The Customer Comes Second

There’s a better strategy for success. And it starts with your team.

Many of us in business have been taught to believe statements such as “the customer is king” and “the customer is always right.”  While these adages make sense in the context of having a medical practice that is focused on the patient, they just don’t hold up when you begin to consider that a great experience for the patient doesn’t just happen. It takes people. Your people. 

Of course, customer experience matters when you are competing for the time, attention, and money of people walking through your door or going to your website.  Have you taken a look around lately? You’ll see that something’s amiss. There’s tension in the air between customers and the employees hired to serve them. 

The pandemic has only increased this tension, with some customers becoming irate because they don’t get what they want or refuse to comply with the law. The airline passenger who punched a flight attendant is perhaps the most glaring example of customers gone wild (needless to say … a bad thing). 

Some industries, particularly the hospitality sector of hotels and restaurants, are pushing back in positive ways including a “be kind” campaign recently highlighted in the Wall Street Journal.  There’s a limit to how much we cater to customers, and there’s a need to restore the balance between what gets tolerated and what gets shut down in terms of behavior.  

What smart business owners including medical doctors know is that a great patient experience can only take place if you have a great team in place to consistently deliver. Restauranteur Danny Meyer, with fine dining establishments in New York City and now fast-casual Shake Shack restaurants opening around the country, intentionally puts his employees above customers, investors, and suppliers. All are important, but Meyer recognizes that his success in the high-failure rated dining industry is due to the fact that customers mainly recall how they were treated rather than the meal itself.    

His thinking is quite simple. Take great care of employees and they will do likewise with customers. It’s a truism that is too easy to miss when your patient satisfaction isn’t as high as you want it to be. Practices tend to get in a mode of “set it and forget it” when it comes to the training and development of their team. Once someone has mastered the skills of their specific role, they are then expected to perform it well with little time spent on ongoing development.  

One of the big areas of opportunity I see is in choreography. Much like a play or a ballet, what happens inside a practice can and should be well planned out so that the “door to door” experience of the patient – from the time they get out of their car to the time they get back in – is well organized with value being added at each stage of their visit.  How much time does your team spend working on improving the choreography? Think of it as “patient flow” taken to a new level, where you blend efficiency (i.e. the number of patients you can see in an hour) with effectiveness (i.e. how you can create positive and lasting impressions about your practice and the people that work in it).  

The best of the best invest strategically in this area. One practice I’ve worked with devotes 100 hours per year to customer service. Averaging two hours per week, each session infuses the team with new ideas as well as challenges them on how to continuously improve the ways in which they interact with patients.  

All this reminds me of something recently told to me by my client, colleague, and friend Matt Jensen. Matt, who is CEO of Vance Thompson Vision, put it bluntly:  “The patient experience isn’t about marketing; it’s all about operations.”  This statement rings true when you step back and realize that good marketing will never overcome bad choreography. When this happens, it’s like a “bait and switch” where what was promised or implied in your marketing and advertising fails to get delivered at the time or service.  

Indeed, it makes far more sense to invest in your people and developing their talents around taking care of the customer.  Don’t assume they know what to do or even what you would do.  Regular staff training and development as part of a healthy practice culture are key to becoming known for a great patient experience.

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