By Kurt Woock

In Brian Montgomery’s world, the customer comes second. For those who question his rationale, Montgomery, president and CEO of CREST Services, Coppell, Tex, is unwavering. “To me it’s clear,” he says. “If your employees are happy and engaged, they are going to deliver a high quality of service. When they do that, customers are going to be happy, and CREST is going to grow. It’s been that way since I started CREST.”

Montgomery has made CREST not only a place clients want to stay with, but also a place at which people want to work. By betting on the strengths of his employees, Montgomery has grown the health care technology management company from a start-up to a 25-state operation in little more than a decade. And even amid success, the original vision for the company remains.
24×7: Can you describe what CREST does?
Montgomery: CREST is a full-service health care technology management company. We currently have more than 250 service professionals located in contracted facilities throughout 25 states. We service all modalities of medical equipment and provide full-service solutions to our customers. Basically, we take on the risk for their clinical engineering program to varying degrees—based on what our clients need.

A Quick Take
24×7: You incorporated CREST Services in 1999. What factors led you to make that decision?
IndustryInsider Brian-MontgomeryMontgomery: Necessity, oddly enough. I left a 15-year career with a biomedical company where I had played almost every role within that organization: biomedical tech, laboratory repair technician, imaging repair technician, operational management training and development, and sales.
In 1999, I found myself with no job and no ready leads to new opportunities. I recruited physicians for almost a year before I found myself missing what I really loved. I realized that if I truly was going to be happy in my career, it was going to be in health care services. So on March 1, 1999, I made the decision to start CREST Services with the values and vision we live by today: Employees are the key to our success.

24×7: What sets you apart from others in the business?
Montgomery: Our differentiator is our uniqueness in operating the business. If you ask anyone associated with CREST what phrase we go to over and over, it would be “Employer of Choice.” We live this. It is our company vision. Every decision is made with this in mind. Now this does not mean every decision benefits every employee, or that the company is run based on what makes every employee happy. It does mean that we believe our employees are our greatest resource, and that if our employees are happy and taken care of, they will deliver a higher level of service. In turn, our customers will be more satisfied. We hire good people, give them the vision of the company, and empower them to make decisions in their department.

24×7: You last spoke to 24×7 about 3 years ago. What is new at CREST since then?
Montgomery: A lot of exciting things. We’ve been building a stronger infrastructure to handle our projected growth and the growth we’ve seen during the last 3 to 5 years. We’ve improved our technology; we have an internal IT team that develops our own software, and we’ve enhanced that CMMS package. We’ve built our capital planning program in-house. We’ve invested a lot of money in our medical IT department and high-end modality specialists.

24×7: Are there any differences between what your clients were looking for in a service provider 5 years ago versus what they are looking for today?
Montgomery: One of the biggest changes is that I could do handshake deals 5 years ago. In the old days, people wanted a quality program at, of course, a good price. Today, contracts are tighter, decisions take longer, and cost must be more aggressive. The focus is no longer on best service at a good price, but lowest-cost service. Price was not the driving factor it is today. I think what we’re running into today is that people are looking at strictly whatever is the cheapest program, which we know is not necessarily the best. That has been the biggest change. I think it has the potential to hurt quality.
I also see a trend where hospitals are looking to add more services—whether that is housekeeping, food services—under one umbrella. Hospitals do that with the assumption that more services under one agreement will save money.

24×7: What are some specific qualities or features to look for when a facility is deciding with whom it should partner?
Montgomery: It is all about relationships—you do business with people you like to do business with. You must be able to trust your partner and know that they will take care of issues when they arise. I believe the most important feature to look for in a true partnership is based on a philosophy of the late Stephen Covey: “Think Win-Win.” If both partners—service provider and equipment users—are not getting something positive out of the relationship, it is not really a partnership.

24×7: Is achieving that partnership possible?
Montgomery: Achieving that win-win outcome is possible—it is what we strive for in every customer relationship. If it is just about cost, that is not a win-win. Someone’s going to lose when cost is the only factor. Now, if they’re looking to save some money, we can almost always come in and save them some money. On the service delivery side, when we can provide more service using in-house personnel than by using 20 or 30 different vendors, that is a win-win. That is a partnership.

24×7: In your opinion, what are some signs that indicate a hospital should reassess its service provider?
Montgomery: If the program is already outsourced, indicators would include dissatisfaction among hospital departments and equipment users. Visit the clinical engineering shop. Do you notice equipment lying around broken? Are there downtime issues with higher modality and/or high use equipment? Are you having regularly scheduled client reviews and getting reports on service? Do you only see the service provider leadership when you call or have issues?
If you are part of an in-house program, some of the same are true. Be mindful of high dependencies on outside service and escalating costs, little or no budget for training your staff, or an inability to hire additional resources. Continually sell yourself and your value to your hospital leadership.

24×7: In what ways do you expect the demands of today’s market to evolve in the next 5 years?
Montgomery: The medical equipment service industry is not the same as it was when I started in the 1980s, or even the same as it was 5 years ago. The role of a biomed technician of even just 10 years ago has evolved to require more of an IT-based knowledge set than just electronic/technical understanding. When I started, you could actually troubleshoot equipment on a component level. Today, much of the equipment and technology is software-driven.

Today’s role requires more people skills instead of only technical or troubleshooting skills. With technology comes users who need to understand how the software works. Our job today is as much helping the user use the equipment as it is fixing the equipment.

Our field is also shrinking. More people are retiring or leaving, and fewer are joining our field. I believe we need to make it more attractive to the younger generations and give them a reason to join health care technology management.

24×7: Do you see ways of reversing that trend?
Montgomery: We need to attract people working in other, related industries who want to change fields and provide a standard training curriculum. We have to embrace the changes around us and not only adapt to them, but also be involved in making the change. I think this needs to be an effort among companies and colleges, too. I would love to see an organization that goes to high schools—they do not have a clue about what our field is.

I also think we need to push certification a little more in our industry. I know that opens up a big ball of wax, but nursing requires certification, and I think clinical engineering needs to head that way. I would hope it would build the reputation of a strong community.

24×7: Where are the brightest opportunities for growth in your company’s future?
Montgomery: Definitely medical equipment/IT integration. This has been talked about for many years now, and it is here. It is an exciting opportunity, and CREST has been preparing for it for some time. We have professionals on our team with experience and expertise in the integration process who are able to help our clients as they navigate these changes.

24×7: In what ways do you concentrate on the satisfaction and development of CREST employees?
Montgomery: In my mind, there is no doubt that satisfied employees lead to satisfied customers. Satisfied customers lead to referrals. Making the right decision—for our employees and customers—by using all the tools available and considering all factors, not just financial, will result in a healthy return.
Employee engagement is a key component to employee satisfaction. Some of the ways we engage our employees include offering continual opportunities for them to provide feedback, comments, and suggestions. We give $500 every year to the person with the best idea in our “CEO for the Day” contest. We use a dedicated e-mail address for feedback that comes directly to me, and we have a virtual suggestion box on our Intranet site. One of the winning ideas was a monthly town hall meeting; we hold two live broadcasts so our employees across the country can join in. We also have a committee run by technicians; they meet and discuss tools, test equipment, benefits, and gather feedback from other employees. Then, once a quarter, they present to management. We host interactive company games, and we offer our field personnel the opportunity to be involved in company advisory committees.

24×7: What goals do you have for your company in 2013?
Montgomery: 2012 was focused on efficiency and innovation improvements. The 2013 focus will be on training. We are ramping up training at every level, for every position within the company. Our training focus will range from leadership and customer relations skills to more position/duty related. Training is another opportunity to engage our employees. A more knowledgeable professional who understands their role delivers a higher-level service. I brought in a director of leadership development. The whole idea was to give every one of our employees customer skills and leadership skills. Even a 2-day employee is a leader in CREST.

Our number one goal for 2013 is to build a master performer curriculum for our employees. The idea is to give every employee the knowledge they need to go to the next level. An entry-level rep and a supervisor need the same skills; they just need a different level of those skills. For example, every employee needs to take a finance class, but each level needs a little bit more.
If people are engaged with what they’re doing, they’re going to deliver a high level of service. We do not have a large sales team. About 95% of our business is generated by word of mouth. I put employees ahead of customers because they see customers every day. I do not see customers every day; employees in the fields see them every day. 24×7 Industry Insider, December 2012
Kurt Woock is the associate editor of 24×7. Contact him at [email protected].