Billingsley markets health care mystery shopping business

December 8, 2008
When facing adversity, people have two choices: confront it head on or become a victim. For better or worse, one is changed by hard times.

Brooke Billingsley, vice president and co-owner of Indianapolis-based Perception Strategies Inc., tackled her share of adversity growing up in surroundings of drugs and alcohol in the small beachfront community of Grand Haven, Mich. But she turned to Christian faith and, nurtured by her grandmother, came through the tough times.

Billingsley has taken that same tenacity and focused it on helping build the company co-founded by her husband, Kevin. As head of sales and marketing for the health care mystery shopping business, Billingsley began building the client base by cold-calling hospitals all over the country, starting with one of the largest, The Cleveland Clinic.

"When we landed a 3-1/2-year account, that put our business on the map," she said.

Billingsley, 48, said she enjoys the challenges of the job. "I enjoy meeting new people and getting to know ... what makes them tick," she said. "I especially enjoy interactions with my clients, helping them identify the solutions they need to improve the patient experience."

One of those clients is Waltham, Mass.-based Fresenius Medical Care North America, which operates dialysis clinics throughout the United States. Ines Fusco, a member of the company's marketing department, said her organization hired Billingsley based on a recommendation.

"We were looking for someone to do mystery shopping of our, at the time, 1,200 dialysis clinics," Fusco said. "Brooke was fabulous to work with — she gets it. She understands what the customer needs. [The results] were eyeopening to the management team and the project was well-executed."

In June, the American Medical Association's ethics council was pressing for restrictions on health care mystery shopping. ABC News' "Good Morning America" did a segment on the controversy in which Billingsley and one of her mystery shoppers were interviewed.

"I spoke about the positive aspect of conducting this type of research to provide a training tool for employees who need to see the experience through the patient's eyes," she said. In early November, the AMA proposal was voted down by the membership.

Billingsley recently attended a meeting of the Dallas-based Mystery Shopping Providers Association for North America, a trade association. She was alarmed to hear that mystery-shopping firms that specialize in retail are applying the same tactics to health care.

"They don't want to turn down the opportunity to make money, but the problem is they aren't able to consult the client on liability and ethical issues," Billingsley said. "As one of my health care friends said to me, you don't go to a podiatrist for a face-lift."

In addition to her duties with Perception Strategies, Billingsley is also a sought-after motivational speaker. She founded Captive Heart Ministry in 1993 to share her Christian faith with others throughout the world. She recently returned from her second trip to Brazil, where she spoke at women's retreats and as a guest preacher at several churches.

Hazel Walker has conducted several women's workshops with Billingsley. She owns and operates Crystal Synergies, a franchisee of Petuluma, Calif.-based Referral Institute, a worldwide referral marketing training organization, and is also executive director of the Central Indiana Region of Business Network International. She met Billingsley at a women's networking event about four years ago and the two felt an immediate connection.

"Brooke has great compassion for people, which I think came from her upbringing," Walker said. "Neither one of us came from well-to-do families. We know what it's like as young people to be shut-out, to not be connected."

Connecting people and helping them achieve their goals is what Billingsley excels at, Walker said.

"One of Brooke's real strengths is being able to listen to people with compassion."

A mother of two grown sons, Billingsley said she has learned to reflect more and react less, knowing "that nothing is forever."

"I am challenged by negative people who always find the glass half-empty and seem to think that life offers no new opportunities."

She advises women to have a very detailed vision for their future, to seek counsel from successful women and to remain flexible along the path. "Many of us have taken unique paths to get to where we are today, but all the experiences are assets."

In her free time, Billingsley serves as president of the National Speakers Association of Indiana and volunteers at Millers Merry Manor in Indianapolis. She also sings with a women's quartet at East 91st Street Christian Church.
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