Sunday, December 14, 2014

Excuse Me, Have You Seen My Magic Wand?

Excuse Me, Have You Seen My Magic Wand?

Help me find it! Read my latest Column.

Excuse Me, Have You Seen My Magic Wand?

What is it that ambulance owners don’t seem to understand when it comes to marketing their services? It completely perplexes me, and I just don’t understand when I carefully explain every aspect of the process to them before they embark on this dark ride to build their business. 

So what’s a consultant to do?

Write it out! (Yes!...There will be a quiz later, so take notes)

In The Beginning
First, I’d like to make this fact perfectly clear to everyone.
There Is No Magic Wand!

Marketing is a process involving the ability to develop trust in a client by providing a service that is efficient and solves problems they must face on a daily basis. When you gain a client, it’s because they believe in you, not necessarily the product or the service, but the person they have been interacting with. 

As a marketer, the client begins to relate the service or product to the face they are speaking with. If it’s a great product or service, then they will continue to use it and their search is over. You’ve filled their need  and your marketer’s face is what the client will remember and the one that they call whenever they need help solving a similar problem.

As an example, I still get calls from people I know from years ago to help them with this issue or that, and although I may not be with the agency I originally was with when I met with them and took care of their needs, I still look things up or point them in the right direction and they keep on calling me.


Because clients trust me and believe, through their experiences and interactions with me, that I’ll get the job done in a very satisfactory manner. They know I’m dependable, and stable, and that I’ll give them the results they expect. I have become a convenient problem-solving resource to have around.

Why Do You Want Salesmen?
I believe at times that ambulance company owners believe that the word Marketing” is equivalent to the word “Selling”. To be honest, nothing could be further from the truth. 

Anybody who has seen the movie “Pulp Fiction” knows who the character is they call “the Fixer”. You know,… the guy that walks into the room and everyone begins to tell him what has been happening and what has gone wrong… all at the very same time…  and he stands back and points a finger at the first person and tells the person being pointed at, “You do” this, and then the next person he’ll say, “you do” that, and so on. Finally when he gets to the last person, he tells them to make a pot of coffee. That’s who your marketer is. He or she is that person that saves your company every time something goes wrong with service delivery from an operational standpoint.

1.     A marketer, is trusted by the clients to give service performance or fix the problems, so that the relationship may continue and that you (the owner of the service) may profit, grow and benefit from this relationship.

2.     Relationships, such as the example above, don’t grow on trees. They must take place over the course of time, in order for them to be long-term and sustainable, so that a service organization, such as an ambulance company, may profit from them.

So, why does everyone believe that when they hire a marketer to develop new business for their organization, that they will be bringing with them a magic wand that’s designed to provide instantaneous results? Hmmm…

Have the ambulance owners who use marketers for their service, have a similar wand to prepare their organization for the oncoming growth that the marketer will likely produce over the course of time?

I think not.

LESSON #1  -  Due Diligence
I can’t tell you how many times I have run into this particular problem lately, with companies in this industry that haven’t taken the time to get their “House“ in order for a surge in business growth.  Yet, they want a marketer to come into the company and provide new growth in their business.

Marketing is and always will be a company-wide process. It begins at the top of the ambulance industry food chain, and goes down the chain from there.  Here’s what I mean:

·      Have you contracted with your payers (health plans, HMO’s PPO’s, Managed Care Programs? If so, who do you have contracts with?

o   Most small organizations have no idea what this means. They open up an ambulance business, and can’t understand why they’ve spent several thousands of dollars on pads of paper; coffee mugs; pens with their company logo on them; gadgets; etc., but never receive a single call from a skilled nursing facility or hospital.

Hospitals and other healthcare facilities that refer calls to ambulance companies are contracted with insurance companies, managed care plans, health maintenance organizations, preferred provider organizations, et cetera. They contract so that they can get paid for the services they provide. Sometimes, they will offer a discount to these payers for the guaranteed of a group or population of potential patients coming to their hospital.

In these instances, the hospital will call a provider of ambulance services that may be under the same or similar contract terms, and so the hospital will call that agency that holds the contract for the same group of potential patients that they must treat as well.

If you haven’t done your “due diligence” by contracting with the payers, then you can’t blame the marketer you’ve hired because he or she hasn’t achieved the results that you wanted.

  • Marketers Build Relationships… Using the Existing Company Infrastructure as the tools to open the doors to a business relationship
  • Owners Build/Place Infrastructure to Support The Marketer’s Efforts. 
  • Infrastructure = Payors, Processes, Systems, Policies, Procedures


LESSON #2  -  Marketers Can’t Build New Business, Without A Solid Foundation (Infrastructure)
As a business owner, it’s imperative for you to get all of the payors that you are able to contract with, so that your marketer can do his/her job. If it isn’t done prior to hiring a marketer, you will never achieve the results that you want and you’ll end up pointing a finger of blame at the marketer rather than those individuals that should have done the job prior to the marketer’s hiring.

A good example of what I’m talking about occurred not long ago to a close friend, who went into an ambulance agency that needed help developing more business from the area hospitals.

Now, the marketplace that he has been working in, is wrought with fraudulent operators that use tactics that are clearly out of compliance with the Medicare rules involving kickbacks and false claims. 

So it wasn’t surprising that the owner saw many of the small companies like theirs, going out and gaining new business, while he was left on the sidelines, scratching his head and wondering how the competitors were doing so well.  So, they hired my friend.

He began working with them, explaining the need for contracts with all of the payor sources and health plans in the region. He told them that he’d take care of it for them, but they said that they’d take care of the contracting and sent him out to create the new business and improve their position with the hospitals and skilled facilities.

My friend ended up being let go after a short period of time, because the owners of the company didn’t understand the basic principal of marketing, which states:

“Selling is trying to get people to want what you have.”
“Marketing is trying to have what people want”.
“When you have what people want, it makes selling unnecessary.”

Terrence Ryan –
Healthcare Marketing Consultant

So ambulance services everywhere must ask themselves these fundamental questions if they want to grow and be successful:
  •           Do you have what your prospects want?
  •            Do you have your foundation laid down and ready?

LESSON #3  -  The Culture Of Your Company
Many years ago, I learned how to improve patient experiences, as well as how to create the kind of environment where medics and EMT’s love to work. My skills were in my ability to reshape an organization that was ready to evolve as a provider, and create a quality service for patients that was responsive in every aspect, while finding their path and creating the patient and hospital loyalty to our service.

In my role as a consultant, I’m committed to helping providers find what patients and client facilities want in their ambulance provider, but what seems so pervasive in the ambulance industry, is an attitude of “our way is the only way”, so that by the time they call on me they are in such a pickle that they want someone to come in and wave a magic wand to transform them into a profitable operation without finding out what was wrong in the first place.
In the first lesson I have presented to you, I made it relatively clear that your business has to be about what the patient or the client facility want, it has to be about their needs, wants, and expectations. When a patient is happy with the service they receive, then so is the facility that called you, and so is their physician.
However, what I have witnessed personally is that no one in our industry designs and trains around individual customer needs and wants, and that’s the problem in a nutshell.
I’m not interested in repeating old training processes that have become ineffective or cliché, because most of the things that are being taught to employees are ineffective when it comes to a deep change in the way a company provides the services they offer, and have done little if anything to change or for that matter improve the way a hospital or a patient perceives your service.
When Fred Lee wrote his book, “If Disney Ran Your Hospital - 9½ Things You Would Do Differently”, he talks about your employees and how they have many things in common with patients. Like a patient in a hospital, they can choose to leave and take their skills somewhere else. They can be satisfied or dissatisfied with their treatment. But at the end of the day, their loyalty is critical to the success of your company.
One dissatisfied employee on an ambulance can turn years of hard work and struggle for success, into a scarlet letter that will hang around your company’s neck, causing hospitals and skilled facilities to run the opposite direction. Therefore, marketing is trying to have what your employees want, too.
I am still helping ambulance companies change their direction and gain a competitive edge within their respective markets by have what people want instead of defending an our-way-is-the-only-way approach. I have chosen to teach and instruct companies about the needs, wants, and expectations of the patients they serve, while teaching them how to change their internal culture, so that when they turn their marketing teams loose, they are met with success instead of failure.
It’s imperative to your success as an ambulance provider in a competitive market to have a company culture that will support the efforts of your marketing team. Therefore, it is also equally as important to have a team that is working that is happy to be where they are
When patients are pleased with your service, so are their caregivers. And, when everyone is pleased with the service you deliver and the experience is consistently positive for everyone, then you’ll have achieved something that no one else has been able to achieve in this industry without the use of a contract, and no one wants to be chained contractually to anything that doesn’t meet their expectations.
Once again, ambulance services everywhere must ask themselves these fundamental questions if they want to grow and be successful:

  • Are your employees happy?

(Do you always yell or loose your temper when they do something wrong, or do you calmly correct their actions when wrong, and celebrate their successes when they’re right?)
  • Are you providing happy and well-respected professionals to every facility that calls  your service, and every patient they contact?

  • Is the culture of your company supportive of your marketing team? Is it a culture that is happy and cheerful, upbeat and helpful to everyone who calls?

(When was the last time you caught someone doing something right, instead of being upset when they do something wrong. Nobody’s perfect, and people don’t generally do things the wrong way on purpose. So, don’t make it a big “to-do”, correct them privately and calmly… and move on.) 
  •      Have you taken steps to hire the right people for your organization?

(There are ways to filter out individuals that aren’t a good fit for your company, and the goals you’re trying to achieve. I personally have found the “Myers Briggs” personality exam to be a great tool to use when hiring staff.)
Remember, these are areas that are easily fixed, and this is part of the “due diligence” that is squarely the responsibility of the ownership of the company. I can be hired come in to your organization and build your business quickly and compliantly, but I don’t want to do that if the processes needed to support the effort aren’t in place, or the culture of the company isn’t one that is conducive to support a program that provides positive experiences for the patients or the clients your agency serves, then you’re wasting your money and my time.
Real change is a full-time commitment and is a top-down process. Nothing changes unless you change and desire to meet success on the terms of those you serve, and not on your own terms.  
Be like the reed that bends, but doesn’t break against a strong wind…”         
Scot Sturtevant –                                 Marketing Consultant

Monday, December 8, 2014

Sometimes, One Act is All It Takes to Turn a Recovery Into Loyalty!

To those who enjoy my blog, I’m sorry that there’s been a long pause between posts. The company is growing and I’ve been rather busy, taking care of my clients and making positive strides that impact their growth.

Over the last year I’ve learned a lot of things, some good and some bad, but one thing I have learned is that people will remember superior service, and are loyal to-a-fault when it comes to it. Not to sound shallow, but people will pay through the nose to get great service… period!

It’s that fact that brings me to my own personal experience with customer service, and how a single comment created a cascade of recovery, the likes of which made me a loyal customer.

After a successful year of applying the principles of the “customer experience” and teaching organizations how to integrate this mindset into the operational fabric of their ambulance service, it came time to take a few days off and enjoy myself. My wife and I love to go to the casino from time-to-time, and from where we live, we have two that are close by.

I frequent Harrah’s Southern California Resort in San Diego County because I seem to win more often there.  It’s close by, and they send me promotions to try this or that at the resort. It’s always a good time when we go there, and we had recently been invited to spend 3-days in a new suite, part of a new construction project over the last year. … So, what the heck, I booked it for us and figured that this year we’d do a short “stay-cation”.

When we arrived at Harrah’s, it was late. My wife and I are typically the type that leave for vacations after a full day of work, rather than schedule our trip and leave in the morning. Needless to say, we were tired on our arrival, and wanted to get to our room and settle in.

We checked-in and were given our keys, and proceeded to our suite. When open the door, much to our surprise the room hadn’t been made up. The bed was a mess, used towels were piled by the door, and the room wasn’t a suite!! I was in total disbelief at what I was witnessing… “Strike-one”.

I set down my luggage and phoned the front desk about the mess, very politely… not losing my temper, but expressing my dissatisfaction with the accommodations. The hotel night supervisor apologized and got us another room, sending up a bellboy with the new keys.

Sure as anything, the bellboy arrived 15 minutes later with the keys, handed them to me… and left. Never offering to assist us with our bags, but at least he told us where the room was, right… “Strike-two”.

When we gathered up our luggage, we headed to the elevator and got ourselves on board, after a bellboy exited, and pushed the 2nd floor button. The doors closed… and nothing… we pushed another button and still nothing. We pushed the door open button…. And nothing. The elevator had been locked-out by the bellboy that had just exited. (My kingdom for a fire department override key!)

Once again, we exited the elevator to another one across the hall and boarded it. Got on board with our luggage in tow, and pushed the second floor button, and it wouldn’t accept it – this was odd… so I pushed the lobby button, and the doors closed and we began to move. That was a big relief, as I erased the image of my wife and I spending our first night in a stuck elevator.

When we got to the lobby, still towing our luggage, I again waited in a long line. The gal that had checked us in held up her hand and waved, acknowledging us, but not waving us up to the desk to see what if anything was the problem. (And here’s the pitch… a tip off the bat and foul ball… it’s still strike two.)

When they finally got to us a few minutes later, exhausted I explained to the gal that we couldn’t get to the second floor where we were sent because the elevator wouldn’t allow us to push that button on the elevator. With a “doe-in-the-headlights” blank look on her face she says to us, “I’ll get the supervisor.”

The supervisor was a young man in his late 20’s, attired in a suit and tie and looking very professional. I asked how we were to get to the room he assigned when the elevator wouldn’t take us there, explaining what I meant as I went. He seemed a tad disinterested in my particular problem, as he explained to me that it wasn’t the right location anyway, that we were going to be going to a different tower at the hotel. 

I inquired if the new room was a suite, and he tells me its not. I asked for an upgrade, and would be glad to pay the difference if need be. Again, he tells me that it’s not possible because they were already booked up solid. So, I took the room. Finally, I asked him if a bellman could please assist us with the luggage… And there was that look again, as if I shot him with a pistol…

“I’m sorry sir, did you want help with the bags?” he said. I looked at him with a perplexed and confounded look and said, “No, You know what, I’ll handle it from here.” So I grabbed our bags and headed toward the elevator… at this point, grumbling under my breath and now in a foul mood.

Once more, I placed my key in the door to open the room. Again, it was not what was either promised or expected, but my wife was so tired by then that she went straight to bed. (Strike Three)

That night, I sent an email to John Payne, CEO of Caesars Entertainment, the parent company for Harrah’s, and explained the events that had taken place as briefly as possible. Not necessarily to create a problem but to make him aware of how the staff had completely failed at meeting my wife and my expectations for our short stay at Harrah’s Southern California, and then hit the sheets.

The very next morning, I was awaken to the ringing phone and was greeted by a cheery voice who explained to me that there was a mistake in the reservations system and that they had received a call from their general manager who wanted to move us to a suite, in the building that we were suppose to be in originally. Needless to say, the service from that point moving forward was top tier.

We were even given a food credit for our stay, the bellman took our luggage, the elevator worked, and everything was great. Heck, I even walked out with $600 of their money. My wife and I had a great time, and it was a memorable time for us.  What a GREAT recovery!
Now, I know that the story was very long and detailed. But, this is exactly what is missing in our industry and has been for quite sometime. It’s also what I have been keeping myself busy teaching many agencies how to do. But it is the road to success for anyone wanting to stay in the industry in any capacity, positive patient experiences.

Lets look at Disneyland as an example. Disneyland is a place that we all pay a huge fee (About $100) for a single ticket to enter the park. Seems crazy, but when we buy that ticket, it doesn’t. We just hand over the money like we had millions to spare.

But why?

Because, they offer us something of value to us in the form of fantastic service, and everlasting memories with our children or families, they take us away from our cares and worries. And, while we could get a better value going down the road to a number of other amusement parks, we always return to Disneyland because of the value they provide to each of us on a personal level.

Like I said at the beginning of the piece, people will pay through the nose for great service, and a memorable experience. It’s been my pleasure to observe this, first hand in the ambulance industry. A few years ago the company I worked for was trying to win a large chunk of business from a local hospital, but were meeting with some resistance from many that worked at the hospital. Change is sometimes a difficult thing for people to embrace.

One day however, our company received a call from a case manager at the facility, to move a bariatric patient back to his home from the hospital. Not only was the gentleman a larger man, but he also had an electric wheelchair to get around in that was at the hospital too. This fact alone hadn’t been brought to our attention at the time the call was taken, otherwise a second ambulance would have been sent to assist the first crew.

Without being asked, the ambulance crew went to the patient’s bed, and moved him to the gurney, and parked the motorized chair in a secure location, and took the patient to his home. In the mean time, the case manager saw the wheelchair, and began to get upset, believing that my crew had dropped the ball and didn’t feel like taking the 200 lb. device.

She was about to call someone to remedy the situation, when the same crew arrived and without a word, folded up the device, took the gurney in the back and secured it to the squad bench, and loaded the chair. They closed the doors of the ambulance and took the chair to the patient’s home where had been taken earlier by that same crew. When they arrived, they unloaded the wheelchair and set it back up for the patient and placed it within his reach in the event he wanted to get out of bed.

This single act, without being asked to do so… and the positive praise we received from the patient and his family, gave us that hospital’s business without the need of a contract. No discount swapping arrangements, no written contracts or quid-pro-quo… nothing other than great “go-the-extra-mile” service. That’s all.

Today, that company still enjoys the benefits of that one crew, and one call, and how it really impressed that case manager.

Truth be told, anyone in the industry can do just this sort of thing and experience explosive growth in service utilization from some of the most unlikely places. If you know how to tap into that powerful source for call referrals, you’ll be able to take the next step, and you’ll never have to worry about looking backwards as you company grows and moves forward.

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