March 10, 2020

Stop Delivering Good Patient Experiences

I’m a fortunate person. My job allows me to travel the country and work with a lot of caring people who are truly committed to making the world a healthier place. They hold a variety of titles, from CEO to COO, CNO to CFO, and from CMO (the marketing one) to CMO (the medical one), among others. While their titles may be abbreviated, their job duties surely are not. And one of the most common areas of expanding responsibilities in recent years is in the area of patient experience. It seems to be part of every healthcare organization’s strategic plan. And it also seems to be part of nearly everyone’s performance evaluation.

There has always been an emphasis on patient experience of course, but changing reimbursement models, broader transparency, the impact of social media, and a deeper understanding of customer lifetime value (CLV) have accelerated its importance. Delivering a good patient experience has gone from feeling like the right thing to do, to a requirement for your businesses to succeed.

Experience Outside of Healthcare Pays

Industries outside of healthcare are well on their way to leveraging customer experience to improve business performance. In a recent Deloitte survey, 62% of companies view experience as a competitive differentiator. In a Forrester Consulting study of 1,269 business leaders, they found that experience driven companies have higher customer retention, higher return on spend, and higher customer satisfaction rates. And when McKinsey examined the pay TV and auto insurance industries, they found that a one-point improvement on a ten-point satisfaction scale corresponds to a three-percentage-point increase in the revenue-growth rate. As they say, experience pays.No wonder companies with high customer satisfaction rates dramatically outperform the S&P 500.

Seeing A Bigger Picture

While the business case for innovative experience strategies has increased outside of healthcare, not everyone seems to be thinking outside the box when it comes to patient experience. The challenge may be that we are so close to the subject that we can’t see the forest for the trees? Our obsession with “patient” experience may actually be counter-productive. When we define people through the lens of patients, we may be inadvertently ignoring them in the larger context of “consumers” – those who will be shopping and eventually choosing healthcare services, but are not yet a patient or in need of treatment.

So, what happens if we take a step back from how we have always done it, and stop delivering a “patient experience”? A lot of things begin to change when we do, and new opportunities present themselves. The first is the expansion of our patient relationship over a much longer timeline. No longer built exclusively during moments when care is delivered, the patient relationship can begin much sooner and last much longer when we consider the wider consumer journey as compared to the limited patient journey. This expanded timeline gives us more opportunities to build meaningful touchpoints, resulting in improved awareness and preference on the front end of the buying cycle, and advocacy on the backend.

Another important thing that changes when we adopt a consumer mindset is the assumption that the person is actually thinking and behaving like a consumer, someone who has a choice and will make a conscious decision to become your customer…or your competitor’s.

Why You?

“Why you?” That’s the question shoppers ask before becoming customers. And it’s probably one of the best questions to keep asking internally if you want your organization to remain relevant in the marketplace. The answer is simple. It’s because you provide more of what your customers value than your competitors. They may value that you actively search the nation to bring the most advanced procedures back to them. Or it may be because your nurses pray with them in time of need. Or it may be that you are seen not just as a member of the community, but as THE defender of it. Or it may be you are simply the fastest or closest.

Every organization has to decide for themselves what and how they will deliver customer value. You have to be authentic to who you are, so you can’t be everything to everybody. You have to take a stand, based on the best business case for your organization, and declare the unique way you will deliver value to your customers. This is a crucial part of your business model and an integral part of your brand development.

Your brand guides how your organization will deliver value in your own unique way. It can become a magnet, attracting those who believe your unique way is more relevant to them than your competitors’ way. But your brand becomes a magnet only if you are consistent and committed to your way. If you currently are, congratulations. You are making and keeping your brand promise. This is one of the most fruitful commitments an organization can make.

When you keep your brand promise, you create an authentic brand experience. This gives you the opportunity to not just deliver a good experience, but a good AND differentiated experience. An experience only you can deliver. It’s the differentiated brand that can drive real business success because it gives the consumer a clear reason to choose you over your competitor. Your brand is, or can be, your main competitive advantage.

Building A Better Experience for Everyone

Your brand not only gives you a competitive advantage in the marketplace, but it also gives you a competitive advantage when attracting the unique talent you need to deliver the experience your business strategy dictates. Top talent can work anywhere they choose. So why should they, like consumers, choose you? The answer is very similar as well. However, in addition to compensation and other traditional benefits and perks, people value working with those with whom they share a sense of purpose and a common vision of the future. These are the very things that every good brand platform articulates and uses to guide how members of the organization will deliver value to their customers.

These shared belief systems not only attract your desired talent, but these people tend to be happier delivering experiences based on these shared beliefs. The great British author Freya Stark put it best when she said, “There can be no happiness if the things we believe in are different from the things we do.” When people enjoy and believe in what they do, they tend to do it better and it becomes part of a positive culture. And that happiness is contagious, not just with other team members, but patients feel it as well.

Your brand, when leveraged appropriately, is the reference tool used to build a culture that can align your experience strategy with your business strategy. It helps your team understand the big picture which guides decision making and the actions your team takes during actual moments of engagement with patients.

Brand Experience Vs. Patient Experience

In the past, to improve patient experiences we have traditionally used patient journey mapping techniques to identify gaps and opportunities to deliver better experiences during moments of care.  However, we at Franklin Street have come to realize that traditional patient journey mapping techniques have a few flaws that keep you from seeing all of the opportunities available to you when you instead map the larger brand experience.

Just changing our perspective from patient experience to brand experience allows us to think bigger about the role we can play in delivering value to the “patient.” For example, patient journey mapping typically starts with a trigger event like an injury or when someone has a symptom of feeling ill. By this time, they are really only one step away from becoming a patient. By contrast, brand experience mapping starts whenever someone becomes aware that you exist, and you can even dictate when that is through advertising, community engagement, or other outreach programs. This mindset gives us permission to see innovative ways to deliver new value BEFORE people need care. This way of thinking will make the transition to population health and launching preventative and wellness initiatives much more viable within the organization.

The other key benefit of the brand experience mindset is its focus on fulfilling your brand promise, which gives you razor sharp focus on how to build a better experience for your patients. In a field dominated by best practices, standards of care and evidence-based medicine, it is easy to default to do what others are already doing to create a better experience. That may be a good place to start, but if you finish there you will have missed the opportunity to deliver greater value in your very own unique way. You will have failed to give the consumer an additional reason to choose you.

What’s Best For The Patient?

So, am I really suggesting that you stop delivering good patient experiences? Yes, in a way. I’m suggesting you focus on delivering great brand experiences instead. When you deliver a brand experience, you are delivering something very special. Something more than a generic best practice. Something that is authentic to your employees. Something that is uniquely meaningful to your patients. You will have given them a reason to choose you over your competitor. So, don’t just deliver a great patient experience that your competitor can duplicate, deliver a great brand experience. An experience patients can only get from you.

The above article was first published in Healthcare Marketing Report.