24th August 2016
by Edward Sheppard

The answer is simple –listen.

The reasons are also straightforward and split into the core values DTR Medical operate by, namely Innovation, Quality and Service.

Yes, we all know “the customer is always right” but in many ways, this has become a saying and not an ideal.  We also have to pay attention because our ISO9001: 2008 and EN ISO13485:2012 certification requires us to take a concern seriously.

Our experience of some medical device manufacturers is they give just enough management time to pass the next audit.

To respond like this may have no effect in the short term, but in future, it will result in loss of competitiveness as others take note, and it could risk losing customer loyalty, which will be very expensive to win back.

Consider Quality

Customers raise their concerns in good faith and it is essential to treat them with respect. At DTR Medical, we know our credibility is enhanced when we take concerns seriously even if we don’t like what we are hearing.

When a hospital raises a concern, they are acting on behalf of others who may be facing the same issue, but who may not know, who may have ignored it, or they have decided to buy elsewhere.

For us, a concern gives us feedback from the market and identifies where we can improve our product quality. Sterile single-use fine pointed scissors, like an Iris or Stevens Tenotomy, are designed for delicate work requiring precision and the ability to cut right at the tip.

Recognition of this came through a concern raised by a Maxillofacial Department in a private hospital with the result being we now check all these scissor types will cut at the tip to give the clinician an effective and satisfactory instrument they can use with confidence.

This may appear obvious, but the customer’s concern helped us define the limits of acceptability on behalf of all users. Not surprisingly, we often get feedback; “your fine scissors are so much better than anything else we have tried.”

Care about Service

Thankfully, DTR Medical rarely receives concerns about the service we provide, but this does not mean we can afford to be complacent. We must expect a customer to think it, even if they don’t always tell us.

Service is easy when things are going well, but the healthcare services we supply depend on our reliability because their patients expect to be seen and treated when they get their appointments. For single-use medical device manufacturers like DTR Medical, this means, no instruments and may lead to cancelled appointments.

The basics of good service are a clear idea of forward demand informing purchasing and production planning. The result is we supply sterile product from stock and with over 700 lines we achieve over 97% same day dispatch. This is a great performance, but we are only as good as our next shipment.

Thinking of customer concerns, what we do with the 3% we cannot send out defines our service values. After all, our character is determined by how we handle the difficult things and not just the easy items.

Sterilisation is a key part of our process, so product release is usually dependent on this. When we have a backorder of a few days we know the customer is unlikely to be dependent on a fast delivery unless they tell us.

However, once we get to five days or more the onus is on us to make contact as soon as possible. This may be uncomfortable, but it is decidedly more manageable than the user forced to ring us and complain.

It may be we have to make contact more than once, keeping the customer informed, but every time we do this we are thanked not criticised. It shows we care about their needs.

Convert it into Innovation

When we receive a customer concern it also provides a great opportunity to develop our product range. It may be a tighter specification, a new product or material, or a new process, but whatever the potential innovation is can be a converted into a valuable asset for future growth.

The recent well-publicised rise in obesity has resulted in customers complaining some instruments are too short for such patients. In colposcopy, anaesthetic needles will not reach the cervix, but we can help by making the single-use syringe 30mm longer.

In general and abdominal surgery, we have extended the range to include a Long Poole Suction Handle 37.5% longer than the traditional pattern.

Perhaps our best example is recognising the need for sterile single-use Silicone Tubing, which came from a concern about re-processing cut lengths of non-sterile tube, which we also supply.

Decontamination Units were being picked up at audit on their processes and validations and this was passed on to us. Our response was to determine that sterilisation by gamma irradiation removed the risk of moisture, and creating a range of pre-cut lengths enabled the sterile services team to focus on instrument reprocessing.

We now have over fifty lines, used by hospitals, biotechnology and medical companies for a wide variety of purposes.

Using silicone connected to suction handles, like the Fraziers, means the surgeon does not get tired in long procedures from fighting the tubing. A customer concern providing an unrelated benefit to a different department.

Listen & Learn

For DTR Medical, we regard the concerns of our customers as really valuable feedback. We have a record of examples where our quality, service and innovation have benefited from what we learnt.

Customer concerns are worthwhile and the skill of listening is what makes the difference to the outcome. Get it right and your business will flourish.