Patient Experience Marketing

Healthcare Marketing: 4 Strategies for Improving Patient Experience

Marketing must take the lead in patient experience.

Marianne Aiello recently wrote an article for Health Leaders Media about how to improve patient experience.  Aiello makes some excellent points.  The article is republished here in its entirety.

Picture this. One day while watching TV you see an engaging hospital commercial, depicting smiling providers who whisk a patient through the continuum of care. The end of the spot directs you to a website, which has a fresh design and smartly describes the organization’s many service lines and resources.

A few weeks down the line you need to schedule an elective procedure, and, based on your positive memories of the ad and website, you choose this hospital. But upon arrival, the parking lot is confusing. When you finally stumble across the waiting room, the desk worker passes you some forms to fill out without raising his head. Your procedure goes well, but afterward it’s unclear how to schedule a follow-up.

Unfortunately, scenarios like this one happen all too often at well-meaning hospitals. Often the problem lies in the marketing department’s detachment from operations, which—like it or not—controls the patient experience.

For the marketing chief to be considered a key leader within the hospital hierarchy, marketers must bridge this gap and take full responsibility for the patient experience.

1. Align promise with experience.

The positive hospital ad/negative hospital experience described above showcases the hypothetical organization’s inability to align its brand promise with its brand experience.

“No longer can healthcare organizations be a lot better in their ads than they are in reality,” Gary Adamson, chief experience officer of Starizon told the April issue of Healthcare Marketing Advisor. “There is too much consumer information and power for that approach to be viable any longer. The marketing department must become responsible for the melding of the promise and the experience into a powerful and fully differentiated brand.”

In order to merge the promise and the experience into a differentiated brand, Adamson suggests thinking of the two as overlapping circles. It is ultimately the marketing department’s duty to not only make the area of intersection larger, but to eventually create concentric circles.

To do this, marketers must integrate operations and communications.

“By working with cross-functional teams, marketers can help organizations keep a finger on their patients’ pulse and develop communication materials that heal and strengthen relationships,” Tom DeSanto, principal, Tom DeSanto Strategy and Communications, told HMA. “It’s like multispecialty care for the patient experience.”

2. Start with first point of contact.

Naturally, aligning the brand promise with its experience is a daunting task. A good way to start is to focus on the patient’s first physical point of contact with your organization. The patient’s perception of your parking lot, lobby, and front-line desk staff make a lasting impression on their overall experience. This is why many organizations choose to employ valets and greeters; to construct warm, spacious entryways; and to extensively train staff in customer service.

“Marketers should consider all of the variables that will impact the patients’ and their families’ or visitors’ impression of the building and the people inside,” Shari Short, research director and strategist for Aloysius Butler & Clark, told HMA. “For example, if the parking lot feels unsafe or if the elevators are broken or too slow, consumers note these factors as part of their experience.”

Once the patient enters the treatment phase of their visit, clinical care takes precedence. But there is always room to craft a positive patient experience.

“For many healthcare workers, the patient experience is about clinical health outcomes, but for the healthcare consumer, it is about the levels of comfort and customer satisfaction that determine whether it is a positive patient experience,” Short says. “Marketers need to be present and involved in designing the patient experience from parking, to driving away after discharge, to keep the voice of the healthcare consumer in the conversation.”

3. Improve staff communication.

Staff attitudes, from disengaged desk workers to pressed-for-time caregivers, has a profound impact on the patient experience. The first step toward correcting any unsavory behaviors is education. Many staff may not realize that the way they are acting has such an impact on the patient’s satisfaction and perception of their care.

You can “inspire frontline patient care staff through simple, ongoing quality and satisfaction communications that praise their efforts and challenge them to improve,” DeSanto said. Also, “develop simple training and motivational materials to help improve performance in areas that have low satisfaction ratings.”

Furthermore, it’s important to report individual successes and overall progress in improving the patient experience to staff members, as well as patients and the hospital community.

4. Improve the patient experience.

Providing patients with friendly, uncomplicated, and practical information about what to expect from their hospital stay will help the patients feel more at ease even before they step foot in your facility.

This virtual or paper first point of contact can be just as important in making a positive impression as the physical first point of contact.

It’s also important to “examine and improve all aspects of communications with patients from initial contact with the physician referral line through episodes of care to interactions around insurance and billing,” DeStanto says.

Much like how the patient experience can begin before the patient enters the hospital grounds, it can continue long after the patient leaves.

In order to stay competitive in today’s healthcare environment, marketers must be responsible for much more than advertising and public relations. Not only must marketers communicate the brand, they must create and sustain the brand.

“If marketing is ever to evolve into the important strategic discipline in healthcare that it is in other industries, then the marketing department must take the lead role in orchestrating the patient experience,” Adamson says.

“For those marketers who choose not to leap across this chasm with excitement, however, they will be dooming themselves and the departments they lead to more of the same frustration that has been vocalized since the advent of healthcare marketing.”

Healthcare Marketing: Decisions without Considering Consumer Costly

Recent snafus prove that we should think from the consumer’s perspective.  And not about what’s best for our organization’s operations.

Recently Facebook made changes to its social network’s interface.  This was closely on the heels of earlier changes that Facebook users weren’t even used to yet.  And users were not happy.  Then Netflix customers who were already unhappy with a price increase were then angered more when the company announced it was separating its streaming video offering from its video rental business to create a new company.

Two very successful corporations who had great loyalty and good will but unilaterally made decisions, which were good operationally without considering the impact on consumers.  It’s a mistake many companies make.  Although not as widely discussed and criticized as these two.   Both of these companies thought they could do anything they wanted and consumers would accept it.  They never even considered what the consumer would think.  It was good operationally for each of them and that was the basis of their decision.

So a management decision that made complete sense internally backfired because no one bothered to consider or ask what their customers thought. And now they’re paying a large cost in public perception, consumer loyalty and sales.  Their brand has been tarnished.

Healthcare organizations sometimes make the same mistake.  In an effort to cut costs, improve efficiency and increase productivity, hospitals and healthcare organizations make decisions that make sense internally but may not be received well by patients.

It proves that we need to listen to the consumer and evaluate every decision from the customer’s perspective.  In a very competitive marketplace with pressures on the bottom-line organizations can ill afford to alienate customers.  Decisions made without considering the consumer may save money but it could cost far more in business, consumer locality and brand perception.

Of course we know this.  But sometimes we forget.  We look at decisions from every angle except from the viewpoint of the consumer.  Sometimes it takes highly publicized snafus like Facebook and Netflix to remind us that what our customers think is of extreme importance.  May we not get so removed from our customers that we repeat the mistake. 


Hospital Marketing: Dealing with Angry Patients/Customers Part 2

Every hospital has unhappy customers.  The question is not if you have them but what will you do with them?

Every hospital will have disgruntled customers from time to time.  But instead of letting the situation create bad ill and tarnish the brand, the situation can be used to show how your hospital cares and even build brand loyalty.

Based on consumer satisfaction research, an article in The Financial Brand listed the expectations of customers once they have issued a complaint.  The list is important for hospitals to understand and use as a guideline for dealing with angry customers.

Customers who have issued complaints expect to:

  • Receive an explanation of how a problem happened
  • Be told how long it will take to resolve a problem
  • Be given progress reports if a problem cannot be solved immediately.
  • Be given useful alternatives if a problem cannot be resolved.
  • Be allowed to talk to someone in authority.
  • Be contacted promptly once the problem is resolved.
  • Be called back when promised.
  • Know whom to contact in the future.
  • Be told about ways the customer’s situation might be used to prevent future problems.

It’s important hospitals address customer issues and fulfill the expectations listed above.  Unsolved problems have a particularly negative impact on both continued loyalty and word-of-mouth recommendations to others. Dissatisfied customers tell far more people about their experience than do satisfied customers.

So it’s imperative to deal with customer complaints and use the opportunity to turn a negative situation into a positive one.  One that can actually build customer loyalty.

Hospital Marketing: Dealing with Angry Customers/Patients Part 1

Every hospital has unhappy customers.  The question is not if you have them but what will you do with them?

Every hospital makes mistakes.  With as many patients that come through our doors and with as many varied points of contact, it‘s inevitable there will be unhappy customers.  Plus, many customers are not in the best frame of mind to begin with, which means they are often easily agitated.  No matter how much customer service is stressed, there will be screw-ups.  There will be disgruntled customers.

Instead of looking at such occurrences as a disaster, it can become a positive branding experience if handled properly.  Instead of an upset customer who becomes a noisy distracter, the goal is to convert him into a brand loyalist who sings the hospital’s praises.  The unhappy customer should not be viewed as the enemy but as an opportunity to characterize the brand as responsive and caring.

So what do you do when you make a mistake?   Four simple steps:

1.  Apologize.  Disarm the angry customer by apologizing upfront.

2.  Listen and empathize.  Listen and don’t try to defend the hospital. Let the customer know your hospital cares.

3.  Address the problem.  Try to fix the problem and satisfy the customer as much as possible.

4. Offer to correct the problem.  The customer wants to know the hospital will do everything possible to prevent the problem from happening again.

5.  Follow up.  Contact the customer and let them know what has been done to fix the problem.  This is essential for customer satisfaction.

Research indicates it costs five times more to get a new customer than it does to keep an existing one.  So it’s important to keep customers, even the ones that have bad experiences.  Solving customer problems not only keeps customers, it also helps build brand loyalty.

Healthcare Marketing: Don’t Let the Volume of the Patient’s Voice Drown Out Yours

Although consumers have a louder voice than ever before, make no mistake about it, you still own and control your brand.  Marketers are still responsible for the brand’s narrative.   

“The consumer is now in control.”  You hear it often.  You’ve probably read it in some of my blogs.  But is it ultimately true?  Yes consumers have a louder voice.  Yes consumers have new and expanded ways to exert their influence on a brand.  But ultimately brands still control themselves.  And we must not forget that.

Look at some of the ways consumers can now influence a brand:

  • DVRs allow consumers to skip past television commercials
  • Use of social media to critique or criticize a brand
  • Provide content and produce ads for brands
  • The myriad of opportunities to give input and suggestions to brands
  • The many avenues available to hold brands’ feet to the fire and make them accountable.

So it is true, consumers can now influence brands in ways never before available.  And that’s probably a good thing.  But that doesn’t give them ultimate controlIt just requires brand managers and companies to be more responsible and more diligent.

True consumers can use DVRs to skip commercials but they have always had that right.  No advertiser has ever been able to force a consumer to see or watch or hear it ads.  It’s still incumbent on advertisers to attract and hold the attention of consumers to see and hear its messages.

Groupon saw and felt the backlash for it’s ill-advised Super Bowl spots.  The company was forced to pull the ad and apologize.  But is that an example of consumer control or thoughtlessness by the brand?

Consumers can now create content for brands.  Many brands are soliciting consumer assistance with the content of their advertising.  But would anyone just laud the brand building power of consumer directed spots for Doritos and Pepsi in recent years?  If consumers now have control of the brand, it’s because brands have given it over to them.

And some would point to consumer reaction to Gap’s effort to modernize its logo only to repeal its efforts at the appearance of consumer complaint in social media.  But was their backpedaling justified?  Only a very some percentage of GAP customers weighed in on the issue.  I contend the vast majority of their customers didn’t care.  And compare that to the Sci-Fi channel that would endure widespread disapproval when they changed their name to Syfi.  But the network did not waver and as result, now the network is setting new levels of viewership and success.

True, consumers have more voice.  A louder voice.  But that is no excuse for a marketer to give up control of its brand.  It requires more work, more accountability, more thoughtfulness and more discernment.  But the brand is still responsible for itself.   It’s a cop-out to concede ultimate control to the consumer.  Sure brands should react and respond to the needs and desires of consumers.  And letting consumers have input is essential in today’s marketplace (as if it hasn’t been before).  Ultimate control however still rests with the brand.

Mike Wolfsohn, Chief Creative Officer at High Wide and Handsome , contributed an article on this topic recently in Ad Age   and stated, “It’s critical to distinguish a consumer’s increased ability to amplify a brand’s successes and failures from his or her actual control over the story a brand tells.  In the purest sense, consumers have always wielded immense influence with their wallet.  That their votes are now cast on public websites long before the ballots are counted on confidential P&Ls only makes it easier for marketers to react more quickly.”  

For healthcare marketers, as well as all marketers, we still control our brand.   Yes it requires more work to shepherd a brand in a more complex media environment, but it is still within our control.  Unless we choose to give that control away.  But we must not.  Now more that ever, we should seek consumer input, listen to their leanings and use that information to have even more control over our brands than we have ever had before.


Hospital Marketing: Word of a Bad Patient Experience Travels Fast…

Bad news travels fast… How fast? Who is most likely to talk negatively about your brand?

There is a renewed emphasis in healthcare today on patient experience.  And there should be!  Because if a person has a bad experience at a hospital, they will most likely spread the word.  Over 75% of consumers tell about bad experiences to their family and friends.  Certainly more than the 42% who would recommend a product or service they really like.  This according to LoyaltyOne’s COLLOQUY report.

The study also found that even 31% of loyal advocates of a brand would pass along information concerning bad experiences they’ve had with that brand.   “One lesson is clear, hell hath no fury like a Champion scorned,” stated COLLOQUY managing partner Kelly Hiavinka.  News about bad experiences travels and travels fast.  In fact, less than one-fourth of all bad experiences are kept quiet.  Affluents are more likely to spread the bad news than any other group.  Seniors are the least likely.  Young adults and women are strong spreaders as well.

There’s just little chance a bad experience won’t make the rounds.  So each bad experience is multiplied.  And a series of bad experiences can certainly damage a hospital’s image and reputation.  And note that it takes many more positive experiences to make up for the bad ones.

Marketing of your hospital is essential.  And very useful.  But it can’t make up for bad experiences.  And the consumer has so many avenues to share the bad news.  It’s not just word of mouth anymore; it’s all the conversations in social media that can quickly spread the unhappy news about a brand.  Hundreds or even thousands of others can read one bad word on a social networking site.   Much more than just a casual conversation with friends or acquaintances.

So the best thing a hospital can do for its brand is minimize the bad experiences. Even in healthcare, customer service is essential to a brand’s health.  A hospital can have the latest technology, the best doctors and the finest facilities, but if it delivers bad service the brand will suffer.  It will create a chain of conversation that will be difficult to counter and overcome.  Today’s emphasis on customer service and customer satisfaction is certainly well placed.



Healthcare Branding: An Experience by More than the Patient

Your hospital’s brand is  defined by the patient’s experience as well as others. And it’s being determined all day, every day.

Branding has finally hit the radar for hospitals and healthcare organizations.  The industry’s marketing efforts are maturing to the point that marketers and senior management are beginning to realize how important their brand is.  And rightfully so.  The battle for the consumers’ minds and future market share will be determined by our brand perception.

But for many marketers, branding is about logos and typefaces, corporate identity standards and taglines.  Good branding encompasses these things but it’s so much more.  It ‘s really more about the consumer’s experience. What does your brand communicate each day to those who come in contact with it?

And it’s not just the patient’s experience that determines the brand.  It’s also the patient’s family and friends and what their experiences are like.  And employees and how they experience the brand.  And suppliers and vendors.  The community at large.  It’s the totality of all the touch points.  By everyone.

We are seeing many hospitals updating logos and altering the visual look of their communications.  We see them changing positioning lines.  And giving facelifts to their facilities.   All of which is good.  Very good in fact.  But if that is all that’s changing, it’s only cosmetic and only skin deep.

These changes help position a brand but the most important thing is the experience it delivers.  What is the experience like?   It has to do with parking, cleanliness, friendliness courtesy, wait times, competence, customer service, caring, attitudes and everything else that affects a person’s experience.

It’s great that hospital marketers and senior management are turning their attention to their brand.  But hopefully it’s more than just aesthetics.  Hopefully the emphasis is on the total experience delivered by the hospital.  That’s what will really determine your brand in the minds and hearts of consumers.