Customer service speakers and authors (including me) tend to talk a lot about Nordstrom and Zappos and Amazon.com and the other masters of B2C (business to customer) customer service. But this is only half the story, if that. Customer service is also about the relationship-building involved in B2B (business-to-business, wholesale) customer service, support, and client care, which often runs even deeper and can involve even higher stakes. Case in point: Acelity, a specialist in advanced wound care and "regenerative medicine," the ultra-high-tech treatments that can help give a survivor of breast cancer, post-double mastectomy, her body back, and a burn victim the chance to heal. Acelity offers wound therapy, regenerative medicine (think skin donor to treat burn victims, breast reconstruction, hernia repair) and advanced dressings--this stuff goes way beyond traditional gauze.
The company (technically, its predecessor, KCI) was started in a one-bedroom apartment in San Antonio, TX, by an emergency room physician who saw the value of advanced treatments in dealing with spinal cord injuries, multiple trauma and severe pulmonary condition. It has grown and evolved over the years, and now has 5,800 employees worldwide.
The big B2B customer service lessons I draw from Acelity can fit into two sentences:
Don't think only of your customer. Also involve yourself in the world of your customer's customer.
When leaders at Acelity, such as President and CEO Joe Woody, whom I interviewed for this article, talk about their approach to customer service, their words center on the patient lives that hang potentially in the balance. Even though, from an economic perspective, Acelity's customers aren't these patients, but are the hospitals and health care professionals who purchase and use their products.
For example, in the face of the mass violence against LGBT patrons of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Acelity's response seems emblematic of what great B2B service can look like under stress. CEO Joe Woody: "A local team of our employees were called upon by the Orlando Regional Medical Center to help. Within an hour of that phone call, employees coordinated with nearby Acelity service centers in Florida to secure our wound therapies [ABTHERA and INFOV.A.C.; high-tech treatments for trauma victims] to be hand-delivered to the hospital by courier."
Mass tragedies, and the company's need to respond to assist their customers (the hospitals) and ultimately their customers' customers (the terror victims), has, unfortunately, not been entirely an outlier of late. There have been multiple emergent situations caused by both human-made and natural disasters such as in Haiti, San Bernardino, Paris, Ecuador, Brussels, and Nice. "Everyone at Acelity gets a sense of fulfillment from the work we do helping patients," says Acelity President and CEO Joe Woody, "but responding to these types of horrific events is never easy. So I'm particularly proud of our field and service reps who do everything they can to make sure clinicians have what they need to help the injured when they occur."
Acelity's day-today-approach to customer service is also instructive. Acelity employees are called upon to help day to day, which they're able to do by building and maintaining strong health systems relationships with multiple care settings worldwide, including tens of thousands of facilities and clinicians. Because of these relationships, they are able to respond quickly and step to the forefront to serve its customers, whether it's supplying their advanced wound care products to help heal service men and women injured in the line of duty, reconstructive tissue matrices for women facing reconstructive surgery after a double mastectomy or V.A.C. Therapy to help treat the grandmother who's dealing with a diabetic foot ulcer.
What Acelity employees do or do not do ultimately can restrict or enable a patient's access to therapy that can restore their life or quality life. Which is why, when a new hire begins their first day, they're told at orientation to "Always remember: There is a patient waiting."
Acelity President and CEO Joe Woody tells me that "employees are empowered to make their daily decisions as if they are part of the patient healing process. Our field sales and service representatives work closely with doctors and hospitals to ensure that they have ample supplies on hand during normal course of business. Because of these close relationships and our 5,800 employees around the world, we're able to quickly mobilize when we're needed."
Micah Solomon, recently named the "new guru of customer service excellence" by the Financial Post, is a customer experience consultant, customer service consultant, thought leader, keynote speaker, customer service trainer, and bestselling author. Click here for a free chapter from Micah's latest business bestseller or watch Micah's new customer service keynote speaker video.