Customer Advocacy is the new buzz word in the healthcare marketing space these days. Actually it is in many ways a bit of some old wine in a shiny new bottle. For many years now, healthcare marketers have known the power of customer advocacy, which in the olden days was known in somewhat more prosaic terms as ‘Word of Mouth’.
Customer Advocacy is all about patients talking about their experiences at hospitals and at various touch-points as they engage with healthcare service providers. In the healthcare space, patients talking well of a hospital, doctor or nursing care has always resonated a lot more than say, someone discussing a wonderful evening out in a restaurant or a five star hotel. In a hospital, a good experience usually means someone overcoming all odds, someone coming through a debilitating illness or someone recovering uneventfully from an emergent and unexpected surgery.
That patients will speak well of a hospital and its services is premised on one single fact – that the hospital will deliver a great experience to patients all the time. This is unfortunately easier said than done. A patient in the hospital today has many touch points and as the patient navigates her journey around the hospital, her experiences keep mounting. In the past, patients expected very little from the hospitals, the basic expectation was to just get out of the hospital alive!!!. Today, the hospital has to ensure its floors and rooms are spick and span, the doctors communicate well with the patients and the attendants, the nurses are ever vigilant and responsive, the quality of food served is comparable to a gourmet restaurants (no more jokes about the hospital food of yore!!!), the discharge process is quick and the billing is transparent. And an expected medical outcome is almost a given!!!!
There is nothing wrong with these expectations. A good modern day hospital should offer these and more. However, from the point of view of driving customer advocacy, it is a must that the hospital offers these experiences in a manner that meet patient expectations. To make matters more interesting a hospital, which hopes to use customer advocacy as a key marketing tool, must ensure that some of these experiences are delivered way beyond patient expectations and thus can become ‘talking points’. Thus, some of these experiences have to be tailored differently, delivered with great sincerity and truly from the heart to sway a customer to talk well about the hospitals.
Now if a hospital is geared to deliver superlative customer experiences, the marketer’s task becomes a little easier. He has to now ensure that the customer has easy ways of communicating his experiences to the wide world. In today’s 24×7 connected worlds, social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook come in very handy. Large hospital chains in the country have huge fanbases and followers and they encourage patients to record their experiences and then share them on these platforms. Hospital chains like Fortis and Max Healthcare extensively use slickly shot video testimonials, which are put up on different social media platforms and shared to generate the buzz.
A few hospitals also use in-hospital communication in the form of the traditional ‘wall of fame’ where they talk about positive patient experiences and simultaneously recognise employees showing exemplary behaviour based on patient feedback.
Many hospitals also encourage patients, who have had great experience at the hospitals to come and engage with others, currently undergoing therapy. This is usually a cathartic experience for many as they are able to closely identify with the speaker and feel motivated in their fight against a disease. In my many years of working in hospitals, I have organised many such events and the goodwill and joy that these events generate is best experienced by attending a session in person.
Many a times, I have seen patients volunteering to even participate with their doctors in media events organised by hospitals as spokespersons for the hospital. Recently, I was in Kenya for a media interaction that we were holding for the local media in Nairobi. The interaction featured two patients, who had received outstanding care at hospitals in India and they spoke beautifully about their successful fight against implacable foes like cancer and traumatic injuries. John began by saying that ‘Let me tell you that cancer can be cured…I know it better than anyone else…’ and Omar narrated how his 12 year old son recovered from an accidental injury that everyone has given up on. They spoke eloquently, answered questions, hugged their family and thanked the doctors for their support and care during difficult days. –Real patient stories at their best.
No amount of advertising can have the kind of impact that a patient telling his stories from the heart has. It is immensely powerful and the most potent way of building a brand and winning hearts.
An edited version of this piece has also appeared in Healthcare Radius/Feb 2015