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What does being a patient have to do with being a customer? Everything! Retailing has transcended consumer products and is now a part of the way we “shop” across a variety of industries, including healthcare. Thanks to the evolving and pervasive Customer Experience Economy – fueled by progressive businesses, the internet, social media, and apps where consumers share their opinions on vendors, experts and service providers – we are now “retailing” across industries. That’s right. Today people are very actively shopping their doctors, hospitals, birthing centers and surgeons.

When it comes to the healthcare industry, I might not be a doctor or a provider, but I’ve certainly been the patient and the family of a patient. Plus, I know a lot about helping organizations create exceptional customer experiences that build customers for life. While it might not seem obvious how customer experience lessons are applicable in healthcare, the reality is, they are.

Not too long ago, my 76-year-old father broke his arm and entered a rehab facility expecting four to six weeks of healing and physical therapy. We got him situated in his temporary digs on the first floor and found the staff to be kind, attentive, even fun. One nurse in particular took a liking to my dad and built a rapport with him … and with us. She had worked at the facility for many years and you could tell her commitment ran deep. She wanted to know us and for us to know her. She talked about her family, shared pictures, even posed with us for some (showing off her incredible wig collection one day and one look at a time!). She was engaging, sitcom funny, caring and seemed to always have his best interests in mind.

Sometime into his stay, it became clear he would require more intense care than anticipated and was moved to the second floor. And just like that, our perception of the facility went from great to, well, not so good. The second floor was a whole different world. But, what changed?

Because this is what I do for a living – analyze and help craft customer experience strategies – I started dissecting the shift. It boiled down to two things: the culture of the first floor was not the same as the second and the nurse who had provided our first floor experience was no longer on our team.

Culture and people. When these changed, our patient experience was the collateral damage. Our first nurse acted as her authentic self – wigs and all – to make my dad, and our family, feel as at home as possible. Her personal touch was on everything. The culture on her floor empowered her to behave that way and it was such a positive part of my dad’s stay. But this culture didn’t filter across the organization. Just one flight up and everything was different. We had met with the owners of the facility and they did indeed subscribe to having a patient-first culture, however it was clear that they were not effective in translating that culture to everyone. Not everyone felt free to be their authentic selves in the care they were delivering.

The healthcare industry is full of excellent doctors, innovative technologies and state of the art equipment. In the eyes of the patient, though, that stuff’s expected. The opportunity for true differentiation is in the patient experience. Just as in retail, your products and services can be knocked off overnight. But the experience you deliver to your customer – or your patient – is your best opportunity to distinguish yourself. It will be the decision-maker as to whether someone chooses to become a patient at your facility or the one across town. The question becomes – how do you differentiate yourself?

The Patient Experience You Provide is Your Key Differentiator

Great companies (and great healthcare organizations, too) differentiate themselves by:

  1. Establishing a customer first culture – or when applied to healthcare – patient first. When it comes to certain industries, healthcare being one, safety and quality must be the top priority. And establishing a culture built around the patient is essential. You need to define your specific culture and patient experience: What do you stand for? What makes you unique? And remember, sometimes it’s the little things that make the biggest impact of all. Next to safety and quality, patient experience is the biggest priority, and the actions and behaviors of your leaders should reflect the culture you are trying to create.
  1. Empowering staff to act like business owners. In healthcare, this means giving your associates, doctors, nurses and support staff the flexibility to treat patients like they would treat their family members. There aren’t clear guidelines on how to act when someone is distressed, scared or doesn’t have the support they need at that moment. The patient experience you deliver can be unique because your team is empowered to provide additional emotional support when appropriate.
  1. Creating an authentic experience. You can’t script real life and you shouldn’t try! You want your people to act true to their personalities. If they’re snarky, let them be snarky. If they’re serious or silly or dry, let them be themselves. If you want to create a patient experience that touches an individual – and potentially their family – and converts them to your patient for life, you need to connect with them emotionally, and authentically, and that doesn’t come from a script. It’s as simple as that.

The first floor team nailed all three things even though the facility as a whole hadn’t gotten the complete memo. They worked in a very patient-first way, keeping my dad’s safety top of mind while also contributing the “little things” that make the patient and family experience exceptional. His nurse acted like an owner. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought the place was hers. That’s how dedicated she was and how much pride she took in the care she provided.

Whether you’re a doctor, sales associate, t-shirt designer or car manufacturer, there’s a real need to stand out today in every industry. And trust me on this, your competition is watching. The only thing they can’t replicate is the experience you provide. You need to be authentic. To show your brand’s personality by empowering your people to show theirs. This is what makes your organization different. It’s your unique fingerprint on the world. The intricate lines and nuances of your culture, your people, and the way they interact with your patients and their families are what will shape that fingerprint and leave a real mark on everyone you touch.

July 18, 2016


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