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Words of Wisdom on Getting Advice from Outside Industries

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, January 13, 2010

What's the best investment an innovative healthcare organization can make? The CEO of a mid-sized hospital gave me a great answer to that question in an interview this week: "Plane tickets." Preparing for a big change at his organization, he flew as far as Rome to gather information from organizations that had undertaken a similar venture.

At the HealthLeaders Media Marketing Experience event this past fall, we asked participants to share with us their thoughts on what they've learned from companies outside of healthcare. From hotels to spas to retailers to motorcycle manufacturers to theme parks, lessons on experience abound, according to attendees of the event. Their words of wisdom are short and sweet (we gave them medium-sized Post-It notes to write their answers).

The Airline Industry
Speaking of plane tickets . . . Healthcare and the airline industries are often compared in terms of safety. There's also a link in that airline travel is not always pleasant. But participants said they've learned a few lessons in service excellence from the airlines nonetheless. For example:

  • Airlines offer first class and economy class: Pay for service levels.
  • Jet Blue CEO David Neederman passes out cookies on one flight per week. He has a meaningful conversation with each passenger on a three-hour flight.

The Hospitality Industry
Hotels and destinations make travel special and memorable. Can hospitals follow suit? It's true that a day in the hospital is not the same as a day at the beach. But here are a few ways healthcare organizations can put the "hospital" in "hospitality:"

  • Spas tell their customers to "relax and let us take care of you."
  • Successful hotels, restaurants, and retailers see their customers as guests. Why not hospitals?
  • Hotels like Ritz Carlton customize and personalize everything.
  • Coming back for more—food, wine, entertainment—is a part of healthcare delivery that is possible to create.

Theme parks
Another popular theme: comparing hospitals and Disney. Some of the souvenirs participants suggest you consider tucking in your suitcase:

  • "Wow" the customer with memorable moments.
  • Make waiting fun.
  • Everything speaks.

Retailers
Apparently we had a few shoppers in the audience. And apparently they're shopping at Nordstrom's and Talbots—the two most frequently cited examples of stores that offer excellent customer service. For example:

  • Nordstrom's customer service: Be a walker, not a talker.
  • The retail industries (Nordstrom's, Talbots, etc.) are good at guiding the customer and supporting their "experience." Hand-holding is good!
  • Quality is expected. Service is remembered.

And a few surprises
Personally, I wouldn't necessarily buy a plane ticket to a fast food restaurant or a car dealership in search of service excellence examples. And don't get me started on the financial industry. But our optimistic sticky-note posters shared some ideas they've gleaned from these and other unlikely sources. For example:

  • Burger King's "Have it your way:" Offer customization.
  • Great follow-up and preventive maintenance from car dealerships.
  • From the media we have come to see how video can improve the patient Web experience.
  • Banking and energy go beyond satisfaction research to look at loyalty work and what areas are really important to consumers.
  • FedEx: Be consistent.
  • Geek Squad: Find a pain point, inconvenience, or other problem and solve it.
  • Apple: Design based on the user is best received.
  • Miscrosoft: It's good to be the king!

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