At a recent patient experience leadership forum, the question was posed “Who is your competition?” Predictably the initial discussion revolved around the merits and reputations of other local or specialist hospitals and how their patient experience was judged to compare. But who else is the patient comparing your hospital to when they give a verdict on the service they have received? What other experiences form the benchmark when evaluating how highly they should rate their hospital experience?
The United States is now a service economy in which we are spoilt for choice on which stores, malls, restaurants, supermarkets, automobiles, hotels and electronics to spend our time and money. As products and services, at all levels of cost and quality, have proliferated, one of the major differentiators has become the customer service experience both at point of sale and for as long as we own the product. Although it is an investment, training staff in the skills to make customers feel valued and respected is a great deal more cost effective than slashing prices. It also has swift return with minimal impact to the bottom line and, if you get it right, earns you enduring customer loyalty. When you buy a $4 Big Mac, you can be fairly certain that somebody will greet you (occasionally with a smile), ask what they can do for you, take your order and deliver the right product. From that standard, the bar for customer service keeps getting higher – for less than $100 a night, a limited service hotel receptionist will welcome you warmly, inquire as to how your journey was, efficiently check you in and show you to a room with clean sheets and small, tastefully designed, bottles of gold, frankincense, and myrrh in the bathroom. (Coming soon to a chain hotel near you.)
When you go into an Apple store, you’ll be greeted by somebody who seems genuinely pleased to see you. They are friendly and professional. They give every impression of being sincerely interested in helping you. They listen attentively, they make sure they have understood what you have told them, and they then tell you who is going to be helping you. They introduce that person and hand off to them by repeating what you have said to them and inquiring if, before they go, there is anything else that they can do for you. During your whole experience with Apple, whether you are buying something, or getting help with an existing Apple product you already own, you are kept informed of the process, how long it is estimated to take, what is going on behind the scenes that you may not know about and when the person helping you will be back. At every stage, there is a handover from one person to the next. If the person helping you needs to go somewhere and you are by yourself, it is only a matter of minutes before an Apple employee asks you if you are being helped and if there is anything they can do for you. You are never left wondering if anyone has forgotten you or what is going on. And however intractable your issue is, you are never made to feel you are being a burden.
Can hospitals ever operate as smoothly as an Apple store? No. But can hospitals learn from the kind of customer service culture that companies like Apple have trained their staff on? That has set them apart from their competition, earned the loyalty of their customers and set a standard of customer experience that other services are judged by? Fairly or unfairly, hospitals are being judged by patients on the constantly improving standards set by the service culture they experience in their everyday lives.
Julian Hutton studied leadership at Britain’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and was an officer in the Scots Guards. From there he went into the hotel and hospitality industry, working all over the world for some of the industry’s best known names. For the last 10 years, he has been increasingly involved in developing leadership and hospitality service training programs providing the highest standards of guest and patient experience.