Get Real About Customer Expectations

Medical Sales Reps Must Never Mistake Customer Loyalty for Reduced Expectations

Medical sales reps sometimes make the mistake of thinking that the longer they’ve had a healthcare professional as a customer, the more secure that business is. It’s as if the length of the relationship buys you some forgiveness and understanding if you can’t always provide the very top level of service.

Actually, the opposite is true. Your best customers expect more from you, not less. I mean, when was the last time someone said, “I’m one of your best customers. Don’t worry about me.”?

I spent many years in the world of surgical implants and I’ve consulted with many surgical device companies. A big part of surgical sales is case coverage. This means being present in the operating room when a surgeon is using your product. Sales reps usually make it a point to cover surgeries with new customers themselves. They want to demonstrate a level of personal service and make sure that a customer’s early experience with a product or service is a good one.

The challenge is that each of us can only be in one place at one time. Invariably, there comes a time when you won’t be able to personally cover a customer’s needs. You’ll need to delegate it to someone else or ask the customer if he or she can make do without you.

Customers can be very accommodating, especially confident surgeons. They’ll say, “No problem. I’m comfortable with your product. I’ll be okay.” Everything is fine, until something goes wrong. If it does, the same customer who seemed fine with your absence will suddenly be thinking, “Where were you when I needed you?”

Dr. Steve, a high-volume surgeon I worked with was also a good friend. He had performed many surgeries using my product when I couldn’t be there. Usually, I sent another sales rep or a junior rep to cover his case. Nothing ever went wrong…until it did.

I asked Dr. Steve if it was okay if I sent a junior rep to cover a surgery he had scheduled. He said, “Fine. As long as I have everything I need. If you can’t be there, you can’t be there.” During the surgery, the junior rep accidentally threw a surgical implant in the garbage that couldn’t be re-sterilized.  Another one had to be sent from the warehouse which was over an hour away. Surgeons aren’t real happy when their patients spend an extra hour under anesthesia and the surgeon’s day get’s delayed.

I received a call that Dr. Steve wanted me to meet him at the hospital as soon as I could get there. When I showed up, he didn’t even look me in the eye. He said, “Follow me.” He walked me into an empty office in the operating room, closed the door and laid into me. “I feel like you’re taking my business for granted. One of the reasons I use your products is because I feel confident that things will go well when you’re here. We had a serious problem today because you weren’t here. Outside the operating room, we’re friends. But when I’m in the O.R., I’m a surgeon and nothing matters to me more than my patients. Nothing, including our friendship! I know I’m one of your best customers. We’re friends, but I also expect you to treat me like one of your best customers.”

I never took Dr. Steve’s business for granted, but I believed he would be fine if I didn’t attend all of his surgeries, which he was—until he had a problem. It was also a cold reminder that his first obligation was to his patient, not to me. If I couldn’t make him feel like his practice and patients were a priority, he had an obligation to take his business elsewhere. I needed to always make him feel like one of my best customers, because he was.

Long-term customers and customers who are your friends expect more from you, not less. If you can offer better pricing, your best customers expect it too. If you have special programs or promotions, your best customers need to be included. Do you offer educational programs to attract new customers? Don’t forget about your old, faithful customers.

Never assume your best customers expect less from you. They will always expect more, whether they say it or not. Define customer expectations and discuss options for when you can’t meet them. Medical sales is often a balancing act that can be quite stressful, but hey…that’s why you get paid the big bucks!


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