I walked out to my car early one morning a few weeks ago, only to discover that it had a damaged tire – one that could not be repaired. I had several appointments coming up over the next few days, and while the spare was easily substituted, I didn’t want to drive on it very far or for very long.
And so I called my dealer for service. That’s when the “outstanding experience” began…
…the call was answered within three rings, by a live person.
…after I provided some basic information, the representative was able to validate that I was an existing customer.
…the representative listened intently to my story and gave me a same day appointment with a “provider” of service – someone I knew from the past.
…when I arrived, my provider again listened and we came up with a plan that included more “diagnostics” and more gathering of information.
…concluding that I needed a rental car, I was transitioned to another professional, seated five feet away (the ultimate “warm transfer”).
…over the next few hours, and as new information emerged, the plan was revised.
…I returned to the dealer the next day to find my car ready – on time and at the price quoted.
All in all, a perfect experience. One in which I felt like I was being handled with kid gloves and, as important, during which I never felt abandoned.
It’s time for healthcare to get on board
Recently, I attended an event at which several health care executives discussed how, as a result of the Affordable Care Act, their organizations were becoming Accountable Care Organizations. They described how care delivery would be better coordinated, safer and focused on the use of preventive health services, all of which would result in lower cost and higher quality.
One executive discussed the need for her organization to focus on its customers and the development of “brand allegiance,” i.e., a quality experience that results in customers never even considering moving to another provider. She went on to say that investing in prevention, wellness and health (rather than illness) required a long term view and that lowering cost only occurs if the customers “stick around.”
I was happily surprised. Customer loyalty and brand allegiance are common discussion points in the business world, certainly. But in healthcare? Not usually (despite my best attempts to change this!). I wondered, are healthcare organizations finally realizing that every individual service interaction is important for their business?
Surveys show that the most influential factor in creating a happy customer is a positive interaction with a friendly representative who is ultimately able to solve their concerns. An investment in superior service to ensure that talented individuals with the skills, training and tools to enable them toempathize and actively listen to customers, are central to success.
What you should expect as a patient / What you can do as a provider
My experience with my auto dealer is exactly what you, as a patient, are entitled to expect when interacting with your physician and his/her staff. I think that as an industry, we are making progress.
In the meantime, however, there are a number of proactive things that you can do as a patient to improve the quality of your healthcare experience, whatever the circumstances:
- Smile frequently and remain polite.
- Prepare for phone calls and meetings. (Here’s a link to my recent newsletter on the importance of preparing an agenda beforehand.)
- Concisely relay accurate information about issues related to your body and mind.
- Listen intently and collaborate on the plan devised with your physician.
- Carry through on what you are expected to do to reach a positive outcome.
- Bring a care partner with you to help with listening, taking notes and providing reinforcement for the plan.
If you are a provider, here are a few things you can do on your end:
- Recognize that the person who answers the phone and greets customers sets the tone for the entire patient experience.
- Listen and don’t interrupt within seconds of talking to a patient.
- Shepherd patients through hand-offs so that they don’t get lost.
- Test your assumptions when a patient does not follow through. Explore what lies beneath as it may not be what you think.
- Learn from the patient as they learn from you.
The healthcare system has made great strides in recent years, but it still has a long way to go. I‘m optimistic that we are on the right path.