What is customer relationship management (CRM)? How relevant is it to your biomedical/clinical engineering organization? CustomerThink.com defines CRM as “a business strategy to select and manage customers to optimize long-term value.” However, as president of a firm that specializes in business growth strategies and CRM consultation, we prefer to define CRM as a process that encompasses an overall business philosophy, articulated by a business strategy, and executed by a set of applications that are powered by the right mix of business processes, software products, and support. As such, we believe that CRM is neither a product nor a service; it is more a way of doing business that focuses squarely on the customer. Embracing the principles of CRM can help ensure the long-term survival of an organization.

Will CRM Work for Biomeds?

The true test of whether the CRM model is applicable to the clinical/biomedical support organization may be determined by providing answers to the following questions.

Does your organization have customers? The answer is clearly, yes. The users of your installed base of medical and some nonmedical systems and instrumentation are your customers, each with their own unique service needs and requirements, and each with an increasing number of choices to meet them. A successful CRM implementation will allow a biomedical organization to first understand its customers’ respective needs; then meet them; and finally measure, track, and improve its success in doing so.

Does your organization have competition? The answer, again, is yes. Even if you do not always find yourself in direct, head-to-head competition, you probably still need to justify the existence of your department against the potential for outsourcing or partnering in the future—even if it is only once per year around budget time, when you present your business case for the coming year. The tools available through CRM will allow you to position yourself as the organization that understands its own customers better than the competition does, as well as one that manages its customer relationships as effectively as possible.

Does your organization have to make a profit for its long-term survival? The answer to this question may be either yes or no, depending on whether the clinical/biomedical department is operated as a profit and loss (P&L) or cost center. In a P&L environment, the answer will be yes. However, even if your department is run as an internal cost center, you will still find that the management of costs is just as important to a cost center as profits are to a profit center. The only major difference is that in the former case, you do not have to perform the last step of the calculation—subtracting costs from revenues to determine the profit. Even so, you must continually compare your costs against budget, and in today’s economic environment, you had better be close. Again, this is where CRM can play a critical role in better preparing the organization to execute its activities and prepare its budgets, supported to a large degree by data generated from its CRM performance-tracking database.

Realizing CRM Benefits

Any health care services organization, institution, or enterprise can benefit from CRM in areas as wide-ranging as improved business development and penetration, increased customer satisfaction, and enhanced bottom line—or better-managed costs. The big question, however, is how do you get to that point?

First, you will be empowered to use the data from your CRM database to define and categorize the various types of customers you regularly support and, then, determine the respective levels of response to their specific needs and requirements that it will take to provide them with the desired levels of customer satisfaction. This may differ from user to user, department to department, or facility to facility, but can only be determined by working together with representatives from each of these defined customer groups. Once this is accomplished, you can then create and/or redefine the specific portfolio of services to offer and the metrics that should be used to measure, monitor, and manage your performance. You will then be able to track and assess whether you have the most effective processes, people, and tools in place to deliver the desired levels of service at the required costs.

Second, the effective utilization and distribution of CRM-generated data and information reports will provide management with everything it needs to know concerning the degree of success your CRM initiative will have achieved in improving service delivery performance, increasing customer satisfaction, and reducing costs. You will then be in a position to regularly measure and track the most significant performance metrics in order to maintain full management control and avoid any unpleasant surprises. By doing so, you also will be able to defend your overall budget position to management at any given time through your ability to link specific CRM initiatives to corresponding performance success.

A CRM-based reporting model will allow you to continually generate detailed information about costs to stay on top of the budget cycle and ensure the optimal use of internal resources—one of the primary tasks of managing your department.

Get Started with CRM

Despite differences among organizations, a basic approach to CRM can still be outlined, as illustrated in Figure 1. Take the essential steps below to guarantee that all key aspects are covered, and that all strategic milestones and executive decision points are identified and monitored.

  1. Assess the situation and gather information. Before embarking upon any CRM initiative, assess the situation with respect to where your organization currently stands in relation to CRM. Is there a clear internal definition? Is there management buy-in from the top down and throughout all areas of the organization? Are the teams in place to manage each aspect of process development and implementation? Once the decision is made to move forward, it becomes even more critical to have the right information, both internal and external, available at all times to ensure that you are moving in the right direction.
  2. Develop the CRM strategy. The CRM strategy needs to be developed with senior-level people from the different parts of the organization to ensure that all aspects are taken into account, and to create high-level acceptance for the new situation. External assistance might also be necessary to facilitate the process and to inject external views.
  3. Assess the existing situation. After the development and acceptance of the overall strategy, you will need to assess exactly where your organization stands at this moment—the situation analysis—both internally and externally. Internal assessment deals with the existing business processes, organizational structure, information and communications technology (ICT) environment, and performance indicators. External assessment involves a verification of the customer requirements, a competitive analysis, and a best-in-class definition. When conducted together, these assessments identify the gaps and opportunities between the organization’s current position and its desired position, based on the chosen CRM strategy. As a result of the analysis of these gaps/opportunities, an improvement plan can be developed to close these gaps and take full advantage of the identified opportunities.
  4. Develop the new business processes. Based on the results of the gap/opportunity analysis, a reengineered set of business processes can be developed and implemented to support the selected CRM strategy. Focused workshops conducted with the appropriate internal process owners can be used to ensure accurate assessment and create internal buy-in, as well as to identify new and/or reengineered processes; develop the required functional requirements to support the processes; determine which tasks, if any, should be outsourced or partnered; establish the high-level ICT requirements to support the processes and reduce cost; and define the key performance indicators that will be used to measure, monitor, and track the success of the overall CRM initiative.
  5. Develop the organizational and ICT requirements. Once the high-level business process requirements are developed, a detailed gap analysis can also be conducted with respect to the organizational and ICT requirements. This will result in a detailed ICT plan to close any gaps and an organizational plan designed to facilitate the transition via retraining, hiring, and/or outsourcing.
  6. Create an implementation plan. Based on the results of the activities conducted thus far, a formal implementation plan can be developed, including all future planning and budgeting for investments. The result will be a detailed implementation plan that can be utilized as the blueprint for change.
  7. Implementation. The actual implementation depends entirely on the unique business situation of the organization. However, by following each of the above-mentioned steps, a greater likelihood exists that all of the critical components of CRM will be incorporated into the final plan; all key management and staff personnel will have bought into the process, and the actual implementation will be rolled out in a more organized manner.

The transformation to a CRM-focused biomedical/clinical engineering organization will not be easy. A great many roadblocks may occur along the way that will require attention, and the political and regulatory sensitivity of certain solutions will require a careful, step-wise, and well-documented approach. For these reasons it is often helpful to look for outside assistance and external support to help develop and manage the overall process. However, once in place, you will find that your ongoing CRM initiative is just what the doctor ordered to allow your organization to compete—at its best—in an ever-increasing competitive marketplace.

William K. Pollock is president of Strategies For Growth (www.s4growth.com), Westtown, Pa. For more information, contact .