Specsavers Audiology’s General Manager on leading into the future and changing the status quo

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When Specsavers Audiology General Manager Darrel Magna, moved from the optical side of the business to launch audiology services in 2016, he was determined to shake up the audiology industry.

“As we did our research and started to understand the industry, we quickly realised that despite all the talk of being ‘customer-centric’ most audiology businesses in Australia and New Zealand were anything but,” he says.

“In the vast majority of cases, it appeared to be true in the room between clinician and customer, but as an industry, audiology was inaccessible. It had opaque pricing, didn’t offer great value… there were obvious things that were missing in the market.”

It’s very similar to what happened when Specsavers launched its audiology service in the UK in 2003, which Darrel was part of.

And it’s this focus on challenging the standard or “making waves”, that has driven his decision-making for the past four years.

Darrel is emboldened by the fact that “believing in the status quo isn’t a Specsavers thing”. He says finding new ways of doing things – and truly putting the customer at the heart of every decision – is something that runs through the DNA of the entire Specsavers business.

“When I talk to clinicians, the statistics we all know – that only a third of the Australian population with hearing loss do something about it, that it can take 7-10 years to get a customer on the journey – these trip off the tongue, because they have become the audiology story. Everyone says the same thing because they’re all looking at the same data, the same studies, and doing the same thing.

“Specsavers has come in and started challenging some of these standards. Suppliers and clinicians will say to us ‘Are you sure about this because no one else does it?’ And we say ‘yes – if no one else is doing it, that’s exactly why we will’.”

Darrel says it’s a tried and tested formula that is opening avenues in audiology that the industry has never even considered previously.

“We have the opportunity to fundamentally change lives for the better. If we can get Australians and New Zealanders accessing hearing care earlier, by tapping into our optical base, by using hearing screening as part of the sight test journey as an extended health check, to start the conversation when someone is in their 40s or 50s or 60s then we can identify hearing loss sooner and dramatically increase the number of people that do something about their hearing loss. Further, with regular screening and keeping the conversation alive, we can significantly reduce the timeframe of that 7-10-year statistic,” he says.

“From the commercial side, there are advantages to that. By identifying hearing loss earlier getting people the aids they need in their 50s or 60s, suddenly, you’ve introduced repurchase cycles that have never existed in this market.”

But for Darrel and his team, it has never been about the money. It’s about making the lives of Specsavers customers and Specsavers partners better.

“We know that if we care about our customers, and our partners, and make decisions that benefit them both, while simultaneously working hard to make hearing care more affordable, accessible and customer-centric, the rest will come. We’ve proven it in optics in 10 countries, and in audiology in three countries and now we are proving it in audiology in ANZ too.

“We have people who come into our stores crying because of how much their lives have changed, of how much we have been able to give back to them – their friends, their family, their connections in society, because we’ve been able to assist with their hearing loss.

“Knowing we can do that for more people and being able to start them on the journey at a much younger age, so they don’t have to go through that isolation, that disconnection, that’s why we do what we do.”

And if you ask Darrel what he wants clinicians to know about Specsavers Audiology he will say, “that most of what you’ve heard isn’t likely to be true.”

“We’re looking to transform the way the industry operates. And with that comes confusion and myths. Clinicians have been told by their employers that they’d have to put their house on the line to buy into a Specsavers partnership when in reality for a new business it’s a $10,000 loan. We’ve heard that at Specsavers there is no guarantee of income when our Audiology partners have a guaranteed market-rate salary as well as access to the profit of their business. We’ve also heard that they’ve been told we only sell cheap second-class product, when in fact our own brand “advance” product is the latest technology made for us by Sonova, GN and Sivantos and we also range Phonak, Signia and GN ReSound.

“We’re really proud of who we are and what we’re doing. I encourage all the clinicians out there to hear it from us directly. Take that step to have a conversation with us and understand what we’re truly about – even if you don’t want to talk about owning your own business.”