September 13, 2018

Operationalizing Your Brand Promise

Health systems have been focused on improving their patient experience for many years now. If you’re like most health systems, you likely have initiatives in place to improve your patients’ experiences while monitoring patient satisfaction scores as indicators of the effectiveness of your efforts.

So why are we talking about operationalizing your brand promise when these other programs are already underway? It may seem like a redundant program designed to accomplish the same objectives. The key differentiator is, when done right, operationalizing your brand promise actually creates a solid framework and accelerates these other activities.

Consider the role HCAHPS have had on the industry. Since made public, health systems have focused on the same ten indicators of patient experience to ensure they are at least on par with their competitors. In addition, patient satisfaction surveys are intentionally standardized to compare each hospital to industry norms among both national and regional peers. Because it is our nature in health care to work toward improved metrics, we have many health systems working toward the same patient experience standards.

These industry standards and norms help health systems improve but in a common direction. Brand strategy leads to improved performance through differentiation. Both move the organization in a positive direction. But only operationalizing your brand strategy will lead to a unique competitive advantage.

So where do we start?

With your employees. They are the ones who day in and day out can make a difference in the experience of every patient and family member. But they must be engaged to deliver your brand promise consistently. It is likely employee engagement varies by discipline, department, hospital or physician practice. Below are some questions that can assess employee readiness to deliver on your brand promise.

  • Do your employees know your brand promise?
  • Can they articulate it in their own words?
  • Do they understand their own role in delivering this promise to all patients and families?
  • Do they understand their own role in delivering this promise to each other?
  • Do they know the desired behaviors needed in their role to exemplify the brand promise?
  • Are they recognized or compensated for demonstrating these behaviors?
  • Are employees recruited, hired, retained and promoted based on their track record or ability to deliver the brand promise in even the most stressful situations?

Based on your answers to the above questions, you may determine that your first order of business is to engage all employees in education and training to learn to bring the brand to life in their own roles. These programs are best led by the supervisors or informal leaders of each department or discipline in order to make the brand promise as relevant as possible for each employee in his or her job.

One of the keys to successful employee engagement is empowering employees to participate in ideation or suggestions for improving the delivery of the brand promise in their respective areas. They are the closest to the patient and most entrenched in the current work process. If they are encouraged to look for opportunities to improve the patient experience, they will likely feel respected and empowered to be part of the solution. They will also have a greater sense of ownership of the improvement process than if they were merely asked to change their behavior by their managers.

Leadership plays an important role in creating change and in articulating why the brand promise is so important to the organization’s future. Their attention and support tend to accelerate change in their areas of focus. So let’s talk about prioritizing employee engagement and the patient experiences that will create the greatest impact.

From a brand perspective, let’s ignore HCAHPS and patient satisfaction for now. Instead, let’s look at high impact touchpoints in the patient journey. Below are some questions to guide your assessment of the most significant touchpoints in your patient journey.

  • Which touchpoints create a strong first impression as a gateway to the relationship?
  • Which touchpoints create a strong lasting impression as patients reflect on their experience with your brand?
  • Which touchpoints elicit the strongest emotional engagement throughout the patient journey?
  • Which touchpoints are most ‘talked about’ in social media or word-of-mouth?

Your answers to these questions will help you identify the parts of the patient journey that become your highest priorities for improvement. For many organizations, the following touchpoints create a strong first impression or a deep-seated lasting impression.

  • A patient’s first primary care or urgent care visit
  • A patient consultation with a specialist
  • A visit to the Emergency Department
  • Patient discharge (process, comprehension of instructions)
  • Billing
  • Patient diagnosis and treatment consultation
  • Pain management

Once these touchpoints have been identified, revisit your patient satisfaction scores relative to peers. Your first priority may be any of these high-impact touchpoints where your performance is below your competition. These are immediate opportunities to operationalize your brand promise to improve both employee engagement and patient satisfaction. You may also consider areas where you have sufficient staffing and resources to make changes without over-burdening a team that is already struggling.

In this analysis of patient satisfaction, look beyond the numbers to include the comments made by patients. These comments often answer why the experience was positive or negative. If the data does not provide clear insights on why patient encounters are perceived positively or negatively, you may want to interview patients who have scored their satisfaction with the experience either very highly or very poorly. Employees must understand both patients’ level of satisfaction with certain encounters, and also why the encounter made an emotional impact.

With a deep appreciation for your brand promise and an understanding of how that promise makes consumers feel, employees will be equipped and empowered to find ways to better deliver your unique promise every day.