Creating a great customer experience: Not easy, but definitely achievable

Healthcare is the ultimate consumer business, yet hospitals don't typically act with the consumer – the patient – in mind.

In fact, very little of what they do aligns with what their customers actually want. That's because healthcare systems today are primarily built around how doctors practice medicine.

Patients, however, now expect to receive a satisfying, technology-enabled customer experience from any company — whether it's a retailer like Amazon, a bank, an airline or a hospital. So healthcare organizations need to radically shift how they think about what their customers want.

One study by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that one-third of patients would switch providers if presented with a more convenient personal experience. Given that insight, it's not surprising that consumers are trying new kinds of providers like CVS, Target and urgent care centers.

Still, despite the challenges posed by the convenience of "retail" care competitors, the healthcare industry is eminently capable of winning the long-term market battle.

Leverage technology and trust

Hospitals have a tremendous opportunity to build on the unsurpassed level of market trust that has been created over the years. To capitalize on this wealth of trust, however, they need to treat patients like consumers in three distinct ways:
1) By delivering convenience;
2) By creating a patient-centered experience; and
3) Through education – offering beyond the expected.

Hospitals must embrace radical — not incremental — change, and allow marketing experiments to fail occasionally in an effort to give patients what they want. Perhaps the biggest mistake is spending too much on mass media advertising and not developing a strategic marketing plan aligned to the goals of the business. While mass media can drive awareness and get people in the door, it's the experience that will keep them coming back.

When leaders place patients at the center of their thinking, they will make very different decisions about care delivery. Some of those decisions will involve IT, which largely bears the burden for making highly complex encounters "simple" and "friendly." Consider, for example, how a Starbucks app allows people to quickly place and pay for an order on their phones; then they simply pick up their coffee and go about their day. Hospitals need to leverage technology in similar ways to create the same great experience.

At the recent Health IT Leadership Summit in Atlanta, for example, several fast-growth start-up companies showcased innovative new technologies focused entirely on customer experience. I had the opportunity to speak on behalf of Piedmont Healthcare at the event, and I saw first-hand how these companies recognize that patients are healthcare consumers with an expanding range of choices. By harnessing innovation like that on display at the Summit, hospitals can make the kinds of big, radical changes necessary to compete with providers like CVS, Target and urgent care centers.

If they stay laser focused on creating lasting changes in the patient experience, hospitals and health systems are in the perfect position to win consumer loyalty over the long term.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.​

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