Since my last visit to the Phonak headquarters I keep mulling on the conversation I had with Solange about fitting and pricing strategy. We know hearing aids come in different price ranges, and the benefits they provide to the wearer change as you move up in technology. These variations in price are not isolated to a specific piece of hardware or software, but reflect the overall experience the wearer receives when using them in more complex listening environments. And that, ultimately, is what we pay for, as hearing technology users: a better life experience.
This reminded me a lot of all my musings on value-based pricing as an independent professional. What is the service I’m providing worth to my client? What is the better life and communication experience that the hearing aid brings worth to the hearing impaired person?
The question of how much we value our new hearing leads to another issue: we usually don’t know how good it could be. People with hearing loss often don’t really measure how bad it is — we can’t hear what we can’t hear, right? When it’s always been there, or it’s very progressive, how are we to know how much easier a hearing aid could make our lives?
Solange kind of shocked me (in a good way) by telling me that when she was a practicing audiologist, she would always fit her clients with the best available solution first, regardless of price. Yes, price is important and budget is often a limiting factor. But how do you set a budget for something when you have no idea how much impact what you’re getting is going to provide? Fitting with the best available solution provides a baseline for “how good it can be”.
This is completely different from how I approached things. I wanted to spend as little as possible. I mean, of course I wanted hearing aids and was willing to pay the price, but I didn’t want to pay 10k when 3k might do. So, we started out with an entry-level solution. It was great! It was astounding! Even at 8dB below my ideal settings according to the manufacturer (hardly any amplification, really), I was hearing better than I’d ever heard before. Two weeks after my fitting, if you had given me the choice between going back to a hearing-aid-less world or keeping what I had, I would have kept those hearing aids with that insufficient setting without any hesitation.
As weeks went by, and we increased amplification, and the initial wonder wore off a bit, and I started noticing things that “could maybe be better”, I started wondering what a more expensive hearing aid might do for me. So we went one step up. And it was slightly better. And I ended up buying the second pair.
But today, I still don’t know how good it could be. Is what I have as good as it gets? How good would it be, and how would my life experience be improved, if I had the highest-end solution available for me? Who knows, maybe it would be so incredibly better, beyond all my imagination, that I would be willing to pay way more for it than what I initially intended — just like I ended up spending unbudgeted money on a pair of skis this winter because they make me feel 20 years younger when I’m on the slopes? And maybe it wouldn’t, and the small increase in quality of experience would not be worth the higher price for me — and that would be fine. At least I would know that what I’m hearing now is as good as it reasonably gets for me.