What if Hospital Meant Hospitality?

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Neil Monahan is a marketing manager at Brandworkz
Neil Monahan is a marketing manager at Brandworkz

Any experienced healthcare professional will tell you that yesterday's patient must now be regarded as a consumer. We have the Internet for self-diagnosis, we have social-media channels to help evaluate our healthcare options and we have a potent voice in expressing our level of satisfaction or otherwise about the services we experience.

So it's little wonder that the healthcare industry is increasingly shifting its service models toward hospitality, customer experience and customer satisfaction.

Jim McManus, formerly a vice president of finance at Irvine, Calif.–based St. Joseph Health System, is quoted by Forbes saying that a patient at one of his hospitals gave a low score for room cleanliness. When he questioned the patient, it emerged that the room wasn't dirty, it was simply that the patient had expected a cleaning routine similar to that of a hotel, where one person does all the cleaning tasks in one go.

The fact is that today's patient expects a level of customer experience completely alien to the traditional healthcare industry's. Now they want personalized service. And if they don't get it, not only will they take their business elsewhere but they will also announce their dissatisfaction to the world.

So what are we going to do about this?

Open the way to communication

Retail sector brands exploit digital tools to discover more about their customers through open discussion and feedback. Why should it be any different for healthcare brands? Why not set up an online community where patients can discuss health provision issues?

Some healthcare businesses do, of course. Cambia Health Solutions, a health insurer based in Portland, Ore., already has 2.2 million subscribers in its members-only online community, where members can exchange views about health issues, compare insurance providers, rate healthcare facilities and interact with medical staff.

Ideas for healthcare providers and insurers

1. Use feedback forms during and after patient visits and act on results at once.

2. Create an online community where patients and insurance subscribers can discuss and educate themselves about health issues.

3. Use social media and blogs to provide insights into healthcare.

4. Monitor these channels to get feedback and resolve issues before they arise.

5. Create seamless experiences across multiple channels.

PwC talks in terms of “moments of truth” when “customers form an impression or make up their mind about future purchases.” What more productive objective for the healthcare industry could there be than to achieve positive “moments of truth” via a seamless experience across multiple channels?

It can be achieved with clearly defined brand guidelines, available to all staff so they can educate themselves and deliver a seamless experience at any point of customer interaction.

You'd expect your medical personnel to show a high level of compassion when interacting with patients and their families. A “seamless experience” implies that this same level of compassion features across all channels—from patients booking follow-up appointments to the content in your online marketing.

Some pointers:

1. Educate staff about the guidelines on which the brand is built. Set out how the brand is to be represented across all channels and during all interactions with patients.

2. Centralize these guidelines and brand assets in one location in an online brand-management platform. Give access to employees so they can educate themselves and communicate consistently.

3. Be sure that customers and patients have the same level of service and experience, regardless of channel.

4. Educate and empower all employees to focus on patient experience.

Recent research has found that 70% of healthcare consumers attribute staff attitude to their positive impression of the experience. Compare that to the retail industry (38%) and the airline, banking and hotel industries (just 33%).

Wow! Staff attitude is twice as important in the healthcare industry as it is in the airline or banking industry. But that's surely understandable; healthcare patients are likely to feel more vulnerable and thus value staff empathy more highly than in interactions in other sectors.

It's also worth reflecting that peer recommendation in the healthcare industry is three times as influential as it is in the hotel or retail industries. It follows that healthcare providers should provide all staff with the skills and resources required to ensure exceptional patient experience.

In short:

1. Create an environment in which staff can educate themselves about how to deliver a high level of patient experience.

2. Reward and celebrate staff who deliver the necessary patient experience.

3. Take insights from the hospitality industry and apply them to healthcare.

4. Understand patients and offer choice.

For convenience in the healthcare industry, we have the retail industry and the prevalence of smartphones to thank. We know that recent research suggests that 65% of patients want to be able to access information about illness and treatment options online or using mobile. Letting them to do that easily is going to have positive effect on perception of your brand.

As Generation X and millennials come into the healthcare market, it's crucial for providers and insurers to adapt. PwC's Customer Experience Radar Research found that young and urban respondents especially value electronic explanation of benefits and mobile wellness tips.

How to respond?

Embrace an “anywhere, anytime” model of providing information so patients can access what they want when they want it via channels that suit them best.

Where possible, group services together. Sixty-nine percent of respondents in the PwC report would prefer to receive ‘multiple services in one location' when they are visiting a health facility.

Neil Monahan is a marketing manager at Brandworkz.

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