Clayton Christensen, the world’s top management author, wrote in the Harvard Business Review about what customers really want. Along with Taddy Hall, Karen Dillon, and David S. Duncan, Christensen explains that product developers often fail to deliver products that customers want because they “focus too much on building customer profiles and looking for correlations in data“. Instead, Christensen et al. inform us that, in order to create products that people truly want to buy, firms need to hone in on “what the customer hopes to accomplish“, i.e. the “job” the customer, or user, is trying to get done.
How we know the “job” isn’t getting done
Looking at the world of hearing health, there clearly seems to be a problem with getting the “job” done because the adoption of hearing technology has remained shockingly low. While over 80% of people who need vision enhancement wear glasses or contact lenses, less than 20% of people who need hearing enhancement wear hearing devices.
Everyone’s hearing wears out over time; age-related hearing loss typically becomes noticeable when people are in their 50s, and they would benefit from using hearing aids, yet the average age of a first-time hearing aid user is 70. Hearing well is so essential to communicating easily and effectively, yet people choose NOT to use hearing technology. And it seems that many traditional hearing aid manufacturers claim constant technological innovation and product improvement, yet most people do not seem interested in their products. Like our eyesight, our hearing degrades over time. But unlike glasses and contact lenses, traditional hearing aids do a poor job of helping people fit in with society. Ultimately, the hearing health industry seems to have been failing to provide an adequate solution to get the job done.
Ok, so what is the “job” of a hearing aid?
The most obvious trait of a hearing aid is that it enhances hearing. But if people were only trying to hear better, than traditional hearing aids would be a lot more popular. So what is it that people “hope to accomplish” that the hearing health industry fails to deliver? If you take a step back and look at the basic needs of people when it comes to social interactions, hearing is only part of the picture.
What many people surely hope to accomplish is effortlessly fitting in with society. When someone has even mild hearing loss, they may not even realize that it becomes more and more difficult to connect with family, friends, and co-workers over time. So the job of a hearing aid would be to restore that effortless connection, starting with hearing enhancement. But it’s not just about understanding every word, it’s also about enabling people to look and feel their best, and making the whole process simple and easy. While the hearing health industry seems to be failing at accomplishing all of that, the good news is that this inadequacy thus far creates a unique opportunity for innovative companies to build products that actually get the job done.
Christensen et al. tell us that “the key to successful innovation is identifying jobs that are poorly performed in customers’ lives and then designing products, experiences, and processes around those jobs”. Eargo was invented by my father Dr. Florent Michel, an ENT doctor who realized that his patients did not want to deal with traditional hearing aids because they could not identify with them. Driven by his passion to provide his patients with a hearing solution that would fit their needs and lifestyle, he teamed up with me and our friend, Daniel Shen, to found Eargo, with the vision of reinventing the world of hearing health. Eargo would enable its users to have that connection with others without breaking stride from their normal routines.
- Florent Michel, MD – Cofounder of Eargo and inventor of our patented Flexi Fibers™.
How does Eargo get the job done?
Traditional hearings aids are unfortunately highly stigmatized. While wearing glasses—which provide vision enhancement—is perceived as an indication of intelligence, wearing hearing aids—which provides hearing enhancement—has been perceived as an indication of old age.
The first thing we set out to do was to create a hearing device that was socially acceptable. And we decided that to make it socially acceptable, it would have to be virtually invisible. So we made Eargo so small that it can hide inside the ear canal. Out of sight, out of mind.
Comfortable & Natural-Sounding
Our hearing device had to be comfortable to be easily worn all day. And it had to sound natural. So we invented Flexi Fibers, a breakthrough in hearing device design. Flexi Fibers automatically adjust and conform to the ear canal to deliver an instant, comfortable fit. They suspend the Eargo device in the ear without blocking the ear canal. That way, they allow ambient sounds to pass through and blend with the amplified sounds so Eargo sounds natural. We also placed the microphones in the ear to preserve the natural directionality of the ears.
Easy to Use
Traditional hearing aids have tiny replaceable batteries that make them hard to use. People do not like having to constantly replace hearing aid batteries (imagine the frustration if your phone had batteries that had to be replaced every few days). So we made Eargo rechargeable. And we designed a beautiful portable charger that people would be excited to carry with them.
But we realized that the hearing device itself was not the only obstacle to allowing customers to get the job done. Not only did we have to make our hearing devices easy to use, we would also have to make them easy to try and easy to buy.
Easy to Try
In my opinion, everything about traditional hearing aids seems complicated and onerous, getting in the way of customers getting the job done, including the process of trying or buying hearing aids. It typically takes multiple visits to a hearing professional and thousands of dollars before being able to take hearing aids for a spin. This can be understandably necessary for people with severe or complex hearing issues. But it turns out this same regiment is actually not necessary for the millions of people with normal, gradual mild-to-moderate hearing loss. For people who just need a little boost, it should be easy to try hearing aids, so they can quickly assess fit, virtual invisibility, comfort, ease-of-use, and ultimately whether they’re right for them.
So we created non-working Eargo samples so people can do just that: Easily decide whether our hearing device might make sense for them. The Eargo samples can be requested on the Eargo website and sent for free directly to their home. And if they decide to purchase Eargo, we also offer an extended trial period with a money-back guarantee. So that our customers can try Eargo without feeling pressured. So that they can have enough time to make sure that Eargo helps them accomplish the job, that they can have that connection with others without breaking stride from their normal routines.
Easy to Buy
It should also be easy to buy hearing aids. People should not have to jump through hoops, including multiple visits and hours spent with a hearing specialist. People should not have to pony up an average of $4,200 for a pair of traditional hearing aids. Since the Eargo devices are designed to work out of the box, we were able to simplify our entire path to purchase. As a result, our customers can easily purchase Eargo devices online or over the phone and, for less than half the average price of a pair of traditional hearing aids. And their Eargo devices are conveniently shipped directly to their home.
We also crafted a comprehensive hearing coaching program to help Eargo customers easily go through the first 30 day adaptation period during which our brain gets accustomed to that enhanced hearing. As part of this program, every Eargo customer receives personalized coaching from our personal trainers, who are state licensed hearing health professionals with decades of experience. Coaching is offered free of charge with the purchase of every Eargo system.
We worked incredibly hard to deliver a simple, empowering customer experience; to make our hearing devices easy to try, easy to buy, and easy to use; and ultimately as effortless as possible to maintain social connections with others.
So what is next for Eargo?
We plan to leverage our patented hearing platform to enhance people’s sense of hearing in ways that have never been possible before, to leverage technological innovation to take hearing into superhuman hearing territory. But this will be the topic of another blog post.
* This post is an opinion piece from Raphael Michel.