Melanie Stover: Choose strategic weapons

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

When a consumer walks into an HME showroom, they come armed with a lifetime of shopping experience. They're well honed in the ways of groceries, department stores and other retail outlets. That means you've got to meet their high expectations if you want to earn and keep their business, says sales consultant Melanie Stover. That's why Stover recommends that HME providers arm themselves with "Customer Service as a Strategic Weapon," her upcoming Medtrade Spring seminar. In it, she helps providers shift their sales focus from referral sources to consumers to boost cash sales. Here's a sneak peek.
HME News: On a scale of 1-10, how are providers doing when it comes to customer service?
Melanie Stover: I'd say a five. We traditionally aren't used to cross-selling and up-selling. It's a paradigm shift. We've always gone after the physician and cater to them. We're used to taking orders and making sure we get reimbursement, but now we have to focus on pleasing customers and having them come back.
HME: Where do HME providers often fall short when it comes to developing good customer service?
Stover: Retail is different from what our customer service reps have traditionally been prepared for. Providers have to make sure they have a retail frame of mind or else hire folks experienced in retail environments. We give a lot of lip service to customer service. You have to assess your team and your culture to make sure they're aligned. Clear expectations must be set, and providers must be sure to hold to those guidelines.
Success also depends on the flexibility of the leadership and the people they hire. If your people can't adapt, then we have to find a new spot for them. Often I'm called in when a provider says, we spent all this money on this space but we want to make sure we have the people in place to properly handle customers once they come in the door.
HME: What are some of the excuses providers give for not making these changes?
Stover: Usually it's policies and procedures. We can't do that. Our computer won't let us do this. I say, we just need to fix it. We're so focused on competitive bidding, which I appreciate, but are we up to snuff to compete with the big boys like Wal-Mart to get business?
HME: If you could give a provider one piece of advice about creating good customer service, what would it be?
Stover: They need to have a customer service plan. Everyone says they're good in customer service and the truth is not very many people are. We've all heard of legendary customer service companies outside of our industry. I would challenge each provider to become legendary at customer service. HME