Why great technology is not enough: 5 steps to scaling white-glove service and support

A few weeks ago, my director of sales forwarded me an email. It was from a prospect whose current technology vendor had failed to support his hospital in a consistent way. “Please plan on discussing how you support your customers after the sale (WELL after the sale), including how that support doesn’t degrade over time,” the email read.

That parenthetical callout – “WELL after the sale” – stuck with me long after I closed the email. It’s a great question that I’ve spent countless hours pondering: What does it take to maintain a meaningful client relationship, before, during, and especially well after the sale?

A foundational emphasis on white-glove service

When I took over as CEO of PELITAS a little over two years ago, I inherited an organization founded on two principles: an integrated software platform and white-glove service. 

In most situations, software is essentially a commodity. Healthcare technology, where we play, is particularly crowded and becoming more so each passing day. There are plenty of challenges to solve and lots of sharp minds working on them. As a result, it’s (relatively) easy to build good software. Our software is good, but is it a game changer?

That white-glove service, however, had potential to become a differentiator for our business. The company’s founders knew that an exceptional support experience was essential to the success of our business and our clients. It became my job to scale that level of service for growth. As we expanded the business and our client base, how could we professionalize and institutionalize white-glove service so that it didn’t get lost over time or fall by the wayside?

 5 steps to scaling white-glove service and support

In my experience, scaling white-glove service so that it becomes a core element of your organizational culture and business model requires five key steps. Here’s how we approach it:

1. Orient around value, not technology. We begin every engagement by defining a clear value proposition that is specific to that client’s objectives. We collaborate to determine precisely how the client can achieve value with our solutions and then we quantify that value – and commit to it. 

What does that look like in practice? In our industry, patient access, we measure success through a handful of value propositions, including:

  • Reduction in technical denials due to registration errors (Insurance claim denials represent 90% of missed revenue opportunities and cost hospitals $262 billion every year.) 
  • Increase in point-of-service (POS) collections (hospitals report collecting from only 35% of patients up front, which represents only 19% of patient-owed fees.)

In our initial engagement, we identify which value propositions resonate most with the provider. We then work with the client to establish key performance indicators (KPIs). Our project services team collects 12 months of historical data to establish a baseline around the objective, such as technical denial and POS collection rates.  

With metrics in hand, my team commits to how we will improve those numbers. That may sound like, “based on what we’re seeing, if you implement XYZ solution, we can reduce denials by X% and increase POS collections by Y% in the first 12 months.” We put this promise on paper before any contracts are signed, and, in some cases, put a portion of our fees on the line if we don’t deliver on that commitment. 

Once the engagement begins, our Client Success team holds a business review meeting every quarter to see how we’re performing against the agreed-upon value proposition. In this way, we guarantee that every client sees the value that they expect in a meaningful, measurable way. 

2. Ensure seamless and predictable deployment. Delivering on that value proposition is where most software companies struggle – and this inherently results in a bad beginning to a new relationship.

Gartner predicts that healthcare providers will have spent $136 billion on IT in 2020, up 4.8% from 2019, with software and IT services spend growing at 10% and 6.3% CAGR respectively. This is a tremendous amount of money, yet far too often, the return on that investment comes painfully slowly, or not at all. In fact, one study found that U.S. organizations wasted $30 billion on unused software over the course of four years, an average of $259 per desktop.

White-glove service means never allowing your product to become shelfware. That begins with fast, successful deployment. At PELITAS, we developed a repeatable framework that enables our team to fully implement our solutions within a maximum of 90 days. As with our value prop commitment, we hold ourselves to that number and, in some cases, put our revenue at risk if we do not meet it. 

Software implementation is notoriously slow, with deadlines that are rarely hit. Healthcare providers can’t afford to spend that much money on something that doesn’t work for months. Software vendors must differentiate themselves by ensuring that the client’s investment begins to pay off as quickly as possible.

3. Provide upfront and recurring training and education. Why does so much software turn into shelfware? In addition to drawn-out deployments, lack of user adoption often spells doom for a new technology solution.

 This can be particularly challenging in a provider’s front-office setting. Patient access teams experience about 30% annual turnover. This necessitates that we not only educate and train end users at initial implementation, but that we also have a system for continuing to do so throughout the life of the product. 

Training and education, then, became another area of focus where we needed to bolster and formalize our processes. We started by hiring inspired leadership, in our case, Rhonda Dick, PhD, CRT, Director of Education and Training at PELITAS. Rhonda brought both knowledge and rigor to our program, ensuring that end users continue to be educated and empowered even with such high turnover.

To accomplish this, Rhonda built a program that offered patient access teams a variety of learning pathways. She improved in-person delivery of software education and training. In addition, she implemented a learning management system that allowed users to take training courses online, when it was convenient or helpful to them. She also helped our solutions team build training into the application itself. If an end user makes a mistake while interacting with the system, it automatically shows them what went wrong and how to fix it. 

When COVID hit, Rhonda continued to expand and innovate. She instituted a virtual user training program based on four best practices rooted in her academic background. Her program quickly became successful, serving as a lifeline to our clients in these isolating and uncertain times. 

Training and education needs will vary depending on the industry and the client. While some use cases, like ours, must accommodate high turnover, others may require supporting long-term users who can be nurtured into super users and brand advocates. Some businesses lend themselves to virtual training; others benefit from more hands-on support. Think about your end users’ particular needs and structure education and training programs to meet them.

4. Offer personal, measurable, multi-channel support. The legacy PELITAS team had built a reputation for responding to support tickets in a timely and effective way. They did not, however, fully operationalize or measure outcomes of their support processes. Doing so is key to a differentiated support experience.

Ways to elevate your support program include:

  • Providing every client with a Client Success Manager. As soon as a contract is signed, each client at PELITAS is assigned a dedicated Client Success Manager to assist along their entire value journey, from deployment to usage and adoption. This single “throat to choke” or “back to pat” acts as the client’s concierge to our solutions and services and ensures that each client can always find the help they need.
  • Expanding support to new channels. In today’s multi-channel world, it’s important to meet clients where and how they prefer to communicate. For us, that meant growing our available support channels beyond phone and email to include logging a ticket directly into our CRM system and initiating live chat. 
  • Implementing aggressive SLAs. It is crucial to keep up with the pace of modern business. At PELITAS, no matter which channel clients use to engage with our support team, they can expect results within 120 minutes. We commit to our clients that for every ticket that gets logged, through every channel, it will be resolved, or we will be actively triaging it in under two hours. This commitment to an aggressive SLA is one that is shared across the PELITAS organization.

5. Invest in people and processes. None of these efforts would be possible without the people and processes in place to support them. Scaling white-glove service means getting very strategic about who is on your team and how they operate. 

To execute that 120-minute SLA, for instance, we increased our support headcount by 300%. We also automated as much of the process as possible, building workflows that route tickets to the right people as soon as they come in. We operate dashboards that literally get looked at in real-time, so leadership and individual team members can tell when tickets are aging. 

We have back-up processes in place as well. If our ticket volume gets too high, we run our secondary triage system. This entails development resources jumping in to make sure we can meet that SLA, no matter what. Not only does this give our clients confidence in our ability to solve their problems and keep our word, but it also creates a positive feedback cycle. Our developers gain first-hand knowledge into where clients are struggling, which they can bring back to their “day jobs” to continuously improve our products. 

Support is not the only area where we’ve invested heavily in people. Our PELITAS team has doubled in size in the last two years by hiring industry leaders with real-world patient access experience. We are a company that believes strongly in the power of both humans and technology, combining automation with people to achieve the best of all worlds. 

The right number of employees matters – it’s impossible to grow without boots on the ground – but the right people for the job matters even more. Not everyone is a good fit for every company. We put a high priority on an individual’s ability to work within and contribute to our company culture.

Perhaps most important, however, is empathy. Our primary forcing function for new talent is to hire team members who have walked in our clients’ shoes. To deliver against that original value proposition; to meet that 120-minute SLA; to provide the type of service and support that makes clients feel seen, heard, and cared about, our employees must inherently understand their challenges. 

For us, that often means recruiting people who have worked in our clients’ roles. Corey Krentsa, for example, our VP of Customer Success, began his career at the age of 18 as a front-end registrar for a healthcare system. He grew through the ranks, eventually managing all patient access operations for six hospitals, before joining us as a Client Success Manager. Six months later, he was leading the team, largely because of his intrinsic understanding of our clients’ obstacles and opportunities.

Going above and beyond, well after the sale

Which brings us back to the “well after the sale” email. 

When most software buyers within organizations evaluate potential solutions, they focus on price and functionality. Those are critical factors, of course – the software has to do what you need it to do, and it must be cost-effective – but I would argue that a third aspect is just as important.

As a customer, are you confident that you will be supported, well after the sale?

As a business, are you confident that you can support your customers, well after the sale?

I encourage my fellow business leaders to consider how you can continue to exceed your clients’ expectations long after the ink on the contract is dry. If you’re in the position to invest in software, I recommend asking potential vendors how they will support you today, next month, and next year. And I hope that the five steps above, shared alongside our own experiments on the path to well-after-the-sale support, will inspire other organizations to join us on the journey.

 

Steven Huddleston is a seasoned revenue cycle executive and the CEO of PELITAS, the 2019 and 2020 Best in KLAS winner for patient access software. With more than 25 years of experience in provider healthcare, he has a proven record in leading organizations through periods of significant change, including: accelerating innovation and growth, integrating mergers and acquisitions, and building high-performing teams. 

Prior to joining PELITAS, Steven helped build the investment thesis and identify the acquisitions to launch nThrive and was subsequently appointed President, Service Solutions & Chief Client Officer. Prior to nThrive, Steven was a Managing Director in Accenture’s Healthcare strategy practice, where he worked with not-for-profit provider organizations and private equity-backed portfolio companies to drive business transformation through operating strategy and model design, technology selection, and post-merger integration change management. 

Steven spent 15 years with Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) in progressive financial and revenue cycle leadership roles. After leading revenue cycle operations at two shared service centers, he helped launch Parallon, a revenue cycle outsourcing subsidiary of HCA.

Since joining PELITAS in November 2018, he has positioned the company as the leader in patient access technology solutions to support hospitals and physicians by recruiting industry-leading talent, launching innovative solutions, and winning the Best in KLAS designation two years in a row.

 

 

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