When calling a business for a question or concern, most people get upset if they are put on hold, only to hear a dial tone when they accidentally get disconnected several minutes later. Or maybe they get upset when they have to repeat their account information to three different people at the same company before they can ask the question they originally called about. And others may decide to give their business to a competitor when they encounter a rude person at a company they currently use. While these complaints may seem relatively minor, In the HME industry, customer service issues can make or break a business. In the vehicle lift industrylike many segments of HMEcustomer service and training can determine your success as a company.
"It is my opinion that we will see a significant consolidation take place within the industry. We will see a significant reduction in the number of quality dealers who sell and promote mobility lifts and we will continue to see the government play a more active role in the decision-making process in all phases of our business," said Bob Smith, vice president of sales and marketing for Freedom Lift Corp., Green Lane, Pa.
"Those dealerships who consolidate their businesses and diversify their product lines will survive. Those accounts that focus on customer service, training and cash sales will continue to grow their respective businesses," Smith said.
In order to adapt to changing government regulations, it is important for dealers to stay abreast of quality standard measurements, carry a diverse product line of products to address the varying needs of clients, and provide follow-up programs and training.
"Dealerships should align themselves with lift manufacturers that provide high quality application support, certification and training programs. It is extremely important that dealers also make sure that the manufacturers they purchase from meet quality standards such as the ISO 9001 and QSS 9000 certifications," Smith said. "Most of the successful dealers provide warranty programs that set themselves apart from others. They provide exceptional service levels to all clients."
Chad Williams, president of Harmar Mobility, Sarasota, Fla. said the importance of quality customer service cannot be overstated. "Vehicle lifts especially require a huge commitment to service and training. Not unlike rehab products, a manufacturer is only as good as its dealer network," Williams said.
Williams explained that the vehicle lift industry is being driven by the scooter and power chair industry and their acceptance into mainstream America. "After a dealer has sold a power chair or scooter the first thing they should ask is: 'How are you going to get your chair home?' Harmar's philosophy is that whether you are a dealer or end user, our products help you, 'Go further,'" Williams said.
Williams stressed the importance of both dealer and end user education. "In order for dealers to educate their customers, they must be educated themselves. Harmar Mobility certified dealers are trained on all products and their applications. We offer dealer certification that encourages HME dealers to fully understand our growing product lines. If a dealer will take the time to learn themselvesthey absolutely will sell more. Plus, you can't argue with the benefit of the cash sale associated with vehicle lifts and ramps," Williams said.
Pursuing Perfection in Customer Service and Training
Roberta Domos, RRT, owner and president of Domos Consulting Group, a national HME consulting firm based in Redmond, Wash., said that despite the impact of reimbursement cuts in the HME industry, dealers have the opportunity to be profitable by improving their efficiency and making fewer mistakes. Domos said an HME who wants to improve efficiency will actively pursue the following objectives:
- Provide a comprehensive, face-to-face orientation of your services to new patients and clients including clear, succinct and easy-to-read written information. The orientation should include information about a patient or client's specific financial responsibilities; how to contact your company to discuss billing questions; information regarding the use of the equipment and needed repairs; as well as patient education specific to the equipment you are providing, including the purpose of the equipment and how to use the equipment safely.
- Provide clean equipment that has been well maintained and checked for functionality prior to delivery (even if it's brand new).
- Follow-up with the patient or client within several days of initial set-up of equipment to assess whether they have all the information they require to use the equipment provided effectively. Keep in mind that it may take the patient or client several days of using the equipment before any patient-specific problems can be identified.
- Provide well trained and professional customer service representatives and patient care personnel who can answer questions and resolve complaints promptly. Do not hesitate to escalate a patient or client's concerns to the supervisory or management level if the client remains unsatisfied with the suggested resolution.
- When equipment problems arise?either from misuse or malfunction?problems should be addressed and resolved within one business day. Patients and clients should be re-educated regarding the use of the equipment they have received as needed.
- Document all patient / client contacts so that you have a history of the communications that have taken place. Remember that patients and clients do not want to have to retell their stories to each new employee of your company that they speak with.
- Solicit customer feedback about their experiences with your company. Make sure that information is reviewed by team members and management, and that opportunities for improvement are addressed.
- Create a culture of excellence by making exceptional customer service your company's core value. Remember that the leaders set the tone.
In addition to proper training and customer service, dealers should employ marketing techniques such as displaying products in a showroom or hosting community events to promote the awareness of their vehicle lifts to referral sources and consumers.
Dealerships who consolidate their businesses and diversify their product lines will survive. Accounts that focus on customer service, training and cash sales will continue to grow their respective businesses.
"It is extremely important that the dealerships get involved within the community they are serving and constantly educate, promote their companies and services. Having most of the more popular lifts on display in their show room is a great way to demonstrate the products. Many successful companies also have vehicles within the respective communities," Smith said.
Williams said, "We offer a cooperative advertising policy that helps any Harmar dealer sell more product by advertising locally. Our dealers that advertise report significant spikes in their sales. What?s good for our dealers is good for us so we support them with cooperative advertising funds, a customized dealer section on our Web site and the best service group in the industry. We have a full line of collateral to help our dealers increase their lift and ramp sales. We not only provide free brochures, but also free display stands for the brochures as well as for our products in many instances.
Offering lifts that are easy to use and install or are considered "hybrid" liftslifts that accommodate both power chairs and scootersas well as lifts that require little or no vehicle modifications are also in high customer demand. In addition, with the bariatric market continuing to grow, offering vehicle lifts with greater weight capacities are essential to a dealer's product line.
The market is growing and there are a number of emerging trends such as lifts designed for specific niches, lifts to improve space in a vehicle and to enhance driver visibility.
"Also, the Internet is changing the way customers shop for solutions. It is a great way to reach thousands of potential customers and steer them towards your dealer network. Left unchecked, however, the Internet can destroy a brand through constantly lowering prices. Harmar recently incorporated and will enforce a lowest advertised pricing policy that does not allow our products to be advertised for less than 25 percent off the MSRP. We want Harmar products to be regarded as the highest quality value for our dealers and their customers," Williams said.
"The VA's recent RFP for buying directly from manufacturers will affect everyone in this business. Through a great deal of dealer input, Harmar is putting together what we think will be the fairest solution for everyone involved," Williams said.
"As with all consumers, mobility customers are increasingly sophisticated and are unwilling to compromise because of physical limitations," Williams said.
This article originally appeared in the April 2005 issue of HME Business.