I believe the time has come for hospitals to seriously look at taking on people tasked with managing the customer experience, while interacting with the hospital at its various touchpoints. The Customer Experience Manager must be an individual, who can integrate the plethora of experiences that one is likely to have in a hospital in one unique experience, even a memorable one, (which is difficult, considering one is talking about a hospital).
A Customer Experience Manager should be empowered to act on behalf of the patients in the hospital, have overriding powers and must be guided by just one consideration, which is, if I was the patient, would I expect this from my hospital. An affirmative answer to this question is what should guide the Customer Experience Manager.
The Customer Experience Manager, must identify ‘key experiential areas’ and develop desired experience protocols for all of them. The trick here really is to get into the last level of detailing in designing the experience protocols. For example if we were to look at the OPD as an ‘experiential area’ the possible touch points may include the OPD reception, the self use information kiosk, the waiting area and the billing desk, the pharmacy, the doctor’s consultation room and the nursing station. The customer experience manager must have a ‘experience protocol’ for all these touchpoints as well as for all the folks who are to manage these touchpoints. Thus, for the front office the protocol might be that the phone must be answered with in 3 rings, the customer must be attended to with in two minutes of his approaching the counter, the person manning the reception must stand up while interacting with the customer, greet the customer, should be able to address or direct all customer queries to appropriate folks in the hospital, must converse with the customer in either English or an appropriate vernacular language, look the customer in the eye and ensure by his demeanour that the the customer is welcome and he is delighted to be of help. Similar detailed protocols must be put in place and as far as possible they must be measurable for all the touch points in all ‘experiential areas’.
The other customer experiential areas that I can think of are the Emergency, the In-Patient Admissions and Billing, The Insurance/TPA desk, The ICU and ICU waiting areas, The Post Surgical recovery and counselling rooms, The Patient Rooms, The F&B service areas, cafeterias, the nursing stations, OPD diagnostic areas, the daycare treatment areas, the phlebotomy, OPD waiting areas and let us also not forget the lavatories and the parking lots. While some of these may appear frivolous, I believe that a bad experience in any of these can lead to serious repercussions on the overall hospital experience of the patients.
A cross-functional team, which puts in place all the ‘experiential guidelines’ for various touch points and trains individuals, who are expected to deliver customer experiences must support the Customer Experience Manager. Thus each individual, who interacts with a customer, be it a doctor, nurse or an office executive must clearly know, what is expected of him and he should be suitably equipped to deliver the desired experience.
The Customer Experience Manager must also have the ability to measure the delivery of the desired experience. This can be done by regular audits, mystery customers and the analysis of the customer feedback. The measurement of the deviation from the desired experience is critical and any significant variation must be analysed, its root cause determined and corrective action initiated.
In my experience, I have seen hospitals writing down the ‘experience guidelines’ but they are rarely able to implement these down the line. This is primarily because each individual, brings with him/her certain baggage, a way of interacting with customers and is loathe to change in a hurry. The medical folks hate to be bound by behaviour guidelines, written by upstart managers and prefer to interact with patients in their own ways. Often, the training element is inadequate-the content is poor, the delivery boring and the reinforcements rare.
The only way to success is to create ‘experience evangelists’, who passionately believe in delivering designer customer experiences, and encourage them to influence their team members. The hospital too must use the good old carrot and stick policy by rewarding and punishing individuals for delivering/deviating from the defined protocols. Serial offenders, must be made an example of.
Lest this seems like a draconian hide bound regime, I must hasten to admit that these protocols are usually simple and easy to follow. If implemented resolutely, the protocols become a habit and a delighted customer is a reward that everyone starts looking forward to.