In a business-to-business industry such as linen, uniform and facility services, the meaning of “your customer” can be defined simply as the individual who owns or works for an account who ultimately approves contracting with you and pays you for the products or services you provide.
In some cases, it’s that simple, usually for a very small business. This individual who controls the organization’s purse strings may be the only person who gives your service a second thought. Most of the time, though, at least two people care. That complicates selling and retaining accounts because you must decide to whom you should direct your communication and promotion and how you accomplish these. For example, all uniform wearers in an account care about their clothing, but you’re not going to speak separately with each of them.
To most efficiently and effectively build and maintain a customer’s business, its “customer experience (CX)” must be forecast and managed. In selling a new account, this means being aware of everyone in a business location you hope to serve who affects the decision to buy from you. In retention, it means monitoring these individuals’ expectations regarding that product or service. Such attention to detail reveals what really drives a business operation’s decision to buy and rebuy.
The ongoing collaboration between Hygienically Clean Healthcare certified laundries to promote each other illustrates the need to identify the various professionals in a hospital who influence the hospital’s linen service buy. Advertising, trade show exhibits and direct marketing for the certification have reached a range of patient-care, administrative and support services professionals. Hygienically Clean plants’ sales teams could benefit from contacting any of these people. They’re the best candidates for these plants’ individual customer experience management (CXM) efforts.
Who Has a Hand in Purchasing Your Service?
When Hygienically Clean started in 2012, promotion began to medical professionals. Ads were taken in the print edition of the monthly Healthcare Facilities Management (HFM), creating awareness of the program among hospital executives most closely associated with laundering, as facilities management is typically responsible for budgeting for laundry services, whether outsourced or provided on-premises by staff.
But the HFM readership extends beyond facilities management executives. The magazine’s audience includes top-executive and purchasing management, key targets given their roles in approving and releasing payment to laundries. Infection preventionists (IP) represent another important audience, as they scrutinize linen for its effectiveness in preventing hospital acquired infections (HAIs).
The most significant HFM segment, however, appears to be environmental services (EVS) management. EVS typically falls under the purview of HFM; laundry is under EVS. Smaller hospitals may combine EVS and on-premises laundry management into a single job. In larger operations that outsource laundry, other than waste removal, linen service is typically the largest bill an EVS director pays (or recommends for payment).
Hygienically Clean first exhibited at the annual trade show of the Association for the Healthcare Environment (AHE) in 2012 and has returned three times. Ad campaigns have followed in AHE’s weekly e-newsletter.
Campaigns have also been purchased in the daily e-newsletter of Healthcare Purchasing News (HPN), which has roughly the same demographics as HFM, but purchasing professionals comprise a larger percentage of readers.
Also added to the mix: Health Forum, a suite of digital communications from the American Hospital Association to the audiences of HFM and Hospitals and Health Networks, a magazine with more than 60% of its readership in C-level, senior or financial management. Readers represent the variety of patient care facility professionals Hygienically Clean hopes to reach as well as organizations that provide products and services to such facilities.
Health Forum readers were invited to download a Hygienically Clean whitepaper; 170 readers chose to do so. In return for receiving this information, they were required to take a mini-survey. It included a question to help define their organizations’ customer experience with laundry. “In your experience with hospitals, which of the following positions do you believe is most influential in choosing how laundry is processed?” the survey asked. The most popular responses:
- EVS 62
- Hospital administrator 35
- Hospital system (corporate/nonprofit owner) 32
- Group purchasing organization 17
- Other 23
Who Cares Most about Purchasing Your Service?
In 2015, Hygienically Clean exhibited for the first time at the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) annual conference and returned twice. The vast majority of the visitors to the Hygienically Clean exhibits indicated their employers (mostly hospitals, some outpatient facilities) outsource laundry. Most of these could state the name of the linen service they use. Many told Hygienically Clean staff they have toured such laundries and said they would discuss certification with their launderers. “Infection preventionist (IP)” was the listed job title for about two-thirds of visitors to the Hygienically Clean exhibits. Other types of professionals who stopped by included:
- Chief Nursing Officer
- Nurse Practitioner
- Public Health
- Quality/Process Improvement
- Registered Nurse
While nurses handle linen, they typically do not choose the linen service their hospitals will contract with. IPs don’t, either, but they may be the most concerned professionals in hospitals regarding linen cleanliness. Some visitors to the Hygienically Clean exhibits voiced objections to the product and service quality of their linen service providers.
Using a Hygienically Clean certified launderer addresses this, they were told, as inspectors focus on a facility’s quality-assurance manual as the hub of control measures (best management practices) that minimize potential for error. In addition, Hygienically Clean microbiological testing measures finished product quality, enforcing a total microbial content ceiling and detecting absence of yeast, mold and bacteria.
Lately, most Hygienically Clean advertising has been dedicated to this segment. Print campaigns are underway in Infection Control Today and Prevention Strategist magazines. Hygienically Clean digital ads and whitepaper downloads are part of APIC’s Industry Insights website.
Another way to view the initial sale (and eventual retention) of an account: consider that numerous staff members are purchase influencers, but some jobs in the organization are key decision-makers (KDMs) regarding your products or services. The chart “K-12 Education,” provided by GOJO Industries, Akron, Ohio, illustrates this concept for selling hand hygiene products to school systems. Three types of professionals are identified as KDMs; GOJO explains what’s important to each of them in the context of hand hygiene, what problems they need solved, and how to GOJO products solve these problems.
Are You Managing Customers’ Experience?
Whether it’s healthcare, education or any type of business you serve, with whatever products or services you sell, maintaining or increasing revenue in today’s competitive business environment requires CXM. ClearAction Continuum, a Sunnyvale, Calif. management consulting firm that helps companies grow by making truly customer-centered decisions, suggests the following “management reality check” for B2B organizations in which multiple parties within their accounts influence buy/rebuy decisions:
- Have you identified each party’s expectations?
- Have you identified all parties with power to kill a decision?
- Does your customer-listening keep a radar on their sentiment?
- Have you quantified the consequences of meeting/missing expectations?
- Do you weight and nest their inputs for linkage to bookings?
- Do action plans reflect inputs from all influencers?
ClearAction has a similar checkup for businesses such as linen and uniform services with extensive interactions for a long time after the initial purchase:
- Do you make it easy to capture informal comments?
- Do you stream informal feedback to relevant groups?
- Do you motivate actions and follow-through on informal inputs?
- Do you share actions and progress to proactively influence rebuying?
These are loaded questions; their value lies in adopting strategies and tactics to turn your “no” answers to “yes,” and evaluating those you now answer “yes” to convince yourself that your current tactics for fulfilling these are succeeding. Striking a balance between what’s best for your customer and what’s good for your business is worth the effort. It’s time-consuming but fundamentally profit-generating. Recognizing what your customers need to achieve from your products and services in the eyes of all their employees who influence their purchase is probably your most sustainable growth path. Ken Koepper Director of Marketing/PR TRSA® www.trsa.org
Director of Marketing/PR