Editor's Message: Decoupling Service from the Traditional Consumer Value Chain

Author: Brian Taylor, Au.D.

For as long as hearing aids and their related services have been commercially available, persons with hearing loss have, more or less, followed the same path when seeking care. Known to business managers as the customer value chain, that pathway, which is similar for most other industries, is shown in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1. The hearing care customer value chain

From the customer’s perspective, acquiring treatment for hearing loss involves five stages shown above. Traditionally, persons with hearing loss completed all these activities with the same practice. That is, when they were ready to pursue treatment for a potential hearing loss, these individuals sought the services of a single entity, often an independent practitioner. In addition to receiving the customary comprehensive audiological assessment, once the person with hearing loss decided to pursue amplification as a treatment strategy, that individual stayed with the same practice to evaluate their treatment options, chose the most suitable option to fit their needs, purchased it, used it and continued on with all of the necessary follow-up care, service and support.

Over the past decade, several disrupters have upended the traditional hearing care customer value chain. Besides offering an automated and easy-to-administer self-test of hearing, there are now a host of websites allowing persons with hearing loss to peruse product reviews and, after carefully sifting through these reviews, choose their own hearing devices without input from an audiologist. Further up the chain, there are other web-based businesses selling hearing devices directly to consumers without the person with hearing loss darkening the door of a local clinic.

Perhaps most alarmingly, these disruptors allow persons with hearing loss to spend an hour or more of time with an audiologist conducting the “evaluate” and “choose” segments of the value chain, often at no charge to the individual, and then step outside the traditional chain to purchase the same devices from an online or big-box retailer for a fraction of the cost.

A new book by Harvard Business School professor, Thales Teixeira, offers fresh insights on how traditional brick and mortar businesses, like private practice audiologists, can compete with these disruptive forces. The main message from the book is traditional service providers, which provide customers with all the links in the value chain, cannot compete head-to-head with disruptors on choice or price. However, traditional services providers must find ways to decouple specific products and services from the value chain.

Although Teixeira doesn’t mention audiology or hearing aids in his book, some important lessons can be gleaned from his work. Given the high level of academic training and interpersonal communication skills of most audiologists, there are ample opportunities to decouple on-going follow-up care, counseling and support from the traditional customer value chain. For example, regardless of where a person bought their hearing aids, audiologists are poised to offer a comprehensive array of professional services that allow any person with hearing loss to optimize their communication, health and well-being. Indeed, work is already underway by some forward- thinking audiologists to offer self-management support training as part of patient centered care using the chronic care model and outlined in a recent issue of Seminars in Hearing.

The real challenge, however, is abandoning ineffective business tactics like trying to compete on price and, instead, striving to improve efficiency so that a decoupled (or unbundled) service package is both appealing to a broad swath of customers and profitable from the private practice.

You can learn more about the decoupled customer value chain and unbundled counseling and support packages here:
  1. Unlocking the Customer Value Chain: How Decoupling Drives Consumer Disruption by Thales Teixeira, Currency Books, 2019
  2. Novel Approaches to Fostering Hearing Loss Self-Management in Adults. Seminars in Hearing. February 2019. Guest Editor: Michellle L. Arnold, Au.D.