In today’s show, Chris Cox Au.D., and Riley Bass Au.D., talk about differentiating yourself and standing out as an Audiologist.
Did you miss our series on Transitioning from Student to Provider? Catch up on what you missed by visiting our special series page.
Listen to the Episode Below
Read the transcript:
CHRIS COX: We’ve gotten a question many times from students that we talked to about how to differentiate themselves. How do we, as audiologists and providers, make ourselves different from the other person down the street?
RILEY BASS: When we think about what we primarily do as audiologists and that fitting technology piece, you can get a hearing aid anywhere. You get a hearing aid on the internet. You can get a hearing aid at the hardware store down the road. Why should those patients come to you and not get something from eBay?
CHRIS COX: And those are some really high quality hearing aids, aren’t they?
RILEY BASS: They are, those $39.99 ones.
CHRIS COX: They do real good, real good. They’re fashionable too, with the big old tube and that stupid looking bud that goes in the ear that’s universal. They’re amazing. Anyway, so how can you differentiate yourself from a online person, or an online store, or someone down the street at the hardware store? Do they sell them at hardware stores? I haven’t seen that.
RILEY BASS: I’ve seen them at Harbor Freight hardware store, yeah.
CHRIS COX: Oh, cool, that’s good to know.
RILEY BASS: For like $29.99.
CHRIS COX: Hm. All right.
RILEY BASS: They’re even noise canceling. That’s what they say.
CHRIS COX: No way!
RILEY BASS: Yeah, they have really fancy noise canceling technology on them.
CHRIS COX: Well, I’m going to go check them out. I think I’m done here.
RILEY BASS: Yeah, let’s go. Just kidding, guys.
CHRIS COX: So if we take a look at what we do, what we’re here to do, and what is out there in the world, this is not necessarily anything super new for our profession, right?
RILEY BASS: Right.
CHRIS COX: I mean, there’s been competing things, competing technology, all the way back to the very first hearing device, I’m sure– which was the ear trumpet.[TRUMPET PLAYING]
RILEY BASS: Yes, there was a lot of ear trumpet companies back in the day.
CHRIS COX: There sure were. There the ones that had the cowboy horns. And then there were ones that had the elk horns.
RILEY BASS: It was geographical, whatever animals lived in your area.
CHRIS COX: Actually, you know what? I think that the best ones came from unicorns and that’s why they’re extinct, because they got over-harvested.
RILEY BASS: We harvested all the unicorn horns to make ear horns out of.
CHRIS COX: Now we know.
RILEY BASS: That’s terrible. Audiologists are responsible for the extinction of unicorns.
CHRIS COX: It wasn’t audiologists. It was someone before that.
RILEY BASS: Ancient audiologists.
CHRIS COX: So enough of that meteor hitting, land killing off all the unicorns theory.
RILEY BASS: Yeah, that makes me feel really bad about our profession. Let’s talk about happy things.
CHRIS COX: It wasn’t us. It really wasn’t us. So how do you differentiate yourself? Do you just by one of those– what do you call them?
RILEY BASS: Wacky, whaling, inflatable, arm flailing tube man.
CHRIS COX: Oh, my gosh. You actually got that out? What is it again? Wacky, whaling–
RILEY BASS: Inflatable, arm flailing, tube man.
CHRIS COX: Wow, that’s pretty amazing you have a stored in your head somewhere.
RILEY BASS: Well, you know I’m a plethora of knowledge.
CHRIS COX: OK. So do we get one of those? Do we get two of those?
RILEY BASS: You could.
CHRIS COX: And you’d really stand out, right?
RILEY BASS: I mean, basically yes. They are tall and they are flail-y. But I would think that you might be selling cars if you had one of those in front of your practice.
CHRIS COX: OK, so that’s not going to work. How about standing out on the sidewalk with the sandwich board?
RILEY BASS: Maybe, but who’s going to see your patients if you’re standing out on the side walk with the sandwich board?
CHRIS COX: So flailing tube men and sandwich boards don’t work. I think that, in our time here working with some of the best private practice owners in the country, we’ve gotten a really good vantage point on what works, and what doesn’t, and what seems to be the most effective ways to differentiate yourself from the competition, both as a health care provider, and also as a business.
RILEY BASS: Right, and the good thing about what opportunities we have here at Audigy is that we see these trends and these things that are working really well across the nation. And our members are sharing them with each other and saying, I found that this works really well. You should try it. And that encouragement to share ideas is what’s really helped us figure out what it takes to provide that remarkable patient experience every time.
CHRIS COX: So we want to talk about three major concepts here. And it’s not the end all be all, like we say. We only have 20/30 minutes to talk about these things. And some of these things we could delve into a lot deeper.
But the three topics we want to brush on today are one, providing that remarkable experience every single time. Two, having that fitting expertise and being good at what you do, not just talking, but also audiologically. And then, as well as establishing relationships– and this is probably the most important one, is to make sure that you’re establishing relationships with your patients, as opposed to just having them come in and come out in what we call a transactional relationship.
RILEY BASS: So starting at the beginning with that remarkable patient experience every time, where does your appointment actually start?
CHRIS COX: It starts when you walk in the door? RILEY BASS: Let’s think a little bit more. What do you usually do before you walk in the door?[JEOPARDY THEME MUSIC]
Probably call in.
RILEY BASS: Right. You call and make an appointment. Have you ever called any type of office or a doctor’s office to make an appointment and not had a great experience with the person on the phone?
CHRIS COX: Yes, several times.
RILEY BASS: What happened?
CHRIS COX: Well, if I’m looking for a provider, or even if it’s just like a mechanic or something like that, if I’m looking for help or service from somebody and they’re not nice to me on the phone, it makes me not want to go there.
RILEY BASS: Right. [DING] I think that that’s something that we sometimes take for granted, is that first impression that you get on the phone makes a huge difference in whether you’re going to want to go to a place or not. And we take a great deal of interest in really working on making sure that we’re providing that exceptional patient experience from the moment the phone rings and the front office person answers the phone and says, thank you for calling ABC Hearing. Making sure that you’re answering the phone pleasantly, and you’re giving me information that’s needed, and you’re getting the information that you need, is going to make a huge difference in how that patient feels before they even walk into the office.
CHRIS COX: Yeah, that first impression, that first contact, over the phone is huge. And unfortunately for many people out there, not just private practice owners in audiology, but in all sorts of industries, that first person that the caller calls in to and talks to, doesn’t always necessarily have the best disposition to talk to the people that are calling in. And unfortunately lot of people are losing business because of that too.
So first things first, make sure you have the right people in place to answer the phones and make sure that they’re taking care of that caller in the best way possible. And that includes a lot of training, that includes getting the right personality in the first place, which goes back to–
RILEY BASS: You don’t want any grouchy pants up there.
CHRIS COX: Yeah, you definitely don’t want grouchy pants up there.
RILEY BASS: All right, so Chris, you did a great job talking to that patient on the phone and now they want to come into the office. So they open the door to your office, and what next?
CHRIS COX: Well, you better have something that makes them feel welcome and is warming, and that person at the front desk is also the same way.
RILEY BASS: You better have some ice cream.
CHRIS COX: You better have some donuts.
RILEY BASS: Just kidding, but not really.
CHRIS COX: Not really. Come on, donuts really make everybody happy.
RILEY BASS: Right. When that patient walks into the office it’s their first impression of your business and what you run as a business, and if it’s dirty and messy and outdated, that’s what they’re going to think of you. If it’s not pleasant to look at, and it’s not clean, and it’s not organized, they’re going to think that you are not clean or organized or pleasant as well.
CHRIS COX: And it may be true, but at least you can let them find that out later.
RILEY BASS: Right, you can at least fake that part.
CHRIS COX: So keeping the waiting room looking nice and clean, and having that front office person, which a lot of the time is the person that they called on the phone, having that being a consistent experience, is going to go a long way to having that remarkable patient experience.
RILEY BASS: Right. And one thing, if a patient’s coming in, they’re probably coming in at a certain time that you set up an appointment for them. It’s great to greet them by name– you must be Mr. Smith, welcome to ABC Audiology. We’re so glad to have you today.
You know it’s them. That’s the time of their appointment, so that gives you a good idea. And I’ve seen practices that actually take a photo when patients come in for the first time. And then they can use that as reference in the future. What does he look like again? They can look at that picture and see so they don’t forget. And then next time they come in they say, oh, yeah, I know.
CHRIS COX: Yeah, one of the coolest things is whenever that front office staff person knows the patients very, very well and they don’t even have to worry about looking it up. They know when Mr. Smith walks in the door that it’s Mr. Smith. And if it happens to be a walk in, or they’re just there for something else and they’re not on the schedule, that goes a long way as well.
And it’s always impressed me that some of these front office people or patient care coordinators know patients on a first name basis and can spot them any time they walk in. So that’s like another added bonus, if there’s someone out there that can do that for you. The last part then is the experience that they’re going to have with you as the health care provider, whether you’re a student an extern or an audiologist. That experience with you is one of the biggest things that can contribute to their continued interest in coming to see you and that practice.
RILEY BASS: There’s a lot of different things that really help to ensure that experience. But things that come to the top of mind is consistency. Even if they’re not seeing you with other patients, you knowing your routine and you knowing your process shows that you’re confident and you’re competent in what you’re doing. And you’re not trying to think. And you’re not saying, oh, I forgot to do this, I have to go back. You’re flowing with that process very smoothly and really taking the time to focus on your patient’s needs. There’s a reason why they came in there. It’s not just because they decided to out of nowhere.
We all know the statistics with patients in hearing loss and the time it takes to get them in the door, and all of that. So they’re not just saying, you know, I think I’m going to go get my hearing tested today. There’s a reason. And finding out that reason is going to really impact the way you communicate with that patient.
CHRIS COX: Yeah, absolutely. All of that put together is really part of that experience that we’re saying is going to be your differentiator. So having that remarkable experience from the first phone call all the way through their fitting, their follow ups, their cleans and checks, their annual hearing tests, even to, perhaps, the next iteration of hearing device purchases that they have four, five, six years down the road. Your ability to provide a great experience for them consistently for that long of a period of time does wonders for you, the business, and for them as a patient. Because what do you think they’re going to do if they’ve had a great experience?
RILEY BASS: They’re going to tell people that they had a great experience.
CHRIS COX: Uh-huh. That’s it. They’re going to tell her friends, they’re going to go online hopefully, and it goes a really long way. And it all just comes down to that experience.
RILEY BASS: And it’s very apparent when people really take the time to do this. I just had an appointment last week my eye doctor. And I went in and he said, how’s things over in the audiology world? Oh, I heard you’re working with student programs. How’s that going? What are you doing? Remember last time when we talked about this, well, I did this.
And he’d probably just taken some notes so that he could bring back the same things, but he did that. He took that step to make those notes and then to bring them back up the next time, which was almost a year later that I saw him. And he asked me about the same things we’d talked about last year. And I know that he remembered me.
And that said a lot to me, that even though I’m not in there regularly and I go once a year, that they still knew who I was when I walked in. And they greeted me by name. And I definitely took that and I highly recommend this eye doctor to people that are asking. So it’s the same way for your patients and for you is a provider. If you’re providing that really remarkable experience, people are going to tell their friends and family when they say, well, how do I get that?
CHRIS COX: Yeah. And that really kind of edges in on the third point about building relationships with your patients. And that’s one key part of it.
Before we get there, let’s talk about your fitting expertise. You obviously have to be good at what you do, not only being able to provide a great experience that the patient experiences, but also be able to execute on the things that you’ve learned from them, and of course through schooling, and do that well. So one of the things that we always talk about here is what?
RILEY BASS: Something that you really like because you’re a geek and you like science.
CHRIS COX: Oh, I love science.
RILEY BASS: But it is very important– real ear measurement. [DING]
CHRIS COX: Yay, real ear measurements, an objective way of determining how a hearing device is performing in someone’s ear. This is huge. When the statistics out there show that only about a quarter of health care providers are actually using any sort of objective verification measures on their fittings, this is a great way, for those of us out there that are technologically minded and want to do the best that we can with the best practices, to do something and verify.
RILEY BASS: You don’t have to be that technologically minded. I am not technologically sound, and I can do real ear measurements so.
CHRIS COX: You’re right, and it’s not that difficult.
RILEY BASS: Anyone can do it.
CHRIS COX: Anyone can do it. And then that’s kind of the difficulty that I’m seeing within our industry. I’m like, why aren’t people doing this more? It’s not that difficult. But there’s 101 excuses out there, from it being too expensive, or not enough time, or whatever it is. And those are all things that are really, truly excuses when it comes down to what best practices are, what the literature has shown us about patient satisfaction, about return rates, and all that kind of stuff.
RILEY BASS: It’s just like looking at the other types of medical fields. If you were receiving treatment from a doctor, would you want them to verify that it was working, or just say, so do you think it’s working? Sure? I mean, if you have a heart valve replaced or something like that, do you want the doctor to say, well, how do you feel like your heart valve is working? Or do you want to actually check it and make sure it’s working?
It goes both directions. And I don’t know why and where in the audiology field we decided that it’s not important to do this verification. Because it’s very important.
CHRIS COX: I totally agree with you. We’re on the same team on that and I love it. So, beyond that, that’s just kind of a piece of that bigger idea of knowing your stuff and being that expert. Being able to choose a piece of technology for your patient shouldn’t be something that you just say, OK, well, everyone gets RICs and I’m just going to pull this off the shelf and there you go.
Although that kind of style can fit a lot of different people, a lot of times we do really need to take a little bit of time, think about what’s going to be the best option– even the ones for like the made for iPhones versus not, versus invisible in the canals, and all that. There are all kinds of different options that are valid and useful today to a great many different amount of a patient’s needs.
But we first have to find that out. We have to look at what their needs are, what their listening goals are and where they’re having the most difficultly. And determine from that, what’s going to be the best technology for this specific person?
RILEY BASS: And one thing I can’t think of is, when I was a first year, my great grandma came to the clinic at the University I was attending and she had a pretty severe hearing loss. And my high school knowledge said I should fit her with BTEs because they have lots of power.
CHRIS COX: More power!
RILEY BASS: But she has very, I would say, soft outer ears. Her cartilage is very thinned out and her ears are kind of almost floppy. And she also has rheumatoid arthritis.
So she has a hard time with those BTEs. She has a hard time getting them in and out. She has a hard time keeping them on her ears. And now I just kick myself thinking, why didn’t I get her ITEs?
That’s what would have been the best solution, but at the time I didn’t think in those terms and didn’t see things that direction. So just because something says that you can fit a RIC up to this loss, and you can physically fit it on to that person, doesn’t mean that that’s going to be the best for their lifestyle, for their ability to take it in, take it out, change batteries, things like that.
CHRIS COX: Yeah, and it’s our job to be the discerning professional and understand what is going to be the best for that person, like we were saying earlier. So it’s very easy to fall into that cookie cutter, this person has this loss, and therefore they get this. But part of what we need to be as professionals is really understanding and making those decisions that are better for our patients.
RILEY BASS: So, Chris, you have brought your patient into your office and you have fit them with brand new expertly fit technology. Then you kick them out the door and say, don’t want to hit you on the way out?
CHRIS COX: No, I don’t say that. I just say, see you later. And then I go have a steak dinner after I cash her check.
RILEY BASS: Right. Exactly, I get it.
CHRIS COX: No, absolutely not. I hope that doesn’t get out that’s what I do. Because I do go have steak dinners, but that’s just coincidental.
RILEY BASS: Right. Well, when you have steak dinners every night.
CHRIS COX: Yeah, it’s coincidence, right?
RILEY BASS: It’s the lush life of the audiologist.
CHRIS COX: Salisbury steak from Nighthawk.
RILEY BASS: The steak taco from Taco Bell for $1.49.
CHRIS COX: Gross, stop. All right, so the last thing we need to do– it’s not really the last thing. This is the most important thing. And it really does start from that first call on through the rest of it. But it’s establishing relationship, a relationship with the patient.
It’s one of the most important things that you can do to differentiate yourself is to– even though, it’s like even you talked about your eye doctor, even though you know it’s kind of fake that they wrote that’s stuff down and are bringing it back up, you still feel like they listened to you, right? Like they still wrote something down.
So the idea of building a relationship, even though it’s somewhat constructed, you have a lot of time with them. And you have access to what is important to them by asking them the questions. But honoring that and using that to continue discussions in the future can really go a long way in establishing yourself and differentiating yourself from that person down the street who just wants to slap the hearing devices on their ears and send them out the door.
RILEY BASS: Right. And getting used to technology is something that’s difficult. And it’s a legitimate struggle that a lot of people have. And it doesn’t just– you don’t just put them on and say, OK, good luck. It is an adjustment period. And you obviously see that patient for follow up visits during that time.
But one thing that is really impactful that a lot of members I’ve seen do, is call them themselves around three days or so after they’re fit. Not have their front office call them, not have somebody else around the office call them, but actually schedule some time and call the patient that you fit. And see how they’re doing. Ask them about the specific situations that they said, I really wanted to hear better when I was at a restaurant. Well, maybe they’ve gone out to dinner since then and you want to know how it went. Finding those things out and following up, and following up in a quick amount of time, shows them that you are staying top of their mind, and you’re not just in then out the door.
CHRIS COX: Those are just two minute calls. I know there’s several of the practice owners that I know, they’ll set aside like 30 minutes worth of time at the end of every day to get those calls out. And it’s sometime after [5:00], but they’ll spend some time and they’ll go through it.
And all it is is just a quick call asking how things went, asking if– and it’s not necessarily of that day. It could be of a couple days. It may be a couple days staggered out. But they’ll call and ask how things been going for the past couple days. Is there anything that you’d like to talk about? We’ve got two week follow up in two weeks, so make sure you bring all the stuff that you’ve just told me to that meeting, and we can talk about it. Real easy, real simple, and even if you’ve had five or six fittings that day, that’s not that much time. Maybe 15 minutes total of your time if it’s a two minute chat with each.
RILEY BASS: Unless you get a super chatty person.
CHRIS COX: Unless you get a super chatty person of course. But you should know already going into that, since you’ve already met with them, if they’re going to be that way or not. But that’s a huge thing. Getting a phone call from the provider, whether it’s a surgeon, or whether it’s your family doctor, and in this case it’s the hearing doctor, that’s huge. People don’t get calls like that from just anybody.
RILEY BASS: I’m so full of examples today. I have a sort of millennial example. My family doctor, they have like a text message service. And if you have any questions or anything, you can send a message in. And she has always responded within probably an hour, an hour and a half, every single time. And they come from her, not from an office person or anything. They come actually from the doctor.
I think it’s awesome because it saves you a few minutes of time and you’re not wondering. You don’t have to make an appointment. So obviously that might not be the best solution with patients that we’re fitting with hearing technology– some of them maybe. And you could work that out.
If you fit somebody that’s really into texting or something or email, you can shoot them an email or send them a text and ask them. I think that’s a great thing to find out, what they prefer to communicate by whenever they’re in your office. But having that convenience, and being there, and being so reachable is something that’s really valuable to the patient.
CHRIS COX: And that brings up another kind of side point about it, is being able to use technology to your benefit and to your patient’s benefit to help with the time, being able to portion your time appropriately. And if it’s a text session that you answer them all within that hour that they come in, or you spend some time every day answering those. That’s one of those things, again, where you can really help differentiate yourself by having different technologies that the patient can have access to you and your team, even if it’s like tweeting or something like that.
Some of the bigger companies have someone on Twitter all day all night, making sure that their customers are taken care of through Twitter. And we’ve already talked about ordering a pizza through Twitter. So there’s so many different things you can use to help get your patients connected to your team.
RILEY BASS: Twitter is like the fastest way to get customer service to respond to you these days anyway. With those really big corporations.
CHRIS COX: They don’t like that out there.
RILEY BASS: That doesn’t apply to smaller businesses but. So, Chris, you fit this patient. They came in, you made it through your trial period, they are happy as can be. And so now you say, peace out, right?
CHRIS COX: Why do you keep saying that I do this to my patients?
RILEY BASS: I’m just prompting you to tell me that that’s not what you do.
CHRIS COX: Hey, loser, this is what you do with your patients, isn’t it? I can totally tell.
RILEY BASS: You’re the one who was like, I [? spit a ?] patient and then I go get a steak dinner.
CHRIS COX: Well, that’s because I eat steak every night. What am I supposed to do? Eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?
RILEY BASS: Yes.
CHRIS COX: So, OK. I think what, part of this continued relationship, is that patient retention part. Beyond the fitting, and the follow up, and that 30, 60, 90 day adjustment period that that patient may have with those hearing devices, is to continue the relationship in some way. One of the easiest ones is the birthdays. Birthday cards are great.
RILEY BASS: Who doesn’t like getting birthday cards?
CHRIS COX: Yeah, hand written birthday cards. Those are awesome!
RILEY BASS: Hey, students summit students, have you gotten a birthday card from us in the last year? Probably.
CHRIS COX: Probably. And they’re awesome, aren’t they? So sending birthday cards, sending anniversary cards, any holiday cards, making sure that you’re sending the appropriate one of course. And then there are other things like patient appreciation events, like having a barbecue for all your patients or having like a pizza pick up night where any patient can come and you’ll have pizza ready for them that they can take home for dinner. There’s a lot of really cool ideas out there. And we go on forever on that. Maybe we’ll actually do a podcast on patient appreciation events.
RILEY BASS: That’d be great.
CHRIS COX: We’ll maybe get somebody in here that they can really talk about that.
RILEY BASS: Yeah, we have some members and some practice owners that are doing some really awesome things to thank their patients for coming back to them over and over again.
CHRIS COX: Yeah. So that’s one of the things that can really help differentiate yourself as well. That person down the street may not really have those patient appreciation events. And so when you’re able to provide that, almost kind of as a community service, people take notice. And they see that big line of cars going through your parking lot as you’re giving out the pizzas. And they want to know what’s going on.
RILEY BASS: What is going on over there?
CHRIS COX: So that’s part of keeping that relationship alive and consistent and not letting it get cold. Because in three, four, five, six years, what’s going to happen?
RILEY BASS: They’re going to need new technology!
CHRIS COX: They are. And who do you hope that they come to see?
RILEY BASS: The guy down the street. [SAD TROMBONE]
Just kidding, ha, ha, ha, fooled you guys. You obviously hope that they come back and see you.
CHRIS COX: So by building that relationship and building a great experience and being an expert in what you do, then it’s a no-brainer for them to want to come back and see you, if you’ve done all of that well.
RILEY BASS: Absolutely. And we have sort of gotten into the habit of recommending some books at the end of podcast that really relate to the topics that we talked about that day. One I would like to recommend right now is The Trusted Advisor by David Maister. I highly recommend that book. Reach out to us if you are interested in obtaining a copy.
CHRIS COX: It’s an easy read, yeah.
RILEY BASS: It’s very easy. It’s very quick to read. And it’s very, very applicable to the clinical world. I have read this book a couple times through and I find it’s very easy to relate your interactions to patients to this book. So I definitely would recommend that one.
CHRIS COX: But you don’t have to take our word for it. Dun, dun, dun.
RILEY BASS: Read it yourself.[THEME MUSIC]
Thank you guys so much for listening. You can find us on Twitter I am @RileyB659
CHRIS COX: And I am @Cox, Chris Cox.
RILEY BASS: Not James Bond.
CHRIS COX: Not James Bond.
RILEY BASS: You can also follows the podcast Twitter @the_paudcast.
CHRIS COX: P-A-U-D-C-A-S-T.
RILEY BASS: Just like the logo that you probably see somewhere on something that you’re listening to this on. If you are interested in getting a copy of that book, just shoot me an email or a tweet. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
CHRIS COX: And we thank you so much for listening. We’re super excited that we have people downloading things out there, these episodes mainly. And we just look forward to continue doing these podcasts.
RILEY BASS: We just passed 1,000 downloads. We are so excited and we are so thankful for you guys for helping us do this and make our dream of being podcast hosts come true.
CHRIS COX: Yeah, I think a hundred of those are my mom, though, because she couldn’t figure out how to get the link to download.
RILEY BASS: At least like 300 or 400 of them are me, probably. Just kidding. We know it’s all you guys listening, subscribing, downloading, and telling your friends. And we are very appreciative of it. Keep it up and we will see you next week.
CHRIS COX: Thanks, guys.