“Get closer to your customers” is an age-old platitude from business consultants in times of stress.
Indeed, understanding customers is a fundamental of sales efficiency and marketing strategy for strategic differentiation. It’s just plain good advice – at any time. When I searched Google on the matter it returned a long stream of enumerated “how to” lists - “3-ways”, “8-ways”, “5 steps” - along with a plethora of consultants admonishing readers to take action. There isn’t much controversy on the importance of this advice, but there are those who are separating themselves from the pack today by using the digital tools and methods of the “New Norm” that COVID-19 has illuminated.
close / (kl?z) / adjective
- near in space or time; in proximity
- having the parts near together; dense a close formation
- down or near to the surface; short a close haircut
- near in relationship a close relative
Understanding the New Norm starts with the functional definition of “close.” The common use of “close” has two modes –physical (space and time) and relationship (empathy and understanding). When we look through the traditional business advice on “getting closer to customers” we see instructions like “visit your customer site”, “call them”, “walk in their shoes”. The traditional approaches focus on close in space and time with the goal being close in the relationship.
However, the new reality of both social interaction and digital technology is that close-in-space-and-time is neither allowed nor affordable. Fortunately, it’s also not necessary. Perhaps the best example of the New Norm in closer-to-customer is found in healthcare. Prior to COVID-19 our healthcare system ran on a fee-for-service model where to get paid providers had to render the service face-to-face. One could argue that prior to COVID-19 the industry was under siege by new digital health technology offered by new telehealth players like Teledoc and Virtuwell as well as consumer health players like Apple with their Apple Watch, but both provider and patient adoption pre-COVID-19 was still in the low single digits.
Then March 2020 arrives, and patients are no longer allowed to visit doctors. Doctors and healthcare systems can’t get paid. Patients lose access to care. Payers, both government (Medicare) as well as private (e.g. United Health Group), feel the pressure from both sides that the system is collapsing and quickly say “we will pay equally for face-to-face and remote” visits. This opens the flood gates and understanding the Remote Technology Ecosystem – mobile, Internet, wearables, data science, and ecommerce – becomes the most important thing in every healthcare CIO’s and CFO’s lives. Some were either lucky or ready, hard to tell in retrospect, but companies like ambulatory care services provider NextGen Healthcare had remote technology integrated into their offerings and thrived.
Remote Technology Ecosystem for Equipment Finance overlaps that of Digital Health.
Leaders in healthcare today do not expect to go back to the physical definition of “close-to-the-patient.” Doctors have discovered the convenience of telehealth and the value of knowing how patients are doing outside the clinic. Provider systems have experienced lower costs for the same outcomes with telehealth. Patients now know the convenience of anytime-anywhere access to care as well as having more confidence in outcomes from the better information available to both themselves and their caregivers. United Health Group, one of the largest private payer and health service providers recently accelerated adoption with a program that encourages patients and providers to use “digital-first” engagement for primary care. CMS has stepped up reimbursements of Remote Patent Monitoring (RPM) codes and the tech industry is leveraging new capital to create scalable solutions for the nearly $4 trillion/year industry operating in the “New Norm.”
Equipment Finance leaders can benefit from the healthcare industry’s example. Healthcare is the right industry to watch because it shares three key characteristics with Equipment Finance:
- Highly regulated industry
- “Wellness” is both the economic risk and the desired outcome
- B2B industry transforming with the new B2C Remote Technology ecosystem
We discussed how technology ecosystems are transforming Equipment Finance, but now we have an example of how one ecosystem transformation is changing our approach to closer-to-the-customer from healthcare.
|Approach||Healthcare Response||Equipment Finance Opportunities|
The goal of closer-to-customer is always the same – a better relationship. But the New Norm approach is now remote and fully digital. Remote communications and monitoring can virtually put us “in the customers shoes” via the data from their equipment. Customers can get service “anytime-anywhere.” Both business design and culture must be centered around empathy which is the foundation of innovation in meeting customer needs. In the New Norm, the lessee and lessor pursue the same economic health objective: the financial wellness of the lessee. As with healthcare, wellness leads to longer relationships and better win-win outcomes.