CHICAGO — The COVID-19 pandemic caused many changes in the business environment. One of the most drastic changes? Forcing B2B businesses to buy and sell online.
A study by McKinsey says that only about 20% of B2B buyers hope to return to in-person sales, and these customers have found digital service to be effective.
The Harvard Business Review says that the pandemic has placed new emphasis on relationships, providing solutions, not products—and the appropriate digital technology is part of these relationships and solutions.
So, what are laundry and linen services doing in this new sales and marketing paradigm to effectively reach and serve their customers?
American Laundry News communicated with Emerald Textiles, a provider of healthcare linen and laundry services headquartered in San Diego, about how it has handled the online business shift.
Robert Hines, vice president of sales, points out that, traditionally, sales and new business for healthcare linen service providers have been conducted in person.
“Over the last two years, especially with hospitals and healthcare offices ceasing in-person meetings during COVID-19, everyone has had to adapt to virtual communication (Zoom, phone or e-mail),” he says.
“This switch varied dependent on the level of relationship since it was easy with customers and known contacts; on the contrary, with new contacts, it was a format that everyone had to get used to, almost overnight.
“Now looking into the future, I see virtual meetings becoming more important as an alternative to conduct efficient, time-sensitive meeting planning.”
However, Hines says virtual communication will never replace the high value of face-to-face customer relationship building for Emerald. Online meetings were always considered impersonal, and he points out that healthcare is a very personal, close partnership type of environment.
“That’s something Emerald still prides ourselves in, delivering in-person, dependable 24/7 service and ensuring customers know exactly who their Emerald team is and that starts with building the foundation with our leadership team and in-person sales meetings,” he says.
Egbert Dugall, vice president of customer relations, says that as Emerald has transitioned into a virtual world of communication, it’s been important to have account managers properly trained with various platforms (e.g., Zoom, Teams, etc.) to effectively communicate with customers.
“We find that a proactive approach with any/all communication channels must always remain open to assure a successful partnership,” he says.
“Availability is instrumental to maintaining a happy customer, and Emerald’s account managers are easily accessible through multiple sources of communication.
“This group is responsible for being the key liaison between customers and appropriate Emerald departments to answer questions or fix any concerns. Emerald is about delivering exceptional service through, and even greater expectation of, good communication, so we make sure that our account managers are always following proper phone and e-mail etiquettes.”
While Emerald has worked to maintain face-to-face contact with its customers as the pandemic winds down, Hines says that the digital contract has become an effective tool.
“The majority of all contracts signed in the last year plus have been completed digitally through DocuSign,” he shares. “I find it to be a very effective and fast way to get contracts completed once all terms have been negotiated.
“Digital contract tracking also improves on readability, tracking changes and levels of review and approvals across organizations. Digital contract quality is much better than the days of multiple scans, back and forth, pulling physical contract files and overnighting for multiple signatures to get fully executed.”
Whatever percentage of in-person and online sales and marketing a laundry and linen service uses, customers “need effective service support that is easy … yet effective in controlling costs through a proper linen management program,” says Hines.
“Our sales team and our customer experience team work together to ensure the goals of the customer, from initial meeting and contract phase, are being met all the way down the account manager and Emerald service team.”
Dugall says that a smooth transition of responsibility to the account manager from the sales team is vital to meeting all customer expectations.
“Having a sync relationship between sales and service is felt by the customer in where they’re not over promised and under delivered by service,” he says.
Hines agrees that overall relationships and proven service are key drivers in the industry.
“The linen industry is at a point where companies are sinking or swimming and those that are swimming have shown a keen interest in supporting their healthcare partners while continuing to re-invest into their business,” he points out.
“This ties directly into our high renewal success rate with our customers. Emerald firmly believes partnership between both parties is critical to the success of a linen and laundry service program.”