This week on the Future Ear Radio podcast, I’m joined by Brad Stewart, Audiologist, Owner of ClearLife Hearing Care, and Co-Founder of AuDFlow. For our conversation today, Brad and I discuss his first ten years operating in the hearing health industry, from graduation to starting his own private practice, to now, launching his consulting company, AuDFlow.
Brad’s journey across the past ten years has shaped the way that he thinks about the current state of the independent hearing professional and what lies ahead. As we discuss, a lot of the groundwork was laid this past decade that’s setting the stage for what’s coming on the horizon, namely a combination of innovations happening in technology and service delivery models.
Much of the conversation revolves around the theme that’s been front and center in many of the past episodes: what’s the best way for hearing professionals to prepare and adapt to a new landscape populated by new entities or stronger incumbents? This conversation however goes down a different route, as we examine some of the things that big box retailers and online sellers do well (beyond cost).
Brad’s vision is that independent hearing professionals must educate themselves on and leverage today’s digital tools in order to match parity with the competition in areas like digital marketing and email automation. That’s what ultimately led him to launch AuDflow, a consulting company by the private practitioner, for the private practitioner, providing clients with a wholistic suite of services from digital tools to sales training. Ultimately, it’s about providing a superior patient experience, start-to-finish.
The way I see it, the competition’s big inherent advantages and appeal stem from their deep pockets, which not only allow for greater cost-savings, but affords things like better websites/retail investments/systems automation/ etc. However, in 2021, a plethora of digital tools exist to help level the playing field. My big takeaway from speaking with Brad is that there are a lot of really creative ways that hearing professionals can utilize today’s tools and shrink the gap.
So, while it’s important for professionals to double-down on areas that hard to commodify and replicate (i.e. the practice of Audiology), it’s also really important to focus on shrinking the gap so that it’s harder for all the various competition to justify their offering verses the independent professional. Fortunately for professionals who are motivated and willing to constantly iterate, there are an increasing amount of new ways to shrink this gap.
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Hi, I’m your host, Dave Kemp. And this is Future Ear Radio. Each episode, we’re breaking down one new thing, one cool new finding that’s happening in the world of hearables, the world of voice technology. How are these worlds starting to intersect? How are these worlds starting to collide? What cool things are going to come from this intersection of technology without further ado, let’s get on with the show.
Okay. So, we are joined here today by Dr. Brad Stewart. Brad, tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.
Yeah, thanks for having me on the podcast. I have a doctorate in audiology. I own a private practice in the Dallas, Texas Area. I also, I guess I’m kind of moving into the world of business consulting and doing some more entrepreneurial stuff around audiology practices and helping people run their practices better.
That’s awesome. Well, thank you so much for being here. I’m really excited to talk through some of the things that we have on the agenda today. Because in the spirit of a lot of these conversations I’ve been having lately where there’s a lot of change that’s happening, whether it be the executive order that was just issued last week from President Biden or all of the struggles that the industry is dealing with around the third-party administrators, all of the tech disruption, right? All of these new solutions that are coming in, some good, some bad, sifting through all that.
I mean, it’s fine for me to sort of sit here and express my own opinions and views, but I would much rather have that of the opinions and perspectives of people actually operating in this. So, to have you on is, I think, going to be great. I wanted to kick things off by just kind of starting from the beginning of your own journey into this industry. Can you share how you even got into the world of audiology from undergrad and on, and then sort of just plot out the different moves that you’ve made from graduation and onwards?
Yeah. I started out as, I think a lot of current audiologists do in school, looking at speech pathology originally and fell in love with the science of audiology. It was really pretty cool getting to see people’s lives changed in the course of one appointment, helping people hear better. Went to the University of North Texas, got my undergraduate and doctoral degree there, and did my externship in Honolulu, worked in … Saw a lot of veterans, and that was a really cool experience, fun place to live.
Yeah, out of school, I went and worked at a private practice in North Dallas that was established North Dallas, kind of high-end concierge private practice. They worked with Audigy Group, so a lot of the stuff that I learned going in was kind of in the Audigy school of thought. They have their own training and stuff around how things are done. But I was super successful as a first year audiologist from a sales standpoint. The thing that was kind of frustrating to me was that we were putting a lot of people in premium level technology, but we were kind of seeing what the industry averages were telling us with patient satisfaction.
We were having, maybe 30% or 40% of our patients that weren’t doing very well with hearing aids, and we weren’t doing really, or we weren’t following a lot of the best practices that I know now we should be. And I also, with Audigy, I got to go to some pretty cool keynote meetings, got to see John Maxwell speak, which got me into the world of like business leadership and thinking about business, which was exciting to me, and it kind of unlocked that part of my brain at that time.
So, I decided to start my own private practice, but what I was seeing at that time was things like Uber, these companies coming in and disrupting major industries, and I felt, at that time, that our industry being so tech-focused was ripe to be disrupted. We were selling a kind of premium price type product. From the very get-go, I had this sense that I wanted to differentiate my practice on service. What I did, right out of the gate, was start a house call practice, and eventually, we got to the point where it was myself and two other audiologists, and we were going out to like 90 senior living communities a month doing home-based care.
Yeah, we did that for a few years. We’ve kind of transitioned out of house calls into, in the clinic, I ran a vestibular practice for a couple of years through Physical, the franchise. Now we’re back to basics, and it’s me and one other audiologist, and we’re basically just seeing hearing aid patients every day in our clinics, and that’s what we do.
That’s a really cool journey. Thanks for sharing that. I mean, I think about, when you were describing kind of that Uber moment, was that roughly like 2014, 2015-ish?
Yeah, it was.
I think that, that’s interesting that you sort of had that epiphany. When you did go and you branched off and you started to do your own thing, I almost feel like you were maybe even a little ahead of your time, relevant to, if you had a lot of the different tools that now are available, a lot of the portable audiometers and things like that, where you can really sort of be a mobile audiologist, do you think that, that, if you were basically yourself, but in terms, does that seem like a more viable path than it was back then? Were you sort of hamstrung a little bit by some of the inherent limitations that existed in 2015?
I think we were pretty okay. From a technology standpoint, we did have to duct tape some stuff together. Metaphorically, we had to make things work. I think that mobile payments, and stuff like that, have gotten a lot easier, but I still think that, that model is one of the very best cost-effective bootstrap way to start a new, from scratch private practice. Especially if you’re in a big Metro market like Dallas, where there’s a lot of these senior living facilities where … I mean, if COVID showed us anything, convenience is a big selling point, and especially for seniors who have a hard time getting out.
I eventually kind of … I did enough drives out to somebody’s house to change the wax guard that eventually I got burned out on it, but I still think that it’s a really viable model that people could do really well with.
Yeah. I feel like that is this whole idea of sort meeting your patients where they are. The other advantage that I really see with that is, a lot of the sort of day-to-day settings that they’re in, if you can visit them in that setting, you can really get a good sense of where their acoustical challenges are. I feel like there’s a tremendous amount of value there in being able to actually go to their home or their work, or wherever it is that they spend the bulk of their time, and actually be able to see for yourself what it is, and then make those adjustments for them.
That seems to be part of this whole, like overall mentality of, where are the sort of future proof elements of this industry? And it’s like personal care, boots on the ground, and like you said, it might be something where there’s parts of it that are really exhausting, but it seems to be one of the more sustainable areas of this industry.
Yeah. I mean, I think, it was really eyeopening running a physical therapy practice when we had our vestibular clinic because PT is an industry that’s not really lined up to be disrupted because it’s so person-centric. You have to put your hands on people, and you have to actually look at things and move people’s bodies around. I think, as audiologists, we have to really be intentional about identifying, where are those high touch points that we interact with, patients that you can’t replicate virtually? All of us, probably at this point, have done virtual fittings because of COVID, and we’ve done telehealth, and there are real limitations to that.
I can’t see how a device is fitting in a person’s ear. I can’t see what’s going on inside of their ear. There’s a lot of stuff that I just can’t do virtually, and I think that’s where we really need to double and like, how do we make those moments in the patient interactions really meaningful, because that’s the stuff that’s going to keep us from being commoditized.
Right. I like that you’ve done time with physical, because I would imagine you’ve gotten a lot of really interesting takeaways from that. I like what you said just there, where it’s like, when you think about the patient of a physical therapist, that’s a really strong bond that they have. They’re not going to just go and it’s not going to be a transactional thing where they’re going to go and see any given person. It’s their physical therapist.
I feel like there’s a lot of things that can be learned from that too, which is like this whole motion of the patient-centric care. I think that, in again, when we’re looking at this whole equation, if you will, and it seems like one different way to solve it is, is almost over-commodifying things to the point to where you’re trying to reach scale or something like that, which is probably the method that a lot of these online players are going to use.
Then, do you just go the complete opposite direction where it’s more boutique, it’s more patient-focused, and you’re allocating more time on a per patient basis knowing that … Because it seems like that, that’s really where the crux of this all lies is like, how do you almost unwind the billing psychology here with the patients so that they understand that? In the same way with a physical therapist where you know, it’s like, okay, I’m going to pay for these things, but there’s a really, almost inherent understanding of the value that you’re getting there. It seems like we need to do that in this industry as well if you’re trying to avoid that commodification element of things.
Yeah. I agree with you. The interesting thing that I’m seeing happen right now, like with managed care becoming so much more prevalent, and with OTC, and price is going to continue to become more of a big driver in the conversation when we’re talking to prospects. I think the temptation for a lot of practices is to try to identify like, how do we compete on that? When in reality, we know that true hearing is always going to be able to drive prices lower. UnitedHealthcare Hearing is a huge multinational conglomerate with the government backing them up.
I had people telling me, “Oh, we should disrupt the disruptors. We should disrupt the three Ps.” It’s like, in reality, that’s not what’s going to happen. They’re just too big and audiology is too small and disorganized. We really need to be careful about how we think about competing and where we think about placing ourselves in the market.
I have a friend, Phil Pales who did audiology marketing. His wife is an audiologist. He would talk about, when we discuss pricing with a patient, really, it comes down to that old saying of like, don’t sell the drill, sell the hole. His whole thing was like, don’t … He was very anti unbundling, because he was like, you don’t want to charge people for your services. You want to charge people for your outcome. Our outcome is better hearing, hearing your grandkids, feeling confident at work, like coming back to the fundamentals of, why don’t we treat hearing loss? Why are people coming in for hearing loss?
It becomes sticky when we’re like, well, you have to pay me X dollars for each visit. It kind of gets into the psychology of, if you have a really good attorney, then you won’t have to pay them for as many hours as you will for like a brand new attorney? Why am I paying somebody more for doing a less efficient job? Yeah. I mean, there’s a lot that goes into like pricing psychology towards the patient, and then also, how we as audiologists avoid becoming reactive to what’s happening in the market, and we’re remaining thoughtful and intentional rather than just reacting and saying, okay, how do I compete based on what I’m seeing?
How can I like forecast out and see what’s happening and see the direction things are going and then set myself up to be prepared for that in the future.
Yeah. I like what you said there too, because I think that it is this … It’s really easy, and it’s not just applicable to this industry, but any industry where it’s this sense of like you’re sort of like getting poached, that you have customers that are going in different directions and all this. I think that what’s really hard to keep in mind is that a lot of what we’re really probably seeing right now is an expansion in the market. You’re seeing people, sort of almost enter in, that maybe had previously always been on the sidelines, whether it be the three PA route, where they’re coming in and now they have some sort of benefit that they didn’t have previously. Now it’s like, oh, okay, well then I’m suitable for this.
But then that begs the question is like, well, I was never really reliant on those to begin with, and if I start to do something where I bring these people into the funnel, how do I sort of triage, in a sense, of like, does this person get the exact same sort of experience that the person that was coming to me previously? Then the question is like, am I then therefore commoditizing the premium experience that people were paying me for? I think that you make a really good point of like, probably one of the best arguments against unbundling is, like you said, basically you’re then, in a sense, commodifying your time.
Because you’re, like you said, you’re putting a dollar amount rather than you’re looking at the holistic outcome. I feel like the solution is some somewhere in the middle where it is more of this outcome where it’s not something where I think the big argument against bundled models is that it’s so opaque and it’s so hard, and that’s what leads people to feeling like they’re getting price gouged, and all of the detractions that come along with that. I guess my question to you is, as somebody that’s been operating in this, you’ve experienced a lot of these third-party administrative customers.
I saw you did a great video on this on your Audflow channel about, basically these managed care patients. I thought maybe we could talk a little bit about this in the way that you look at these and some of your takeaways as to the right way to approach this. Is it something where you just turn your back to them? Do you treat them the same that you do your other patients? I mean, what do you think about this?
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s really easy to get into this kind of false dichotomy of like, either, or. I think that’s the way that a lot of audiologists practice owners are thinking about the way they have to structure the pricing in their businesses. Like, either I can choose to serve this premium subset of patients that wants the best care and the best product, or I can choose to serve three PAs, or entry-level priced products and patients who have restricted budgets.
I think it’s a false dichotomy. I don’t think it has to be an either, or situation. What I talked about in the video that you were referencing is, I feel like right now, there are two things that you can do with third party. You can either say … I mean, there are more things you can do. I think there are two sustainable things you can do. The first thing is say, I’m going to take them, but I’m going to be strategic about the way that I structure my schedule and the way that we structure our care for those patients, so that we can continue differentiating our private pay model from our three PA model, and remain profitable on both sides.
That’s kind of the first option. Then the second option is like, I’m just not going to take them. I want to stay out of it. I don’t want to be involved in it, but I’m going to be strategic about how I can be competitive, because in reality, that’s going to be a competitive force that you have to deal with. Otherwise, you’re just going to lose a lot of patients. What I do in my clinic is we take a hybrid approach, and I try to be transparent to a fault with my patients.
I think that ultimately a lot of sales comes down to empathy. It comes down to like, how can you have a meaningful conversation with a patient and hear the truth underneath the words of what they’re saying and really feel, why are they here? What are they hoping to achieve? For some people, they’re coming in because they want to get the commodity. They want hearing aids. They don’t care about you, they don’t care about your best practices, they don’t care about your service. They don’t care how beautiful your clinic … They don’t care.
They want hearing aids and they want the best price. That’s fine. I can help those people achieve that goal if that’s truly the goal they have. I can have, like in my clinic, we always start bundle, but we can unbundle and use that as, an air quote, a discount model. We can take away services and decrease the price. We don’t ever start unbundle because I feel like we should start at the … Well, for one, there’s some sales pricing psychology. You want to start your price as high and start your frame high, and then if you go down in price, it feels like a deal over, versus if you start at your very lowest price and then go up, it feels like a worst deal.
But also, just from a general like, because I want to take care of my patients, I want them to get the best care, which means we start with bundled because I want them to feel like they can come in whenever they need to. On the other end of things, where you just don’t take three PAs, you have to realize that you’re going to have patients in your clinic whose insurance policy is through one of these managed care plans, and they’re getting marketed to in their mailbox, monthly, if not more, about their discount program.
Which means that if you’re not also showing up in front of them, you’re going to lose people, like they’re going to leave, right? So, you need to have a marketing strategy in place, you need to have pricing strategies in place where you can have maybe alternative product lines, that maybe you do like a second tier manufacturer, like a Sonic Innovations or something, and negotiate down their premium pricing, so you can have something that’s lower cost with competitive service program with a managed care plan.
You can have an in-house like discount program. You need to be thinking creatively about, what are the things that I can do to remain profitable and still take care of these patients without losing too many of them to managed care. You will lose some, and you just have to be willing to eat that because … You have to be willing to say, for me, it’s worth not having to play by their rules and lose some patients in the process.
One thing I’ve always thought when it comes to these like third parties is, is it, and I’m asking you because I really don’t know the answer to this, is maybe part of the solution the way in which you, because I already know that you have this hybrid approach, but almost taking it a step further, in terms of the way that you actually … The composition of your workforce, whether it be audiology assistants, technicians, front office staff, I mean, how much of this can be facilitated without the need of the audiologist?
Oftentimes, I think that maybe the model to look at, or at least lessons we can learn as an industry is looking at the dental industry. I think that one of the most obvious examples is when you go and you get your teeth cleaned, the hygienist does 90% of the bulk of the work, and you get those x-rays, the dentist comes in, they examine it. They might do a quick look at your teeth, and so they spent 10% of the time that you sat in that chair with you, and they’re bouncing around from patient to patient, to patient while the bulk of the actual sort of manpower is done through the hygienist.
So, I’m like, well, what’s the sort of parallel? What’s analogous in our industry to that? It seems like, if these aren’t going to be patients that are “higher revenue,” is it just that we have to restructure the entire model? I don’t know how feasible that is or what, but I just wanted to get your thoughts on this around this whole premise.
Yeah. Thanks for the question because I think that it’s exactly. Another thing that I learned when running a PT practice is that you can’t run a profitable PT practice because the reimbursement model, if you’re just running patients through doctors of physical therapy. You have to have like a PT who’s running the team, but then they have PTAs and they have students, and they have other support people, technicians, who are getting the patients ready, they’re setting them up, they’re doing the exercises, and it’s all guided under the care of the PT.
I’ve made this mistake in staffing my audiology practice, where, as soon as I get past the caseload of an audiologist, I hired another audiologist, rather than hiring support staff, which is what I think the smart thing to do is, and it’s the thing that, as an industry, we do a pretty, universally, we do a pretty poor job of using support staff and audiology clinics and keeping the audiologist doing the high skill, high ticket stuff.
That’s 100%, if you’re going to be taking three PAs, it’s the way that you have to go. We’ve hired our first audiology assistant this year. I actually, last year, I had an extern, I hired her. She’s an audiologist in my clinic now. For the first year that we took PT or three PAs, which was COVID, she was just seeing all those. I was seeing all of our private based. But now, as we’ve kind of finessed the way that we’re doing this in our clinic, we’ve really clearly differentiated what the service packages look like for a managed care patient versus a private pay patient.
And again, this isn’t something that we’re like sneaking up on the patient, and telling them, oh, surprise, you owe these fees because you’re a managed care patient. We’re very transparent when they come into the consultation, like you can buy them through your insurance. It’s not a traditional insurance benefit. It’s basically a discount plan. We’ll talk about the prices, but there is a difference in the service because we talk a lot about service. We talk a lot about really, ear, and auditory retraining, and we’ve branded our auditory retraining program around brain health and brain retraining.
Now, after I talk about all those things, when I present managed care, I say, if you use this plan, you don’t get that stuff. So, it’s like I’ve given it to him and then I’ve taken it back away. I’ve built up the value and then I’ve taken it back away so that they can … It’s not me being mean, it’s not me being a bad provider. It’s me being very transparent and building up the values so hey understand why they’re paying me what they’re paying me, and then showing them their insurance and saying, this is a way that you can get hearing aids for cheaper.
But when you do that, you’re simply buying the hearing aids. I’ll dispense them to you, but you’re not getting their priority scheduling. You’ll probably be working with my support staff. We’ll still take care of you, right? We’re not abandoning you in the cold, but it’s different. It’s a different type of care that you’re purchasing. What I’ve found is that when I’m like transparent with people, either you get the people that, that’s what they want, and they’re like, cool, I don’t care, I’m going to get the things, and then that’s all I need to do.
And maybe they have to learn that lesson the hard way and it’s not actually true. There’s a reason why so many people are happy with Costco. That’s all they wanted. They wanted to get a boost to their hearing. Didn’t want to pay a lot of money. Cool. They got it. If you set expectations properly going into the thing, and then you staff it where it works from a caseload standpoint. Block scheduling is another big thing that we’ve done, where we limit how many of these patients we see each week and each day in each month. But if you set it up like that and you educate the patient prior to them going down that road, it works.
Yeah. Brad, I think that’s a really smart approach. I like it for a number of reasons. But the thing that I think I like most about it is the thing that I don’t think it’s talked about enough about three PAs, and maybe it does. Maybe it’s just like I’m not exposed to these conversations, but when you think about the cost of a patient, the actual acquisition costs of … And you’re a marketing guy, so I feel like you’ll appreciate this. This industry is kind of notorious for having a really high customer acquisition costs.
It costs a lot of money to get somebody to come in your doors. Historically, it had been like the traditional mailer campaigns, a lot of direct mail. A lot of practices, they were reliant on spending a lot of money in order to bring people in, and it was justifiable because you’re making a premium margin. When you’re actually operating on a slimmer margin with these types of patients, the customer acquisition cost has to change, but the thing about these three PAs is that they’re more or less like free leads in a sense.
They’re kind of coming into your doors without you having to solicit them. Like you said, a lot of it is being done by the insurance company itself. I think that you’re taking the right approach, which is, look, we’re going to see you, but we’re going to make it explicitly clear as to what exactly it is that your benefit covers and what I offer. I think that’s the root of this whole thing is like, that’s what really where the rubber meets the road is a lot of people just aren’t in … They don’t know what it is that an audiologist even really does.
I mean, by and large, the general population isn’t fully aware of all the different aspects of it. Honestly, it’s disparate too, based on who you see. I mean, you’re clearly looking at it in the lens of like neuroplasticity and having this brain retraining, aural rehabilitation. The scope of services actually varies based on where you go. I think that the way I keep thinking about things, it’s like, on a sort of like per practice basis, how do you succeed? It’s like doing things intelligently like what you just described there, where it’s understanding that you have to treat these patients a little bit differently in the sense of how you receive them in, but once they’re there, they’re leads.
These are candidates for all your services, and whether they were solicited through your own marketing materials and they’re never really warrantying that conversation of having to justify these things because they understand those premium level services that you have, that’s why they came through your doors. Or they came in because they wanted the benefit that their insurance provider had been nagging them about. The end result is kind of the same. Like, you have an opportunity to position yourself in their eyes as yes, you can just receive the benefit or you can have all of these other things. So, it just gives you almost, like an analogy to baseball, like more at bats.
Yeah. I mean, it comes back to the idea of like the false dichotomy of thinking it has to be an either, or. I really think that we can, again, if you’re intentional, if you structure it properly, I think that you can have your cake and eat it too, so to speak. It’s not ideal, but it’s reality. We have to understand the reason that it’s reality is because of the market. Just because we don’t like what the market says doesn’t mean that we just get to disagree and put our heads in the sand and hope it goes away. We’re seeing with the executive order, we’re seeing with a lot of the media that’s coming out around managed care.
I mean, the talking point that audiologists are the middleman that make hearing aids expensive, right?
Our job now, which there’s just a couple of people doing a good job in the public eye, like Cliff, and there’s a couple of other people that are starting YouTube channels. I’m trying to do it with my practice, of educating consumers because they don’t … I mean, you have to think that if people don’t understand hearing care, which most people don’t, the only metric they can really look at is price and truly understand it.
A lot of it also comes down to like marketing. When I say marketing, I don’t necessarily mean like running pay-per-click campaigns or running direct mail pieces. That’s all part of the puzzle, but what I mean by marketing in 2021 is like creating video content around frequently asked questions. Writing blogs about things your patients are curious and asking about in your market, like creating … Literally, it’s so funny. I have on my desk, this book called, They Ask You Answer, and the whole thesis of the book is that every single day you’re getting asked the same questions by your customers, and you’re seeing them on the internet, every single day.
We know the things that people are asking. We know the things people are confused about. All we have to do to become the expert is answer. Just literally like, I’ve rented out a studio, an office so I could set up a studio and create content, but you don’t have to do that. Literally, just write a blog, or without your phone, and make a video about the common frequently asked questions that you’re getting, and then use that … I have a handful of pieces that are cornerstone questions that people ask, and we emailed them, those videos, prior to their consultation, so that by the time they come into their consultation, they’ve seen my face a dozen times.
They see me as an authority and somebody that they trust because I’ve created content around this stuff that they didn’t even know they wanted to ask the questions and then I answered it, and they’re like, oh my God, this guy knows exactly what I’m thinking. By the time they get to you, all you have to do is continue that same strategy of asking questions, answering their questions, being a guide. I think that, that’s the psychological switch that we need to make, is that it’s not our job anymore to be prescriptive and tell people what they need. Our job now is to be the guide, to help people answer their questions that they’re confused about, to be the person they trust to be the person that’s transparent and honest, and has their best interests in mind.
Completely agree. I love too, that you mentioned this whole notion of, what marketing in 2021? I completely agree with you. It’s not just having a really solid pay-per-click strategy, right? It’s so much more holistic and it’s everything that you just said. I’ve talked about this a little bit on the podcast before, but I think the thing that Cliff really demonstrated is that there’s a massive amount of demand around a lot of these frequently asked questions. However, I think that the big opportunity that lies is like, it’s not as if Cliff has monopolized everything.
I think what cliff has done is he’s exposed there is this demand, and now it’s like, okay, so why don’t we localize that demand? For me, I think like, as somebody that’s kind of an observer, almost like this agnostic third-party, I’m really excited by the prospect of seeing all kinds of these new creators popping up left and right, new YouTube channels, people utilizing Instagram, people even using TikTok in order to, like you said, distill down information that’s frequently asked and then making that a part of their communication.
I think that’s brilliant what you said about how you take these things, and then you use that as part of your communication to the patient. Here’s a video that you probably … And so you have this two minute video that you can repackage every single prospect. That’s where I think this gets super effective is, it’s not to say that every single person needs to become a Cliff Olsen. I think that the lesson is you have an opportunity to take a lot of that information that’s resonating with people, localize it so that when people go to search for the same things that they’re searching, and he’s racking up hundreds of thousands of views on these videos.
There are people in your specific market that are part of that demographic that are actively searching for somebody to go to that they can see for these kinds of services, and that’s the opportunity that I think exists across the board right now. I think every single practice, if they’re savvy, and this is really where I think that things are going to get interesting across the next few years, is everybody is sort of democratized in the sense of having the tools available to them in order to do this. But it’s going to be the ones that actually are willing to seize this opportunity and take it upon themselves to incrementally improve every single day.
I can make my website a little bit better. I can make my content a little bit better. The way in which I communicate, I can automate it a little bit more, make it a little bit more patient centric. Whatever that is, you’re just going to create a gap between yourself and the other services in the offering, so it feels like it’s going to become sort of like those … It’s going to be a feast or famine thing. Those that really tackle this and do really take the bull by the horns, I think are going to be more successful than hearing practices have ever been before. Because I think that it’s just using the tools available to them today.
I think it’s definitely going to be an evolution in our industry and there are going to be practices that have been able to just kind of get by. I know that a lot, I’ve talked to enough people to know that people are intimidated by the idea of like, now I have to create content, now I have to automate things, now I have to create systems around my marketing. It’s an intimidating thing, and frankly, there aren’t … It’s not really something that you can effectively hire out to an agency either.
That’s the thing, I think, a lot of people are used to like throwing money at the problem and like, who can I hire to solve this problem for me? I think that the thing that makes this such a democratized merit-based economy that we’re in right now is like, you have to do the work. To your point, you don’t have to be Cliff. You don’t have to try to start a YouTube channel and get a couple of hundred thousand subscribers, but you should create a few cornerstone pieces of content that are on your … Every single one of your main web pages on your website should have a video about it.
I mean, it’s easy enough at this point to set up automated email reminders prior to your appoint … A lot of this stuff you can just do inside of your office management software. Just set up automated email reminders prior to your appointment and just link to a YouTube video inside of the email that you’re sending out. A lot of this stuff is not highly complex or high-tech. It’s pretty integrated now, to where you really don’t have to be super savvy or you can get the content made, and you can hire somebody else to set it up for you.
But what you can’t do anymore is say, I’m just going to pay agency X to fix this problem for me. Because it’s not a scalable problem. We’re creating personalized content.
Exactly. I mean, at the end of the day, the whole point of the content, more or less, is to sort of personify your practice, and you are the person, right? If it’s going to be Brad Stewart’s Audiology, where you’re going to actually have your full name in it, which many of these practices do, people are going to be very curious like, who is Brad Stewart? Who am I seeing? I think that I agree with you fully, that it’s never been easier. However, it’s also never been harder in the sense that you can’t just throw money at it.
You had been able to in sort of like the web 2.0. I think that’s what’s really interesting about this. I know that we’re kind of coming up on the last 15 minutes or so here, and I do want to give you a chance to … We’ve kind of been building toward your consulting agency with, or whatever you define it as, with Audflow. I think it’s really, really interesting what you’re building. I personally don’t even know the full story behind it, so I’m curious to hear more about it, and where some of the ways that you see, based on your own personal experience, based on what you’ve sort of recognized from others and your other colleagues in the field, where are some of the gaps and what are things that you think you can do to help fill those gaps in with Audflow?
Yeah, well, I mean, what kind of got me started on trying to help other practices with their business is I had built a lot of automation marketing out inside of my practice, and I had hired agencies a couple of times, and frankly, ended up wasting a lot of money trying to have other people build stuff for me. So, I ended up building a lot of automations. Then, at the beginning of 2020, when Counselia came out with their automated email marketing program, I was like, oh, that’s super cool. I’m just going to drop all of my content into their system and it just triggers off of what’s happening in my database.
Like, somebody buys hearing aids, and now I can send them out reminders every six months to come in for care. I can send them like a post fitting emails. If somebody is tested, not treated, I can automate all my tested, not treated follow-up. I did that for my own clinic, and I was like, this is super slick. It was so much better than what I was doing off of the OMS. I had a couple of people ask me, I was talking to people about it and had a couple of people ask me if they could just use my content in their practice, and I was like, I think so.
I worked it out with Counselia [Counselia 00:39:57]. Now we have, like I created this program called email automation, like AUD automation, which is still-
Yeah, I heard you talk about this with people, this is really cool.
Yeah, so it’s still emailautomation.com. You can still go on there and just buy all of my … We actually have direct mail too, now. If you use Blueprint or Counselia, you can basically just take all this stuff that I’ve built and you pay like a thousand bucks and you get it forever and it’s just dropped into your OMS, and it just works. It’s like the most absolute brain-dead, no questions asked, easy thing you can do to just automate 90% of your marketing. It’s honestly made my life way easier having this stuff. That was what got me started.
Now we have like almost 200 locations that are using that automation, which is really gratifying to see them doing well. But then, during that time, I met Chris Erickson when I was working a little bit with Cliff, and he was working with Cliff and Chris previously ran AuDSEO and he sold that company and now he builds websites for audiology practices and other local businesses. As I got to know him, one of the problems that I had in my practice was that my consultations, I felt like, were again, kind of duct taped together.
I had visuals for some things on the screen. I had sheets of paper that I was bringing out for other things. I was doing math on it, notepad, looking at insurance benefits, handwriting quotes, and it was all just … It wasn’t so super cohesive and it certainly wasn’t a remarkable or a memorable experience for patients. I was purely relying on the force of my own personality to make the consultations work. It became apparent when I was trying to train my new grad audiologists to do the same thing I was doing and she was having a harder time. Right. She’s really good. She’s got an amazing personality. She’s like perfect for it. It’s just like trying to teach somebody else the skill of selling is hard.
So, we created, basically a software app where it’s the entire patient, new patient consultation, and it’s a visual walkthrough on the screen of the entire new patient consultation. So, it’s interactive with the patient. The patient’s actually responding and we’re clicking things and filling things in on the screen with them. We’re doing educational where we’re showing them how the auditory system works. There’s sound files. So, when we’re doing hearing aid demonstrations, we can play videos and there’s sound, and it fills up the room with the sound of a coffee shop or a restaurant or music.
It makes it this very highly engaging, interactive sensory experience, and it systematizes the sales process. Now, I can take the stuff that I’m good at, because I’m just good, but I can replicate it. I think that’s one of the hardest things for growing practices is trying to replicate the lead provider in the consultation room with patients. You hire more providers, and all of a sudden, your conversion rates are going down and your average sales prices are going down. People are choosing not to go with you or to go with the three PA, and you’re like, what’s happening?
You don’t know how to fix the problem. Audflow, at its core, is that piece of software that is a consultation program, but then also, and we’re in beta with it right now. We have about 10 locations using it right now. We’re going to be doing a webinar in August, launching it to the audiology public. But a lot of it too, is going to be training. A lot of training and a lot of coaching around like, how do you structure it with me? A lot of coaching around like, how do you structure your pricing? How do you train your team? How do you manage objections?
A lot of this common stuff that we run up against, even seasoned audiologists that I meet, that are still like, man, everybody wants to go home and talk to their spouse. Okay, what do we do with that? How do we handle that? Training around these common problems and a community of other audiologists that are dealing with the same kind of stuff where we can have a confidential region, exclusive kind of group of audiologists that can be really transparent about how we’re handling some of these problems.
Yeah, that’s so cool. This just resonates so much with me because again, I feel like the name of the game right now is figuring out, how do you really differentiate yourself in the market? It stands to reason that you actually have the most defensible differentiator, which is yourself, right? Your expertise. The audiologist has something that is really hard to obtain for any one of these more commoditized offerings, which is the degree, the expertise, and that knowledge, that provision of knowledge.
So, it’s a matter of like, okay, so we’ve identified what the core differentiator is. Now, how do you make that something that’s so pronounced that’s obvious to the patient? I love what you said where it’s like, well, first of all, what we need to do is we need to draw a parody with a lot of the things that make our competitors superior in some regard, so the automation piece, the technology piece. Making sure that you’re at least at parity with them, so that people aren’t like, well, this thing is … It’s not necessarily through an audiologist, but I like the way that the user interface looks, and I like the way that everything’s kind of automated.
I think, so long as you can kind of like match them with some of those different elements, and then you get them into the clinic, and you provide them, like what you said, this sort of sensory experience, just the overall experience and figuring out ways, how can we keep improving those different experiences? And then, I know that the S-word sales is like, it’s a bit taboo, but you are selling, and I think that I have a sales background as well, and so I think that there’s a lot that goes into that, that like, I understand the sort of the allergic reaction that people have toward the whole notion of selling, but it doesn’t have to necessarily be something that’s bad.
It’s more of just being cognizant of like, here are these objections and here’s the ways in which people actually sort of feel okay by that. If you can present solutions, whatever it might be, like the spouse, that example is a really good one of like, here’s actually ways that we found to combat that effectively so that it doesn’t require them to come back in a second time. You’re actually doing them a service. I think that we’ve sort of conflated that whole thing a little bit, but regardless, I just think that this whole notion of finding ways to just take again, the core root of the differentiator and making that as obvious as possible.
Yeah. I mean, a couple of thoughts that I have, for one thing, when you’re good at sales, it ceases to feel salesy. If it feels like you’re being sold, then that person is bad at selling. That’s because, like I said, ultimately selling comes down to empathy, comes down to that connection between you and the person and having an honest, transparent, clear conversation where everybody’s a winner. And then I completely agree, the thing that I’m thinking about right now, like where my head is at with where we need to be as an industry, the things that we can win on right now are, what is the experience of working with the business from the moment you hit their website to the moment when you finish your consultation?
How do we optimize those experiences? And it can’t fit, man like, there’s so many people where their website feels home grown, they don’t have any follow up automations. You’re just not doing stuff that feels like you’re in the 21st century. My patients ask me all the time like, oh, is this a franchise? Which is the best compliment they can give me? Because it feels buttoned up. It feels streamlined. It feels like they’re working with an organization and not just like four people, which is the reality.
But when they get in that room, that’s your time to shine. If you can make that experience remarkable and memorable, I think I’ve talked to you about this, but the idea that a hearing aid consultation can either be this weird combination of boring and depressing, I mean, think about it. Hearing aids are basically a product that nobody wants that reminds them of their mortality. It can be boring and depressing, or if we do it right, if we structure it right, it can be a really interesting, engaging multi-sensory and ultimately life-changing experience in the same room with the same person. If we’re trying to compete with low cost vendors, but then somebody comes into our practice and they have this life-changing experience, how likely are they going to be to look at what you do as a commodity?
Or if they go to Costco next, if you don’t get them to move forward at that appointment, and then they go to Costco, or they go to Joe Blow down the road, that takes TruHearing, how likely are they going to be after that experience to say, “Oh, wow, well, I can’t really tell much of a difference?” So, I might as well go with the cheaper one. But the problem is a lot of audiology practices aren’t thinking that way and it’s really hard for the patient to distinguish between you and your competition based on experience.
Yes, 100%. And the other thing about that too, is that this survey that was issued by the Hearing Review or Hearing Health Matters, I can’t remember exactly who it was, but it always stands out in my mind because one of the things, and I’ve seen like past surveys, and it’s consistent every single year, which is, it’s a survey of a bunch of audiologists, are hearing professionals, and it’s like, where do your referrals come from? And it’s like, number one by far is word of mouth referrals followed, not for after, by physician referrals, which is a whole separate conversation and another area where I think there’s a lot of opportunity.
But again, it’s like, okay, so the vast majority of people that come and see you and do business with you are coming based on a recommendation. So, you really are, you are at the whims, more so than really any other business. I mean, that’s an exaggeration, but it’s extremely pronounced in this industry, where you really do live and die by your reputation. So, I think that, that’s … It’s tremendously exciting if you do have this sort of superior experience, if you’ve figured it out.
That’s where I keep saying that like, what’s exciting to me, and it’s a two-sided coin because it really depends on how motivated you are to constantly iterate and improve. So, it’s like small little things. It’s like spending the time to just constantly make your website a little bit better, the content on your website a little bit more rich. Taking the time to go and figure out like, what do I need to do to produce a solid five minute video that I’m proud to put my name behind that I’m putting in every single email out to patients? So that it’s, like you said, it gets to the point to where they feel like it’s a franchise because it’s so buttoned up.
That’s where it’s like … It’s never actually been easier to create from like a bootstrapped element on a shoestring budget, if you will. Obviously there are things that cost money, but more or less, you can do this pretty cost-effectively, and you can create this perception in your market, I think, that’s something that people actually want to come see, and you can just continue to iterate on that, and the result is people walk away from that, just like you said, where there is a noticeable difference between their experience and their friend’s experience that went to Costco.
It changes the whole conversation from it being price-driven to experience driven. It’s like, so that seems to be the name of the game. That’s where we have to go as an industry and figure that out, and that’s what I love about, like what you’re doing is you seem to really understand this very, very intuitively. I think it’s a matter of like, how do we, as an industry, now start to really crowdsource each other’s information and understanding of this and work together to collaboratively solve this, by and large?
I think it’s a lot of really small things, where it’s like, Brad’s really good at helping with, from an email automation standpoint, or if I feel like I have a bit of a deficiency in my office around measuring the right KPIs, or it’s like the sales approach that we’re taking and the way that we’re communicating these certain things, that’s really exciting to me, that this is all sort of organically starting to happen, I think, in the industry itself. That seems to be the only way that it’s going to be solved, is banding together and figuring out, how do we sort of solve this together?
Yeah. I mean, you see it in other … You see it in dental, you see it in other big kind of industries that are parallel to ours where there are outside agencies and vendors, but ultimately, the people that know the industry are the people that have worked in the industry and run their own clinics and tested this stuff in the real world. And you’re seeing more … Don does a ton of stuff with her group. I mean, there are so many audiologists out there. I mean, he does a ton of stuff. There’s so many people creating really valuable content.
Now it’s just up to audiologists to have the motivation and the drive to spend extra time outside of your clinic day to learn. I mean, I think that’s one of the best things about business ownership, is it forces us to level up and it forces us to grow, and especially as practice owners, but even as employee audiologists. The reality is you’re a employee because you’re a revenue producer for a business, and you wanna maximize your skillset to be as valuable as you possibly can be.
100%. This has been such a good conversation. As we wrap here, do you want to share where people can connect with you, learn more about everything that you’re doing with Audflow, and just in general, to get on the same page with you and just connect with you?
Yeah, I think the best place to go is audflow.com, A-U-D-F-L-O-W.com. We’re doing a webinar actually about creating wow experiences, creating moments in your patient consultations on August 18th, and there’s a sign up link in there, and I would love for people to join in because I’m going to just give away a lot of the ideas that we’re using inside of Audflow, so that’s a great place to start.
Awesome. Well, cool, Brad. Well, thank you so much for coming on today. Thanks for everybody who tuned in here to the end, and we will chat with you next time. Cheers.
Thanks for tuning in today. I hope you enjoyed this episode of Future Ear Radio. For more content like this, just head over to futureear.co, where you can read all the articles that I’ve been writing these past few years on the worlds of voice technology and hearables, and how the two are beginning to intersect. Thanks for tuning in, and I’ll chat with you next time.