Who said it has to be this way?

We have many fond memories of Momma Kliff and have shared many of mom’s insights over the years. Although Mom wasn’t part of our wacky world her wisdom and perspective has an uncanny knack for applying to our world. One thing Mom consistently told her boys was never to fear change that change is a normal part of life. Or as she said so often “Who said it has to be this way?”

One area that is in desperate need of change is patient customer service. We aren’t sure who said customer service has to be FREE, but the fact is patients have come to expect FREE support. Whether it’s an insulin pump, CGM, conventional meter or any other toy played with by the patient FREE support automatically comes with it.

While this is great for the patient it’s a major pain for the toy companies as support is a cost and not a small cost either. And the harsh reality is even excellent support does not translate into additional sales. However poor customer support will hurt sales.

Believe it or not at one time before they were bought by Medtronic MiniMed set the standard for excellent customer support. Yet as so often happens after being acquired by Medtronic the new management team made some major cuts to customer service. This new team with no diabetes experience looked at the cost and figured cutting customer service was an easy way to boost profits. This move turned out to be a major disaster and while these cuts were eventually reversed the damage was done.

How many of us have seen the pictures on Facebook of a patient waiting an hour or more when they call support. Dexcom who recently made some changes to their support was ripped a new one for moving much of their support offshore. The irony here is that Abbott also has done this for the same reasons as Dexcom, to save money. The fact is device companies have to walk a delicate tightrope providing quality support at cost that won’t bankrupt the company.

Yet for reasons we don’t understand not one company has even experimented with charging customers for support. Now before all the patient advocates get out their pitchforks, tar and feathers take a deep breath. The world we live in today is full of examples of how customers now pay for services which were once given away for free. When was the last time you got cash from a bank teller? How many of us reluctantly pay a service charge to take money out of our bank account? Or pay a “convenience fee” when paying a bill with our debit card? What about the service charge added when we use Grubhub or Doordash?

Years ago it was unheard of for a patient to pay for the privilege of spending more time with their physician. Today these concierge physician services are commonplace.

Travelers now pay for seats with more leg room, checked bags and sometimes even carry on bags. Need we go on. The point is consumers have adapted to these changes.

Which begs the question as to why device companies have yet to even experiment with this idea. To the best of our knowledge there is no law that requires they provide free support nor is it a requirement to get their device approved by the FDA. To the best of our knowledge they do it because everyone else is doing it that way. Afraid that if they were to charge for this service it would be a competitive disadvantage. Well we’ve got some news for the toy makers once someone takes the first step everyone else will follow.

We’re not sure which airline was the first to charge for checked bags but now almost every airline has this charge. Same goes for banks and ATM fees. The fact is everyone the companies and consumers adapted. Sure consumers gripe about all the fees, but they also continue to pay them.

We have long maintained toy companies should offer levels of support. Everything from basic free support to premium support paid for by the patient. Additionally support should be offered not just with an 800# but web chat, texting, etc. The harsh reality is one reason customer support is so expensive is humans are involved however just as other industries have incorporated more technology into their support options it’s time the diabetes device world make this move.

Sure there will be some blow back from patient advocacy groups, but they will adapt. The fact is things cannot continue as they are change is everyone’s best interest. The question is who will be the first who will take the initiative who will lead this change?