Med One to One Fall/Winter TWENTY NINETEEN ISSUE 61

Building Relationships
That Endure

Written By: Larry Stevens

Building Relationships That Endure

In the Long Island, New York area, there is an extended care hospital that Med One first encountered in 1999. The facility is a well-established extended care facility that serves long-term patients, most of whom need to be on ventilator therapy. Many of the patients have health conditions that make it impossible to live without the assistance of a ventilator. Most of the ventilators in the facility are in operation 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. When we first became acquainted with this hospital, the facility was not highly capitalized, and funding was not available to improve the equipment they were using to care for their patients. They were renting ventilators from one of the few independent medical equipment rental providers in the Long Island area. Generally, the equipment that they were renting was older technology equipment, and given the high usage, the facility was experiencing significant downtime and expensive rental due to high repair costs.

We met the people who operate this facility when we were invited to provide a competitive proposal for their ventilator rental. We discovered that their incumbent rental provider had extended them year after year with annual price increases and never any upgrade to the technology. In our assessment, we knew that ventilator technology had been introduced to the market, which was much more efficient in the care of ventilator patients and much more cost-effective for the provider.

Our offer to them was that if they switched to Med One with a longer rental term commitment, we would provide new technology, provide regular and emergency call service, and reduce their rental pricing. These provisions would allow them to provide better patient care with no downtime due to equipment failure and to save money in addition. We further agreed to provide a small inventory of onsite backup equipment for them to use in case of increased census or equipment failure. Thus, began a working relationship that has now lasted for over 20 years. We have rented the very best technology for them to care for their patients, and we provide for the ongoing servicing of the equipment to ensure that they can always give the very best of patient care.

"...we are privileged to have active leases with approximately 40 percent of the acute care hospitals in the United States through our leasing division. Our lease portfolio consists of many, many customers who have come back to us time after time to let us help them with their equipment needs."

Med One has been blessed to have had the contract re-awarded at the end of the five-year rental term for four consecutive renewals. Along the way, we have always been able to keep them current with the most up to date technology. Our relationship with this customer has been a very rewarding experience for Med One, and we take great pride in the fact that we have been able to provide what we promised for all this time. It has been our blessing to have developed and maintained this strong relationship with a very important customer.

Many years ago, when Med One was established, we identified that our target customer base would be acute care hospitals; this created a "built-in" problem for us. There are only approximately 6,000 acute hospitals located in the United States. That is a very limited prospective customer base upon which to build a business. We knew that it had to be part of our culture to encourage, nourish, and cultivate a relationship with our customers that would encourage them to return to us many times as repeat customers. Were we to do only one single transaction with each customer, we knew that we would be “one and done” very quickly!

Fast forward to today (almost 30 years later), and we are privileged to have active leases with approximately 40 percent of the acute care hospitals in the United States through our leasing division. Our lease portfolio consists of many, many customers who have come back to us time after time to let us help them with their equipment needs. In addition, we provide short term rental of equipment to upwards of 500 hospitals throughout the United States. These customers come back to us month after month to provide for their peak census equipment needs.

Med One is privileged to count as customers many of the top tier and most prominent medical centers and healthcare systems in the United States as well as many, many small or rural hospitals. We are also blessed to be able to have as business partners many of the leading manufacturers of medical equipment in the world.

We recently completed a new lease agreement with a nationally prominent university medical center in the South Eastern United States. Twenty years ago, we provided the leasing service for them when they acquired their first smart technology infusion system. To satisfy some of the requirements that the university had, we made some significant modifications to our underlying lease documentation. As part of the transaction, we offered them a simple and efficient way to add additional equipment during the term of their lease. We have now been their leasing partner for three upgrades of their infusion system – more than 18 years. They have appreciated our simplicity, responsiveness, and creativity in helping to provide for their needs. This is a continuing relationship about which I feel very gratified -- particularly since the university has reached out to Med One several times and requested that we lease them other types of equipment as well. During 2019, we completed a total “refresh” of their infusion system. In consideration of a five-year extension to their present lease agreement, our customer received all new equipment with the very latest released operating platform. They were also able to acquire equipment to provide for some very strategic and vital expansion projects.

When I reflect upon the power of the long-term relationships that we have with our customers, it makes me feel very positive about the direction of our business. Our long-standing relationships with many of our customers is one of the elements that make me feel the proudest about the company Med One has become.

In her recent article published in the last issue of Med One to One, (www.medonegroup.com/medonetoone/60/my-personal-journey-with-med-one) Ibby Smith Stofer shared some of her journey that brought her into the Med One Family. Speaking of our initial beginnings with ALARIS Medical, the company for whom she worked for over 31 years, she talked about a meeting at which several finance and leasing companies were invited to come in and present their "story." Med One was invited, along with several high-profile national competitors.

“In the end, the customer and sales-based attributes won out, and the partnership with Med One began. During our RFP process, Med One did not come to our meetings with a PowerPoint. They came to learn about us, our customers, our sales force, and what we believed would make a difference. They questioned, they listened, and then they answered. Again, they listened to our reactions and responses and made changes when they received feedback. This approach, in my opinion, was what made them stand out and ultimately succeed in becoming not only a resource but also trusted advisors to us at Alaris Medical. That relationship has survived and continues to thrive.

As our relationship progressed, the need to understand and learn how leasing could help our sales representatives overcome the "no budget" or "too expensive" objections increased. Med One allowed us to… serve the needs of the financial decision-makers. Med One was there with personalized service that included asking questions, guidance on how to select the right options for our customer's needs, and they even joined us on calls with customers. Simply stated, Med One became an integral part of the Alaris solution.

We didn't win every time, but we did build long-lasting relationships based on how we worked with the customers. Many of Alaris (IVAC/CareFusion/Cardinal Health/BD) sales representatives have changed employment over time and have taken Med One with them. No matter what technology or services they may be representing, they know the levels of support and flexibility Med One brings to the customer.”

Our relationship with Ibby’s former company has endured for the entire 28-year history of Med One. It has survived numerous mergers and management changes within their company along the way. Today we continue to support their business to the tune of tens of millions of dollars per year.

We have never been a company that relied heavily upon “canned” presentations, flashy power points, or pre-packaged programs. With each equipment manufacturer with whom we have a partnering arrangement, we have created solutions and programs to fit their specific needs and the needs of their customers. Our primary goal has always been to help those manufacturers that we serve to sell more equipment.

Med One operates on the “three-legged stool” philosophy. In everything we do, we want to give equal and significant emphasis to benefit each of our essential constituencies – we want everything we do to be good for our customers, our employees, and Med One (the company). I believe that our success has come from faithfully trying to adhere to this philosophy.

It is much more efficient and cost-effective to sell to existing customers than to have to find, attract, and sell to new ones. It is very expensive to add new customers to the "fold." I can’t imagine how difficult it would be if we were only able to do one transaction with each customer. Keeping long term relationships is hard work, it takes focus and commitment, but it is the only way to build a successful business.

One of the distinguishing benefits of leasing equipment from Med One is our customer-friendly approach to documentation. Many companies in our industry use documentation that contains highly technical language, heavily weighted to the benefit of the lessor, and is, in many cases, purposely confusing in order to enable the lessor to charge more than the customer might understand. Using rigid and hard to understand end of lease term options is a typical way that our competitors enhance what they can charge their customers. Med One's end of term options, however, are straightforward, uncomplicated, and customer friendly. One competitor company that I know personally is involved constantly in lawsuits with their customers over this issue. They are either suing their customers to enforce their lease end position or being sued by their customers because their provisions are unconscionable. In 28 years, Med One has never had a dispute regarding the provisions in our lease documentation that had to be resolved in court.

We have a limited pool of possible customers, and we work very hard to get them to do business with us. The cornerstone of our cultural foundation is that we work just as hard or harder to retain our existing customers and encourage them to return to us for repeat business as we did to attract them in the first place. Some of the specific principles that we follow are:

  1. We put ourselves in the shoes of our customer. We try to determine what their needs are and how to meet those needs to their satisfaction. This is our key component in building long-term relationships.
  2. We work continuously to improve our customer relationship philosophy. We understand that nothing can be perfect, but we continually try to stay up to date on understanding what our customers want and what they are thinking.
  3. We don’t expect to sell them something at our first contact or at every contact we have with them. We understand the benefit of building a long-term relationship, and we don't make every contact about making a sale.
  4. We don’t provide static offers or “canned” programs. We always give options based on input from our customers. We try to keep things flexible and simple.
  5. We are very patient when it comes to building long-term customer relationships. Often the relationship will require more than we anticipated. We try to stay flexible and understanding of our customer’s point of view.
  6. Honesty and integrity are the hallmarks of our long-term relationship culture. Anything less would be meaningless and hypocritical. When it comes to integrity, you either have it, or you don't. There are no shades of gray when it comes to honesty and integrity. Operating from a position of integrity is a core value of our team members, and we maintain a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to dishonesty.
  7. We believe in two-way communication with customers. Not only do we have a policy of listening, we try to place the “human element” at the forefront of our communication. While we have available to us all the technology needed to operate efficiently, we never sacrifice the need to communicate person-to-person. When you call Med One on the phone, you will always talk to a real person.
  8. We have a highly advanced social media platform to enable us to speak with current and potential customers. We understand the power of social media in telling our story and helping customers know us better.
  9. We invite the best people to join our team. Our business needs the best people. Our customers want to be served by the best, most confident, best informed, and most responsive people. In short, we don't consider it business-to-business; we consider it person-to-person. Our most loyal and most important customers come back to us with repeat business because they have developed a relationship (and often a friendship) with someone from our company.
  10. We educate our customers about the differences between Med One and our competitors. We try to do this without being braggadocios or condescending. Often the differences seem small and hard to distinguish in the beginning, but they often "grow up" to have a significant impact on every transaction. Providing education about how our industry should work has been a special mission of ours for many years. The subtle differences can have significant consequences.

As I reflect upon the pleasure that it has been for me to be able to serve at the helm of this company for the past 28 years, my greatest happiness in business comes from the relationships that we have been able to create and maintain. Some of these relationships are with major medical centers, and we consider it an honor and a sacred trust that we have been able to serve them. Others are with manufacturers of medical equipment who rely on us to help them sell their products. But many, many of these long-term relationships are with people who have become friends. These friendships seem not to depend upon the actual company that they might work for, but they depend upon the person-to-person interaction that we always try to maintain. Although these friends often move from company to company, our friendships seem to endure.

It is important for every one of us who comprise the Med One Family to understand that not one of our customers owes us anything in terms of ongoing loyalty. We have to create value for them, so it is in their best interest to deal with us. And that “WE” means every one of us. Quality long-term customer relationships do not materialize out of thin air. They require a solid foundation built on giving service that is better than expected, person-to-person interaction, and ultimately trust. Building the long-term trust of anyone and particularly a customer is the key to our long-term success, and it can’t be faked. I am not sure if it can even be taught -- it has to be real.

Every member of the Med One team needs to understand that savvy businesspeople, regardless of their specific individual role in the business, understand the role excellent customer service plays in the success of their business. They understand that winning customers and building loyalty doesn’t happen overnight and that building strong customer relationships requires a consistent and ongoing team effort to retain their customer’s hard-won loyalty. They know that while pricing is important, loyalty earned through delivering on promises and taking care of customers will often win the sale and keep the customer, even where pricing may be a bit higher. Savvy businesspeople also understand how fragile customer relationships are and how easily hard-won loyalty can be lost through poor customer service and issues not quickly resolved to the customer’s satisfaction.

This, to me, is what I envision as the "Med One Culture," and I sincerely hope that each member of our Med One family will continue to join me in truly achieving that key element as the driving force within our company.

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