In the case of a returned hearing aid, it’s not what you do but how you do it.
Returns happen. For a variety of reasons. Patients will walk in your door not satisfied with their hearing instruments and ask, or even demand, that you refund their money. Instead of viewing the return as lost revenue or a waste of time, if you and your team realize a return is actually an opportunity to keep the patient happy, your practice will thrive.
When a patient requests a return, you may have lost one set of hearing aids, but you stand to gain so much more by doing the right thing for that patient. Many well-known companies have built their reputation and have created raving fans for customers almost solely on how they treat problems with products and returns. Tales of their exceptional customer service are quickly spread by word of mouth and sometimes even become the stuff legends are made of.
Most of us have heard the story of a gentleman in Alaska who brought tires into a Nordstrom to return. As the story goes, the man’s money was graciously refunded—even though Nordstrom doesn’t sell tires.
Why? Because Nordstrom understands the value of a customer is greater than a one-time purchase or return. And their goal is to keep customers for life. They know word of mouth is the most powerful form of advertising; a happy person will tell five friends about their experience, an unhappy one will tell 10. This famous return and refund is said to have taken place in 1975, was broadly publicized, including an article that appeared in Newsweek in 1989—and continues to be talked about to this day.
Even though this story may or may not be literally true, Nordstrom has earned a reputation of exceptional customer service in a way that no other retailer has, and it provides insight into how to handle returns of hearing aids. It’s really quite simple when you realize the potential life-value of that patient.
If the return is handled professionally—with the sole goal of having the patient walk out of your practice happy—they will be more likely to talk about the wonderful experience they had with you and your team to friends and family, enhancing your reputation and word-of-mouth referrals. They also will be more likely to return to your practice in the future if their situation changes.
If returns are not handled appropriately and the patient’s money isn’t immediately refunded, they will tell their friends not to do business with you. Any chance of helping that patient, or their friends and family, with their hearing health in the future will be gone.
Respect and Reassure
It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.
When it comes to returns, this old adage couldn’t be more true. When a patient comes into your practice, you and your team need to respect the patient’s emotions, including their frustration even if expressed as anger.
Some patients cannot—or will not—wear hearing aids, no matter how well their expectations were managed or how well they were fit. You try, but you can’t convince them to take the time to get adjusted to living with hearing aids. It seems there’s nothing you can do or say to stop the return. Sometimes it’s just out of your control.
But you can control the way you treat patients when they come into your practice to return their hearing instruments. And it starts by acknowledging, with respect, their feelings and emotions, then engaging in a two-way dialogue that allows the patient to honestly share their fears and frustrations.
Often, communication deficits can be very emotional for people, and it can be difficult in a professional relationship to achieve real understanding. However, your goal is to find out what’s really going on in the patient’s life. It’s also important to reassure the patient that you will treat them honestly and with integrity—that you’re here to help them through the process of improving their hearing health:
“Mrs Jones, I understand you are frustrated and disappointed. I know how difficult it can be to experience hearing loss. If you want a refund, we will definitely do that for you. But first, can you share with me why you feel these hearing instruments are not working for you? I really want you to enjoy the benefits of improved hearing and just need to understand your experience with these hearing aids a little bit better.”
Refit and Refund
After you have listened to their concerns, you can determine if the fit needs to be adjusted or their expectations realigned. If you’ve given them all the education they need and have made certain the instrument is properly fit and they still insist on returning the hearing aids, whatever you do, do NOT try to resell them and do NOT make them wait 30 days for a refund.
Simply give them back their money immediately by cash or check. Or, if they used a health care credit card like CareCredit to finance care, immediately credit their account—before they receive another statement, and possibly more interest charges, and become even more upset:
“Mrs Jones, I’ve re-checked the fit, and it’s pretty good, and we’ve talked quite a bit about the process of living with hearing aids. I’m truly sorry these did not work out for you. Let me get you your money back right now. I noticed that you used a payment plan offered by CareCredit. We will immediately issue you a refund.”
Reiterate and Request
The last step is to reiterate your commitment to their hearing health and request that they seek your services in the future, should their situation change or they would like to reconsider using hearing aids. You’ve invested a significant amount of time with the patient, so it’s wise to make every attempt to continue the relationship if possible. Also let them know you appreciate referrals of friends and family:
“Mrs Jones, I’m sorry this didn’t work out. The most important thing is that you know you have hearing health issues and, in the future, when the time is right and you’d like to explore your options again, we want you to come back and see us.”
Yes, returns happen. But if you do the right thing for each and every patient, they’ll leave your practice happy with the care and customer service you provided, even though the hearing instruments did not work out for them. This will go a long way in creating a thriving, fan-based practice where you’ll enjoy years of referrals, relationships, and many “happy” returns.
Gyl Kasewurm, AuD, is the owner of Professional Hearing Services, a private practice located in St Joseph, Mich. Dr Kasewurm has been in private practice for more than 20 years and her office, which employs 12 full-time staff members, has been profiled several times for its singular approach to patient care and the patient journey. She wrote this article in cooperation with CareCredit.