Most companies in America have a mission to sell a product or service, but few will accomplish their goals without a dedicated plan to engage the customer, garner their attention and gain their trust. It is essential to address the clinical and business value in engaging customers.
There is little value in having a great service or life-changing safety aid when no one knows about it or understands its worth. When your shelves are full of state-of-the-art products and there is never a need to reorder—something is wrong. You may have purchased the products from an energetic and passionate manufacturer’s representative, but that in itself does not create a sale. It’s successful customer engagement that leads to sales and even loftier goals: customer compliance and improved health outcomes.
The challenge every business confronts is how to reach new customers without exceeding the budget. No purchasing agent wants to look back and have buyer’s remorse regarding products purchased for sales that have yet to move off the shelves.
Start by Stopping
Start thinking about a marketing and engagement strategy by considering tasks we need to stop engaging in, including:
- Stop believing only your marketing representative is involved in marketing. From retail sales staff and billing department staff to the delivery technician—these all need to be welcomed to the real world. They are now in sales. Your business’s look, message, professionalism, expertise and dedication to quality service are all parts of a strategic marketing program. Any interaction with a customer, regardless of who originates it, is part of a planned marketing message.
- Stop continuously noting a long list of products that do not sell. What may be happening is that patients do not purchase products because they do not see their value for their particular medical challenge. You are not a storeroom for products no one wants. Often products do not sell because salespeople fail to understand the features and benefits of owning the product.
- Stop believing that when a customer does not understand the value of a product, a reimbursement issue or how a product works, it’s their problem and not yours. It is yours. Your marketing must include easy-to-understand information presented in a clear and concise format. Include in your marketing mission the goal of doing all you can to create an informed and educated consumer.
- Stop believing any one customer is like the next. Every customer has their own unique communication requirements, experiences with the health care industry and level of interest in participating in their own health care plan. Some customers prefer text messages, others email, and some are counting on a personal call from your company representative. If you have only one plan for distributing messages about your services or products, you are probably eliminating contact with a large portion of your community. No community has residents speaking only one language, so don’t distribute marketing messages in only one way.
Engage the Tough Customers
Successful marketing is about engaging the customer. There have been many years of research attempting to determine what seems to work and what engagement strategies are the most challenging.
First, many customers simply do not want to be engaged—don’t take this personally. These customers don’t want to hear from you. You are a reminder of bad news, a medical crisis, a physical challenge, a life-altering event—the list goes on. They will avoid your emails, calls and text messages.
Second, many customers are not interested in becoming participants in their own care plan or in selecting the products that are best for them. These customers often say, “Just tell me what I need.”
For the best results let’s consider some practical customer engagement tips. While these may work for some customers, they may not work for all.
- Build an online patient portal system allowing customers to make appointments with members of your staff or to schedule a product delivery.
- Provide customer product reorder reminders via email or text.
- Become a resource for healthy living ideas, diet plans for those with specific medical issues or home maintenance guides for specialized equipment.
- Organize support groups that meet in your store or at an easily accessible community location.
- Ensure that patient education materials are accessible through your store and website.
- Create an online account for customers to track their orders, view order frequency, billing and payment information, and update their contact information.
Customers’ ongoing relationship with their physician will be integral to understanding their acceptance or rejection of your engagement strategies. When patients trust the recommendations from their orthopedic surgeon or pulmonologist, they are more willing to listen to your explanation about products that may improve their life. If they have little trust in their primary physician, they may not be open to your advice either. It is hard to engage customers who have a negative relationship with those who are guiding and directing their care plan.
Most customers want advice and recommendations, not to be told what to order and how they might suffer if they decline your recommendations. Engaging in appropriate conversations about features and benefits is often the right marketing path to ensure engagement.
Think Before You Market
Failure to engage customers and patients is impacting health care treatments throughout the industry. Close to 20 percent of patients are readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of discharge. Would a more comprehensive patient engagement or marketing effort from providers reduce the number of avoidable readmissions?
Consider the language of your customers and the technology they may or may not possess. While they may want to engage with you, many are faced with what they see as insurmountable challenges. Think before you market, and plan before you engage.
Make staying in touch with your customers an integral ingredient of your customer service and marketing plan. Stay in touch with your customers, and I can assure you, when the need arises, they will stay in touch with you.