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An Idiot Abroad or how I got frustrated with restrictive hearing aid sales

Last week Joan and I flew to Hanover in Germany to attend the biggest Audiology trade show in Europe, so my Blog has an international traveller feel to its title. OK, so I stole it from the Ricky Gervais TV show currently on SKY but as ever with the Blog and all communication I always like to start by pointing out that this contribution is from the unqualified compared to Joan’s highly professional opinion.

The 4 a.m. start was a bit of a shocker. The 344 bus from Battersea Park Road to Liverpool Street Station was surprisingly busy. The Stansted Express was depressingly grotty – terrible first impression for people arriving in UK. German Wings was crash free but that’s the limit to the positives from their service. The only pleasant part of the journey was the taxi from Hanover Airport but this had an unpleasant sting of €50 – ouch! International travel is far from glamorous.

We went to the audiology show to see the latest innovations from the manufacturers and to ensure that we keep abreast with technology. There has been such a marked improvement since I joined the industry in the mid-nineties and we can now provide brilliant solutions to really improve the lives of people that suffer from hearing loss. So my expectation was high.

While there were undoubtedly some great hearing aids and hearing aids accessories being displayed with these shows there is always one star product that captures the spirit of the industry. This year was a hearing aid that can only be fitted by specially trained sellers. It stays in your ear for four months at a time, after which you have to go back and have it changed. There will only be 25 centres in the whole of the UK. You have to be careful and manage your life to ensure it doesn’t get damaged – no diving in the swimming pool etc. I do not know the price yet but as each seller will have to pay around £10,000 for the privilege of being an approved centre I expect that it will be ferociously expensive, and this is part of my problem.

I love an analogy and on this occasion I will use the mobile phone industry. Early phones used to be the size of a brick, cost the earth, have limited functionality and were really only the remit of the well-heeled businessman. Nowadays mobile phone can do everything except cook your breakfast, are so cheap that they often come free as part of a user package and universally used. Hearing aids used to be large, with limited functionality and expensive. On the high street they are now small, have great technology but unlike progress in the phone world are still very expensive! The reason behind the price that the industry will quote is lack of volume. Well my argument is that while they bring out their latest technology and make it available through limited outlets at an eye watering price then we will never achieve “volume”.

Now you may ask; Is this just sour grapes as HearingDirect will not be one of the 25 approved centres? No, our philosophy has always been to provide an alternative to the prices of the high street retailers. We sell good technology at great prices. A hearing aid that has to be specially fitted and changed every four months, does not fit with our self-help, try it at home offering. I hope that through our approach to value for money we will help more customers achieve a very satisfying outcome than all those 25 centres put together.

The RNID quote that there are 4 million people in the UK who could benefit from hearing aids. If those 4 million people wished to access this latest technology, each of the approved sellers would have to deal with 160,000 customers. It is not going to happen. Let’s develop good technology and be brave enough to provide it to everyone at affordable prices because there are 4 million people whose lives could be vastly improved.

Rant over and hopefully my association with the 344 bus, the Stansted Express and German Wings is over – until next year.

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