the responsibility somewhere else. If the government thinks it’s not necessary, maybe it’s not that urgent, or they think that hearing aids don’t work anyway, the patient might think. Another angle altogether: “I can offer you a reduction.” This proposition gives the impression that the professional is doing the patient a favour by lowering the price. But the patient might see this differently: “Without complaint, I would have paid the full amount.” Collateral damage: word gets around that people can negotiate in your centre!

Too late

There are various ways to respond to “It’s too expensive” in standard commercial relations. Unfortunately, when you’re a hearing aid specialist, they don’t work. Once you’ve heard “It’s too expensive”, it’s already too late in a patient-healthcare professional relationship, which is based on trust. “It’s too expensive” means there is not enough trust. The best option would be to make sure your customers don’t get to the cost hurdle. This means letting them know the price in such a way that it becomes difficult to object. The best way to feel relaxed when talking about the price is to explain what is included. It is still difficult for clients to understand that they’re not just paying for a device, but also, or even mainly for a service: fitting, after sale advice, cleaning, during the five-year life-cycle of this device. So it’s logical that when you are asked to pay for immaterial things, you want to be assured that you really need the service, that you will get quality, without restriction, in a professional context. Just think of your mechanic asking you to pay five years’ oil changes, repairs and safety assessments for your car in advance... Take the time to explain the various price components in detail, and reassure the client with supporting documentation.

Associate price with benefit

In the consumer’s mind, a price is always associated with a benefit. When you buy aspirin, you don’t think of the ingredients, but of getting rid of your headache. So, likewise, don’t only go into the technical features of a hearing aid. Your client probably isn’t that interested in the technical finesse of the latest phase opposite noise reduction technology. Focus on the hearing benefits your client can attain with the price you offer.

Ending with the price

It’s common knowledge that the listening capacity decreases once the price is put out there. It is therefore a golden rule not to mention the price before the clients have been able to learn all about the benefits of having their hearing corrected. In this way, they can judge the value and imagine what it might mean for their daily lives.

Keep silent

Maybe you try to reduce the stress of talking about the price by talking a lot. But that’s not a good idea: the price may get lost in a counter-productive ramble. The patient feels your uneasiness about the price and may wonder why, if the cost is fair. Try the opposite after giving the price: silence. Count to seven in your mind before continuing your story. You will probably notice that the patient starts giving information about their state of mind in the purchasing process. After this, you can talk about payment and reimbursement by the health insurance company. You will be surprised how many clients respond positively – more than you may have thought in any case.

Confirm in writing

To prevent discussion, conflict and negotiation, always include the price in a written offer. But don’t do this before giving the patient the cost in person. You would be giving up a great opportunity of getting a direct reaction and being able to answer questions on the spot before the client disconnects, something customers often do when they haven’t understood all the benefits their hearing aids could bring.

A matter of trust

Your body language counts as least as much as what you say (there is scientific evidence that non-verbal messages are even far more important). Your voice can reveal hesitation about mentioning a price. When your body is tense, that is a sign of stress. Talking faster causes uneasiness in your customer. When you mention the price calmly and firmly, it sounds quite natural. This lowers the chance of getting an “It’s too expensive” as a response. When this answer comes along anyway, remember that this doesn’t mean “I cannot pay that amount” but rather “I don’t want to”! There is a difference between financial problems and pretexts. For psychological reasons, people rarely say exactly what they think. So don’t expect people to blurt out “I don’t want to be treated by you because I don’t trust you” or “I can’t take your offer because I didn’t understand it at all”. To say “It’s too expensive” is a pretext that makes life easier, without for instance having to mention lack of confidence in your abilities or fear of wearing hearing aids. “It’s too expensive” pops into your client’s mind instead of the real reasons for refusal. In the communication specialist’s handbook, this is called a pretext objection. And in the case of a patient-health professional relationship, it generally cannot be countered without damaging the delicate trust relation. In most cases, the trust relationship was already in trouble before the words came out. It would just take too much time and energy to build up trust again, given the average professional’s busy schedule. There are basically two types of real problems hidden behind a “pretext objection”: those concerning the professional as a person, and those concerning the treatment. Three objections stand out: "I didn't understand", "I don't trust what I'm told", and "I have no faith in this centre's professionalism."

“I didn’t understand”

“I didn’t understand, my hearing aid specialist wasn’t able to explain clearly and coherently.” A typical response by a client who doesn’t understand, doesn’t want to offend, doesn’t want to admit ignorance or doesn’t dare to ask for further explanations. So, this person may think that the hearing aid specialist didn’t have the time to explain everything in full, or that questions may not be welcome. The client is little aware of the consequences of refusing care. These types of clients try to reassure themselves, “there is no hurry, my hearing problems are not that severe yet. I’m still young. It’s mainly because other people don’t speak loud enough.” A real classic.

“I don’t trust what I’m told”

This is a worrying situation for the professional, but it is by far the easiest to counter. It often results from saying the wrong things at the wrong times, or in the wrong way. Marketing specialists call this “overselling” but what really happens is that the patient loses confidence. The sales side is as important as the medical or psychological explanations you give the customer. The right tone, simplicity and honesty will have a more positive effect than a slick sales pitch.

“I have no faith in this centre’s professionalism”

Much more difficult to pin down, this category of response is hard to counter because it is often based on factors the professional is not aware of. Old-fashioned decor, paint peeling off the ceiling, restrooms that could be cleaner, signs of wear and tear on the furniture, fouryear- old magazines in the waiting room, a wide range of small signs that might lead the client to doubt the quality of your professionalism and that of your centre. The client may subconsciously develop mistrust. Apart from the appearance of the centre itself, the atmosphere between staff members might contribute to it, for instance a hearing aid specialist barking orders at his assistant, a clumsy assistant letting a hearing aid fall to the ground, long waiting times, lack of availability of the team for explanations, you name it. At this stage, the hearing aid specialist could go back on his tracks and consider where the relationship with the client might have gone wrong: when was contact lost, when was trust lost, when were explanations insufficient… Taking a close look at the situation will not, in most cases anyway, bring the customer back. But it will help the hearing aid specialist to make improvements in the areas that were identified as lacking. For instance, to improve communication with future clients. The result will be that fewer and fewer clients will use the old “It’s too expensive” argument as a pretext for other, unknown reasons.

By Constance Aubin, adaptation: Ludivine Aubin-Karpinski, summary translation: Leendert van der Ent

Photo: © Camille Tisserand