Rethinking the relationship between sales and customer care will improve your bottom line
by Mike Sperduti

It would be an understatement to say that the HME game has changed over the last 10 years. HME providers must now find ways to become less dependent on government reimbursement, attract new business and increase cash sales.

The good news is Baby Boomers are getting older, with 10,000 of them retiring every day. Boomers are the generation that changed America and they are the generation that is going to change health care. They are going to remain active into their 80s and possibly even 90s, they expect a comfortable lifestyle and they are going to demand services that keep them in their homes and facilitate a high quality of life. Thanks to this demographic, cash products are positioned to become a bigger slice of the pie as time passes.

Now, more than ever, everyone in your organization needs to be involved in your cash-pay product and service sales efforts. It’s no longer just the salesperson’s job to sell solutions to your patients, it’s everybody’s job, from intake to the reoccurring department, drivers and even clinicians. Everybody needs to be selling cash products.

Some of your employees may panic when they hear that “sales” is being added to their job description. They may think, “I’m not a salesman, I didn’t sign up for this.” But the bottom line is that you need them in this role—your business needs it and the patients need it. A successful sales strategy for non-sales employees starts with a mental shift for everyone involved.

Shifting Perspective

In sales we often talk about “upselling,” but for our purposes we’re going to throw out that word and instead talk about “upcaring.” Upselling is a sales strategy, but upcaring is about focusing on the patient.

When patients or referral sources talk about your company, they’re not talking about the corporate structure, they’re talking about the people with whom they interact. From the customer service reps who answer the phones and greet customers at the door to the delivery guys, you and your staff are “the company” in the eyes of the patient. It’s critical that your employees understand how important they are in attracting new customers and inspiring loyalty in current customers.

When considering the concept of upcaring, the critical question to ask is, what would you do if it was your loved one? Would you recommend this cash product to someone in your family? When you view the customer through the eyes of someone who truly cares about them, your authentic concern shows, and consumers pick up on that dynamic. When I train people on upcaring, I have them use familiar associations. For example, I think of my uncle who had mesothelioma and required oxygen, my father who had bladder cancer and needed an ostomy bag and my mother who needed diabetic supplies. This allows me to make recommendations and communicate with the customer directly from my heart.

The “S” Word

What do most people think of when they think about the typical salesperson? Maybe it’s a person who prioritizes commissions over the best interest of the consumer, or perhaps it’s someone who is pushy, aggressive and self-centered. Maybe they stretch the truth or even lie. While there may be some truth to these stereotypes, selling is now every HME employee’s business. How do you encourage employees to engage in an activity they may find daunting or even distasteful? Motivational author and speaker Wayne Dyer said it best: “When we change the way that we look at things, things we look at actually begin to change.”

If a person believes that “sales” is a bad word, one that embodies selfish motivations, they are going to engage in it reluctantly and ineffectively, or they won’t do it at all. So don’t ask them to upsell—ask them to upcare.

Upcaring is simply caring enough to provide patients with healthier, more comfortable lives through the use of recommended products and services. When I think of someone who upcares, I think of a professional, an advisor, one who strives to make others’ lives better. In order for your team to upcare effectively, they must master product specifications, insurance coverage and patient conditions so they can make the proper recommendations.


The Power of Process

Most of you who are familiar with me know that I advocate building a predictable and repeatable process that generates consistently superior results. I use McDonald’s as an example because it is such a familiar brand. What is the genius of McDonald’s? Is it the hamburger? Nope. Anyone can make a better hamburger at home. The answer is consistency—they have perfected a process that allows them to produce the same result again and again, one that satisfies the customer.

The same principle applies to cash HME sales. Make sure that all your employees, whether in customer service, billing or clinical, know what to do and say when they encounter a person who could benefit from a cash-pay product. As they repeat the process, it will become easier and more fluid for everyone and eventually offer the same result as McDonald’s process—billions served, billions satisfied.

Fries With That?

The best patient upcare technique is one I refer to as the “French Fry Close.” What’s the first question you are asked after you order a McDonald’s hamburger? “Do you want fries with that?” This approach has created millions of dollars in sales with a simple add-on. The reason it is so powerful is that fries go really well with a hamburger. We in the HME world should always be looking for matching opportunities like this when employing our upcare technique.

How can we use the French fry technique with someone who, for example, suffers from sleep apnea and uses a CPAP machine? Start by asking questions that will help you understand their challenges and how you can make their life better. Are they using the CPAP unit regularly? If not, ask them why. You may get answers like the tube smells or the mask isn’t comfortable. Now ask them if they would be willing to use the machine you could eliminate those issues. That’s the French fry close—uncovering an unexpressed need and pinpointing a product that can help.

A friend of mine was diagnosed with sleep apnea. He didn’t use his machine because he liked to watch TV before he fell asleep and it was uncomfortable to do so while wearing the CPAP mask. Finally his HME provider cared enough to ask if he would wear the mask if he had a pillow that was designed for people who like to watch TV as they fall asleep. The provider never had to “hard sell” the product and the pillow improved my friend’s CPAP compliance—a perfect French fry technique execution.

As another example, if someone orders a wheelchair, they’ll probably be sitting in that chair for long periods of time. Doesn’t it make sense to talk to them about a more comfortable seat cushion? How about if they’ll be eating in that chair; wouldn’t it make sense to recommend a tray or cup holder? Remember, all that is required to upcare is to focus on products that will genuinely make your customers’ lives easier and more comfortable.

Rick Graver of Medtech Services sees his patients as friends, not just customers.Here’s a simple game plan you can use to implement an upcaring strategy. First, create a list of products that are covered by insurance. Often you’ll encounter a patient that can only use products that are covered by insurance, in which case you can “French fry close” an upcare product for them that will be covered by insurance. Second, create a list of products that are cash-pay items not covered by insurance, but that will make patients’ lives easier. Finally, write a list of questions that will uncover those unmet needs, improve treatment compliance and effectiveness and increase comfort. Script out exactly how the questions should be asked along with a strategy that can be applied to all of the major health conditions you encounter. As at McDonald’s, you will then have an easily replicated process that uncovers needs and creates opportunities to make life-enhancing recommendations—no “selling” required.