I believe there may be an important message in community relationship recommendations—neighbors, watch groups—that should be translated into your business plan. While the latest in modern technology allows you to electronically track orders, bill, gather customer feedback and monitor inventory, it definitely fails to cement good business relationships. It fails to offer a full picture of our customers and referral sources, as we miss the facial expressions of customers that often send the most meaningful nonverbal business messages. It’s time we get back into the relationship business! A sales message I always enjoy sharing is, “the more calls you make and the more people you meet, the more business you receive.” Business grows from the relationships you build, and there are all kinds of relationships—those we share with former coworkers, present coworkers and people with whom we hope to one day work. All three are important for building revenue.
Relationships can move quickly, often changing courses with little notice and impacted by more factors that we can identify. Good existing relationships can keep customers happy despite errors we will inevitably make. A positive relationship will allow you to sell more to existing customers. Many companies fail to realize that relationship building is everyone’s responsibility. Anyone who touches a patient or referral source in any way impacts the business. Every interaction presents the opportunity to make an impression that will impact your brand, image and profits. To take full advantage of these interactions, all of these relationships should be identified and reviewed.
Encounters with customers follow a series of stages by which the relationship is then judged. Competitors are everywhere, and customer loyalty is fickle unless you’re working hard to maintain trust. As an HME provider, most of your customers are patients, and those patients need your patience. They are unwilling participants in our business, making it hard to cultivate relationships. Patients judge companies not by the programs and services they provide, but by how those services are offered. They are looking for a relationship that is molded in trust, empathy and respect.
Family and caregiver relationships are often the most challenging. Families want a home care provider they can trust and rely on as part of their support network. Families want to be warned about potential medical crises, possible medical outcomes and information so they can be effective caregivers. When your relationship with a family is strong, you become a valuable resource, and in turn they will become one of your most dynamic public relations agents.
Although often difficult to cultivate, referral source relationships can last a lifetime. Referral sources want to work with people they can count on—the companies who make them look good, make the patient happy and help them achieve the appropriate medical outcomes get extra points. Every referral source has a priority—you need to learn what it is and adjust your approach to appeal to that priority.
Every relationship worth cultivating comes with a few considerations:
- Think long-term—Short-term relationships are not the goal. Consider the impact of work on your ability to maintain a customer. Stay in touch—For those customers who are out of reach, you need to have top-shelf awareness for when a referral source decides to call on you.
- Bring value to the relationship—It’s not about the business a customer brings to you, it’s about the value-added services you can provide the customer.
- Spend time on your patient and referral source priorities—consider how each account likes to do business (time of the day), how each prefers to communicate (e-mail or phone) and how often they would like to be contacted. A successful business must invest in relationships! Take time to gain more by joining organizations and serving on committees and boards of local professional associations.
Never lose touch with a customer, or they will lose touch with you. A competitor is always waiting. Take time today to remind your customers how you feel about them and how much you appreciate their trust in what you do!