While clinical laboratory leaders may be aware of the concept of Customer Relationship Management (CRM), it can be difficult to distinguish one CRM solution from another in terms of the value such a system can provide to operations. In general, CRM refers to strategies and technologies designed to help organizations manage and analyze customer interactions and data throughout the consumer lifecycle, with goals of improving customer and prospect relationships, assisting in customer retention, and driving sales growth.
Clinical laboratories have access to vast amounts of client data, but all too often, the potential utility of this data in improving service levels, operational performance, and patient care is squandered. This information typically is spread across multiple silos comprising disparate IT systems (eg, LIS, EMR, HIS, billing systems, data warehousing, e-communications, etc), producing data that is not easily manageable or retrievable, and rendering analysis and reporting tedious and reactive. Further, reactive data analysis leaves laboratories without real time insight into operations and diminishes its ability to model volume-to-revenue shifts, client account health, marketing campaign outcomes, or sales activities on best practices.
CRM and the Laboratory
Traditionally, customer relationships were managed via paper notes, logs, and spreadsheets with scant accountability, transparency, or follow up. Customizable and shared Excel documents are an improvement, but offer little in terms of tools for collaboration with other team members and other departments. The development of CRMs thereby introduced a dynamic and automated method for tracking and maintaining client contact data and assisting the sales process. Current CRM software solutions combine real time reports on all sales activities, client issues, and accounts information into a single platform available to all designated stakeholders.
While most commercial CRM vendors have similar product offerings, health care organizations, and laboratories in particular, need to dig a bit deeper to find a platform that meets the needs of an individual laboratory’s outreach program. Generic CRM platforms may prove insufficient for many laboratory outreach programs due to the inability to accommodate certain clinical and diagnostic complexities. Most commercial CRM solutions are sales geared, and industry-agnostic solutions tend to feature limited underlying data manipulation models. Focusing on sales-related activities almost exclusively, these solutions rarely capture additional data other than basic communication activities, such as phone calls, emails, and office visits.
An Outreach Building Block
To gain a competitive edge in today’s environment of decreasing reimbursement levels and increasing competition, successful laboratory outreach programs must be able to gain a comprehensive picture of each client, including real-time metrics, to identify trends and implement process improvement plans for optimal, individualized service. To do this, laboratories can consolidate their individual data silos and empower employees through a health care-specific CRM solution integrated with existing systems.
Health care-specific CRM solutions can serve as the building blocks for a successful outreach program by enabling the following actions, among others:1
A Health Care-Specific CRM
The laboratory can reap numerous benefits from a health care-specific CRM solution that governs the overall customer service experience, as well as the laboratory marketing and sales activities. However, as with any ongoing business expenditure, it pays to perform due diligence, network with colleagues who have sought a similar solution, and gain persuasive evidence for acquisition. The following statistics regarding CRMs are a powerful motivator for turning the laboratory’s outreach operation into a successful revenue generating machine:2
In order for laboratory leadership to select the proper CRM solution for their particular outreach program, staged research is essential, and the first step is to perform a needs assessment, which should encompass the following tasks:
During all vendor demos, be sure to ask whether and how the CRM will address the following questions:
After the needs assessment and demos have been completed, the next step is to compare the top CRM solutions to determine which one meets the greatest number of current and future-forecasted needs. There are a few ways to assist in this aspect, including a search of list-serves, networking with peers, and developing a spreadsheet of vendor comparisons and key features (see FIGURE 1)
CRM Implementation Success
Following the vendor evaluation and selection process, the next step is to develop an implementation plan to ensure the solution is successfully integrated. The following recommendations for planning a CRM strategy are designed to create early success and help the lab achieve outstanding long term value:3
It is not uncommon for organizations to want to capture the benefits of a CRM solution without performing the necessary due diligence upfront to ensure success. This is the surest route to failure. According to a 2013 study, CRM initiatives have a 63% fail rate.4 The study lists ill-defined decision hierarchy, weak transparency, and circumventing the CRM system as danger signs of a faulty implementation strategy that would require corrective action.
Additional pitfalls to be aware of during CRM implementation include:5
As service reimbursements continue to grow stricter and competition escalates, laboratory outreach programs must go above and beyond the basics in providing individualized, customer-centric service in order to flourish. Tapping into the data already coursing through your operations and establishing timely access to it can be the key differentiator between your lab and the competition. A laboratory specific CRM solution can help manage the full life cycle of outreach clients by removing data silos and opening communication between departments. To ensure your CRM is a quality building block for a successful laboratory outreach program, be sure to perform the necessary assessments upfront and save yourself from headaches later.
Michael J. Hiltunen, MBA, MT(ASCP), President of MedStar Consultants, is a clinical laboratory consultant with over 30 years experience working in a variety of hospital laboratory settings, from large health systems to independent community hospitals. He has held positions ranging from bench tech to outreach client sales rep, through outreach client services manager and laboratory director. Mike also worked for a leading clinical diagnostics manufacturer in sales, and customer service and support. MedStar Consultants provide laboratory consulting services to clinical laboratories that wish to leverage outreach services to maximize revenue potential.
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