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Who Is My Customer?

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A few years ago, two friends and I had an ice cream cart in a park along the Milwaukee River. It was a lot of fun and a wonderful experience although not terribly profitable. One of the things I really appreciated about the experience however is that we had no doubt who our customer was in that situation. We handed them some really tasty ice cream and they handed us money; it could not have been much simpler.
Not so in the healthcare industry. Here is a brief list of the different departments that are involved in the purchase of bed/chair/toilet alarms, usually in the form of a “falls committee:”

  • Nursing/Nurse Management
  • Biomedical Department
  • Purchasing/Materials Management/Logistics
  • Chief Information Officer
  • Infection Control Manager
  • Housekeeping

Each one of these departments have different interests and concerns yet they are all my customer. This can create a very challenging situation since at times their different needs can be at odds with each other.
This brings me to my point because I am occasionally asked by friends and associates for recommendations for orthopedic surgeons, acute care facilities, sub-acute care facilities, assisted living care and even home care options. My friends know that for almost 30 years I have been in operating rooms, hospitals and other healthcare facilities almost every day of the year both locally and throughout the Midwest. They believe that because of my experience in healthcare I can at least point them in the right direction for their loved ones.
When I was recently asked by a friend to recommend an Assisted Living Facility I gave her a few options that I think would provide good care for her mother. Afterwards I thought about why I made those recommendations and I realized that some of it was based on my personal experiences at those facilities.
As a vendor and a representative for different suppliers to these facilities, I am often treated by staff with some kind of variation between indifference and outright hostility. Of course, these facilities are my customers or prospects and don’t owe me anything so I’m not complaining, it’s more of an observation and a reality of today’s healthcare environment.
It’s important to note however that my treatment by the staff causes me to wonder if the staff is able to “turn it on and turn it off” when they’re taking care of people. If they are “less than friendly” with me, will they always treat their patients or residents with the respect and dignity they deserve?
Most of my customers and prospects would not see me as a potential customer but perhaps that should change?
Answering the question of “Who is My Customer” in a narrow way is an option but definitely limiting.  I also wonder if in the end it hurts our ability to compete in a challenging market.
If we broaden the answer to that question to include other staff members, vendors, family and guests in addition to our patients or residents we can potentially improve our performance throughout the continuum.
We all need to find new customers and it is the job of everyone involved to create an environment that is welcoming and inviting. Referrals can come from anywhere including suppliers and in today’s competitive environment we all need every competitive advantage to maintain census levels and keep our facilities as strong and competitive as we possibly can.

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