Be genuine

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Q. How does a provider's customer service directly affect how consumers view industry issues?

A. The HME industry was born from a medical model where doctors provided prescriptions and providers delivered the medical equipment and services. This practical model didn't build a traditional customer service relationship between providers and patients. As a result, patients had little concern for HME industry affairs or the business of local providers. This model of provider-patient interaction is in striking contrast to retail businesses that always focus on customer service and consumer loyalty. These businesses could count on customer support even in tough economic times.

With industry challenges upon us, some providers have found it difficult to engage their "patients" as industry advocates. For example, when issues like competitive bidding arose, few consumers initially stepped up to support their HME providers. Why is that?

The answer goes back to the correlation between customer service and local consumer loyalty. The consumers who've attended national industry advocacy events note a loyalty to their providers. They feel like valued "customers" not periodic "patients." As such, they gladly support the industry. Highly regarded providers have been early adopters of moving from the medical model to a customer service approach, proving with their consumers that true customer service creates sincere industry allies.

As a provider, take a mom-and-pop store approach to customer service--that is, build relationships with each individual you serve and extend that approach into the local community. Beyond day-to-day interactions, "open house days" prove exceptionally successful. A sidewalk barbecue and product trials not only bring in customers, but also allow community interaction outside of the medical model, helping consumers realize that you value them as long-term customers.

We know that when our customers recognize our genuine concern for them as people, not just patients, they'll advocate with us till no end.

Mark Smith is the consumer research manager for Pride Mobility Products Corp. Reach him at 800-800-8586 or