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Key to this customer: they may approach you about a one-time purchase, but that’s not really what they want. They’re seeking a relationship. And not just any relationship, but one that features an exceptional degree of trust and of course, personalized service.

Most healthcare providers intuitively understand this customer’s motives. After all, when someone’s sick, they need to have confidence in the care they receive. That applies especially to behavioral health, where ‘cures’ are uncommon and people remain in therapy for a long time, sometimes through multiple relapses.

Relationship Shoppers share these traits:

  • They like to be treated as special. It’s more than just catering to individual needs (although that’s a big part of it). In most cases it means creating a continuing personal bond with a provider – or rather, that provider’s representative.
  • They want to be able to depend on someone to provide help and guidance with difficult decisions. They want you to be familiar with their unique needs — including some they haven’t yet identified.
  • Relationship shoppers can be mistrustful of the new and the experimental. They prefer the reputable, the established, even the traditional. They are most comfortable when surrounded by ‘people like themselves’ – whatever that may mean.
  • They expect to pay more for the service they receive.

So the challenges to success in this market segment are:

Creating a staff that can develop and sustain this type of relationship.

Successful marketers to this segment may seem like ‘anti-salespeople’. They’re more like friends. One marketer put it thus: “every referral is a gift, from one person to another, often in gratitude for past help.” It requires a certain personality type – patient, reassuring, unpressuring — to engender trust and establish this sort of relationship in a business context. It helps if staff share a common experience with the customer – by background or by profession – but it’s not essential. More important is a level of social skills well beyond conventional salespersons.

Instilling a philosophy and ethic of customer service that reaches well beyond the ordinary.

The idea of customer service is relatively new in healthcare, which has often devalued interpersonal skills. That’s why many of the most successful high-end treatment programs have borrowed from other industries, adapting ideas from the ‘Nordstrom Way’ and comparable approaches to indoctrinate their staff in the importance of satisfied customers. It’s crucial that the philosophy go beyond marketing and intake to penetrate every phase of the operation. Otherwise, the cranky cook or tired finance clerk will likely undo any gains.

The Relationship Shopper is normally associated with expensive or ‘high-end’ programs, but it’s all relative. We encounter these shoppers in government and working for insurance companies. They’re pretty easy to recognize by the way they want to be treated. To accommodate a customer base of individuals and families, however, you’ll need skilled financial counselors and some innovative payment plans to help spread the burden of higher costs over a workable period.


This post belongs to Why Some Programs Succeed