Service Recovery and Word of Mouth Hospital Marketing

Goof ups in hospitals are always round the corner.

I dare suggest that quite often they are unavoidable. Do what you may, there will always be someone who will slip once in a while and you will have an irate customer. The headcount in a typical 300 bed tertiary care hospital in India can easily be 800 people or more. In spite of all the care in hiring the right set of people and putting them through rigorous training, they will still end up making mistakes.

Good hospitals, while trying to minimise errors also learn to accept them as inevitable and put in place systems, that help them handle difficult situations well. Great hospitals go one step further, they not only do excellent service recovery, they also ensure that the the patients leave the hospital with a positive frame of mind, in spite of the mishap.  

F&B and Billing are two areas in a hospital, where service failures are most common. The food would not arrive on time, would either be too cold or too hot, or too spicy or just unpalatable. Similarly the bill will take ages to get ready, it will have items billed, which in the patient’s estimation were never used, there will be charges for doctor’s visits, who never showed up or just came and said hello, while the hospital levied a big charge. All this and more are common in the hospitals. Too many such episodes, with a patient will lead to a bad experience and even if the medical outcome is fine the patient will (in all likelihood) have bad things to say about the hospital.

It is essential that the hospital actively seek patients’ views on its services. While, a feedback form is usually available at the time of the discharge, it is of no use in service recovery.(The patient is afterall ready to leave the hospital).

Max Healthcare, thus employed a novel system called ‘The Mentor Program’ to collect patient feedback through designated executives called ‘Mentors’, while the patients were admitted in the hospital. The mentors meet the patients and their attendants on a daily basis and listen to their grievances and experiences in the hospital. They than pass on the feedback to the concerned departments (say F&B), which than takes care that the error was not repeated. The mentors check with the patients again the next day if all was fine and usually have a happy patient at hand.

I myself experienced the Mentor system at work, when my mother underwent a bypass surgery last year. She had complications and we spent a harrowing 3 weeks in the hospital. However, the mentor made our life easier by taking care of the smallest need that we had (even allowing us to break hospital rules at times). We got an impression that the hospital was willing to listen to us, really cared about us and was a partner in a difficult period in our lives. 

And look here I am talking about the our experience in the hospital rather than the infection, which my mother contracted after surgery leading to complications. I understand this can happen in any hospital across the world, the infection rate at Max compares favourably with other hospitals and we were just plain unlucky.

This is the power of a good experience and word of mouth marketing. A good customer experience and a positive word of mouth is never a product of an accident. It is only through a great understanding of consumer behaviour in a hospital, detailed planning and diligent effort, that magic happens.

 

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9 thoughts on “Service Recovery and Word of Mouth Hospital Marketing

  1. My take!
    I like your analytic abilities and your expression. I have now read all your post and this has provided me with valuable insights about the ground realities. This has provoked me share my take on things and it would be interesting to see what your thoughts are about this. Before that I must state my credentials I am physician in Australia and have basically trained from India and after spending some time in Middle East I moved here. I have keen interest in Healthcare which extends beyond my specialty and I follow things closely specially in India. This stems from my deep faith in the great potential of healthcare there.
    Planning is the Key, a lesson I have learnt over and over gain especially here. I have involved in the planning of setting up a healthcare business here, it was amazing to see how much time is spent in planning for things like what skills are required how to get them. A substantial time was spent working out what the balance sheets can and should look like at various time points, working out best case/ worse case scenarios and contingency plans so as to avoid any situation of desperation which can set a negative cycle.
    Perseverance is important, Healthcare has always been a long term business built on trust and shall always remain so no matter any level of structural change. There is no wisdom in approaching a test match with T20 strategy. This business does not suit any organization used to or looking for quick break even/turnaround times. It should be understood that few years of work with missionary will ultimately bring results for many decades to come
    Leadership, teambuilding requires people with strong leadership skills. People who can get the right together the right mix of people and nurture a team spirit; a captain who recognizes the strengths and weakness of all his players and utilizes everyone appropriately and does not mind walking up and offering few words of encouragement to player who is going through a bad patch. I must say there is severe dearth of people with such abilities in the industry.
    Doctors in India being high achievers grow though a very competitive environment which severely impairs there ability to work as a team. Having worked in both the environments I realize the bliss of working in a team and would strongly recommend all efforts to inculcate this, it’s worth all the effort.
    Communication lines should be clear and well defined. All new incumbents should be familiarized about the vision and philosophy of the organization. They should be given clear charter of responsiblties along with KPIs(key performance indicators) with timelines against which there performance would be measured. It is often the lack of these which sets up a cycle of mutual distrust.
    Research & Academics, it is the excellence in these areas that brings the real fame to any health care organization. This needs vision, resources and investing in the right people, a real challenge in the current environment of quick results
    Marketing, lack of formal referral system in India requires educating people about what you have to offer and why they should trust you over others.

    I am sure if right things are done rightly they will work!

  2. Hi

    I can not be more in agreement with you on some of these points.

    Hospitals can not start making money from day one. Unfortunately the expectations of many hospital owners is to see how quickly the financial returns start happening. This leads to everyone focusing on a single goal of financial viability rather than patient care, service excellence or establishing a brand.

    The planning done when the project is on the drawing boards is usually elaborate. The vision and the principles articulated to potential hires and business associates is also superlative. Unfortunately all that disappears with in 6 months of commencing ops.

    This leads to the exit of top talent both managerial and medical and the hospital is left with mediocre people, who have no qualms in cutting corners to ensure survival. All principles are thrown overboard.

    This has exactly what is happening to the hospital where I worked last. The Chief Operating Officer and all his direct reports including the Heads of Medical Services, Hosp Operations, Finance, HR and Sales and Marketing walked off, within a year of commencement of hospital operations. These people were all founding members of the hospital and had come on board solely on the basis of the vision articulated then.

    Now the doctors are planning to leave.

    The owners, who have extensive interests in the tyres business in India are planning to sell the hospital and are only waiting for the right valuation.

    Makes me feel sad, because this hospital really has the potential to be one of the finest facility in North India.

  3. This intrigues me. I can understand tyre manufacturers getting into the business of alloy wheels but healthcare! Now once they have ventured out what’s the rush in running off.
    These are early days of healthcare in India and the scene is bound to get more and more competitive. Hiring and firing won’t go along way and only those who stick to their basics at all times shall stand the test of time. The rest shall fade from the centre stage becoming second rung organisations.
    How come they are still releasing press notes about aggressive expansion plans to other cities? (recent edition of express health management)

    http://www.expresshealthcare.in/200810/delhincr02.shtml

  4. This intrigues me. I can understand tyre manufacturers getting into the business of alloy wheels but healthcare! Now once they have ventured out what’s the rush in running off.
    These are early days of healthcare in India and the scene is bound to get more and more competitive. Hiring and firing won’t go along way and only those who stick to their basics at all times shall stand the test of time. The rest shall fade from the centre stage becoming second rung organisations.
    How come they are still releasing press notes about aggressive expansion plans to other cities? (recent edition of express health management)

    http://www.expresshealthcare.in/200810/delhincr02.shtml

  5. It is so easy to get these kind of pieces written in trade publications. No one would know better, I was running the communications program at Artemis. In this age of lazy journalism, many a journalist are more than willing to go ahead and write what a hospital tells them.

    I am sorry to let the cat out of the bag. Artemis expansion plans are in deep freeze. Money is in short supply and people are leaving in a hurry

  6. Then I think they are in serious trouble!Do you things will improve if it is taken over another group and what is the likely hood of that happening in near future?

  7. I happened to be the incharge cardiac physiotherapist looking after your mother at that time and I remember all the difficulties she had gone through.I moved to UK last year to do PG in health & care management.I cant really comment on the mentor system but definitely i do agree with sharman’s view on doctors failure to work as a team in India which I myself have experienced. They like to tell others all the time. Actually this is what lead me to move to management and working in UK makes me realise that its mainly the attitude and the lack of teamwork which fails the set processes n leads to bad reputation of the service provider.

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