Bill Price is the president of Driva Solutions, a consulting firm that specializes in customer service in Bellevue, WA, and the author of The Best Service Is No Service: How to liberate your customers from customer service, keep them happy, and control costs. He says the tactic of fixing problems before they recur is a smart business move. Listening to patient-consumers complain about the same problem over and over (such as a confusing television remote) is a waste of time for the patients and for your staff. He calls these repeat complaints "dumb contacts."
The tactical solution is to make the customer happy at that moment. The strategic solution is to fix the problem so that it doesn't happen to other customers.
For example, he says, you know that new patients have more questions than patients who've been to your hospital before. The strategic solution is to educate those new customers rather than wait for them to ask questions.
"Dumb contacts happen all the time and they are avoidable," he says. "The key thing is to really spot them as dumb contacts, as contacts that are … irritating to the customer and irritating to the company."
Huntington makes a concerted effort to head off complaints before they're lodged on the HCAHPS survey. The goal is to let patients know that staff members are receptive to questions as soon as possible. "Let's get them when they first arrive in their room and go through those things that we know are issues with most customers," she says.
Patient satisfaction scores are now consistently high at Huntington, and its reputation in the community it serves has benefited from the changes there. "That's where we can see a difference in pretty much everything we're doing," Matthews says. "There's really great word-of-mouth about our hospital in our local community. We have such a good reputation … you want to remind people from time to time."
Healthcare branding might be evolving slowly, but it is starting to mature. In the future, experts say, branding will come not only from the inside-out, but also from the outside-in.
Inside-out: Norton Healthcare
"The future of hospital or healthcare branding will take a strong internal look at how we live our brand within our systems—how employees project the brand," says Elizabeth Scott, associate vice president of marketing and e-business at Norton Healthcare. "So it's not just about being a good nurse, or a good doctor, or a good custodial engineer—it is your role and responsibility to project the brand as well."
The four-hospital system in Louisville, KY, is taking a step toward that future with what Scott calls the 15/5 policy. When a staff member comes within 15 feet of someone in the hallway, he or she acknowledges that person. Within five feet, he or she says hello. It's more than just a common courtesy: It's a way to promote both employee and patient satisfaction, which in turn has a beneficial impact on how patients perceive your brand.
Outside-in: Florida Hospital
Florida Hospital's new Disney Children's Hospital, set to open in Orlando in 2010, is an example of how hospitals can create an external image that differentiates them in the marketplace.