Author’s note: Having been given a “bully pulpit” to speak to mobility product providers on behalf of consumers caused me to take time to find out what consumers of mobility products were thinking. To do this correctly, I met with more than two dozen consumers with different needs, being served by different providers from different parts of the country. This is the second part of my report on those interviews. To read part I, turn to MM’s September 2004 issue.
Providers of mobility products do not have the luxury of taking their customers for granted. Television advertising, Internet sales and numerous direct mailings give your customers a variety of options when deciding whether or not to return to your store. More importantly, your responsiveness to consumers’ expressed needs and desires is directly proportional to the satisfaction they will feel in dealing with your business.
This column is not a scientific study. However, I believe it fairly represents what consumers are looking for and what you, as a mobility products supplier, should strive to provide your customers. Consumers are looking for:
The consumers interviewed all expect the provider to thoroughly evaluate the products they recommend. Advertising by manufacturers is usually focused on features and functionality. The consumer wants the mobility products supplier to be able to tell them the reliability of the item under consideration. Thus, it is critical that you do extensive research and evaluation before trying to sell any item to a consumer. Tell a consumer that the product does not perform to manufacturers’ specifications, and he or she will think you’re trying to pass the buck instead of explaining what you think the inconsistencies actually are.
Even the best products fail from time to time. Your reputation for prompt, courteous and reliable service is the best advertising you can buy. It is important to keep in mind that the products being discussed here are, by and large, not things the consumer can get along without for several weeks or, in many cases, even a few days. Providers must invest in technician training for every product in their inventory. Successful providers will also maintain a stock of loaner equipment to enable consumers to continue to live a normal life while their mobility devices are being repaired. One bad service experience is enough to cause any consumer to start shopping around for a new provider.
A commitment to excellence
The survey upon which this and the previous column are based revealed that more than three-quarters of the consumers who participated were aware that there was “some mechanism for certifying that the people they deal with when purchasing a mobility product are competent.” While they could not identify the National Registry for Rehabilitation Technology Suppliers (NRRTS) by name or differentiate a certified rehab technology supplier (CRTS) from a rehab technology supplier (RTS), consumers are looking for some validation that the provider subscribes to a code of ethics and engages in regular continuing education programs. It was also surprising to learn that many consumers favored providers who had occupational or physical therapists on staff. When asked why, they said they believed they would experience better outcomes from a mobility products provider willing to invest in a professional with this level of training.
Knowing your limitations
Twenty people who answered the survey said they would rather have a provider admit that he was unable to meet their clinical needs than be unwittingly used as a test case. The quickest route to failure in any business is to try to be all things to all people. Mobility products can be as simple as a scooter (POV) or so complex that it takes a team of experts months to find the appropriate combination of components to meet a consumer’s needs. One survey participant put it this way: “I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a provider who was unable to meet my —and was willing to admit it—to a friend whose needs were not nearly as complex as mine.”
There you have it. Consumers are educated and empowered to be more aggressive than ever before. They know what they want, what they expect and how to tell who is going to best provide the equipment they need to be independent, productive citizens fully integrated into every aspect of their community. Providers who accept this as fact are bound to succeed. Those who don’t will fail and inflict another black eye on those businesses trying to do the right thing in the right way.