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Product Quality vs. Service Excellence: The Choice is Clear for Ad Agencies and Health Systems

May 1, 2015
Customer Service, Health System, Healthcare, Product, Service

A couple of weeks ago a BPDer (that’s what we call ourselves at the agency) was in my office and we were talking about the company’s priorities for 2015. For the first 30 minutes or so the conversation went along smoothly, with nary a bump. This is a person I trust and admire. When he talks, I listen.

Then it happened.

“Jason, I agree with these priorities, but having a great product always trumps customer service, and I thi—”

A siren wailed inside my head, bouncing from one lobe to the other.

“I couldn’t disagree more,” I said sharply.

He looked stunned and clearly didn’t understand what I was getting fired up about. To be fair, he was probably confused by my response since he knew that I believed in product excellence as much as he did.

Composing myself, I explained, “Don’t get me wrong. We need great product: Strategy, creative, content, digital, media—the whole package. But if we don’t consistently provide amazing customer experiences, all the great product in the world doesn’t make a difference.”

He looked across the desk at me somewhat skeptically.

I went on to explain that this is a lesson that came directly from the school of hard knocks. Although BPD has enjoyed very low client turnover since we opened our doors in 2002, in the early years there were a few clients who walked out the door. Each time we were told it’s not personal, it’s just business. What a bunch of bologna—it’s completely personal!

I vowed to learn from these early growing pains in order to never repeat them again.

So why did clients leave us? They were happy with the product, but, for various reasons, weren’t happy with their experience. It could have been who was assigned to their account or turnaround times or the lack of communication. No matter, it all came down to this: Each one felt there was too much pain in the relationship.

BPD’s Healthcare Client Service Standards

Over the years, bp|d hired better and invested more in managing, training and cultivating “A” players. We’ve implemented technology to improve efficiency and reduce client costs. And, of course, we’ve upped service-level standards (e.g., true 24/7 availability, 15-minute call backs), all aimed at one thing: Making the customer experience amazing.

It’s a challenge to pull off every day, but in my opinion, it’s the single largest driver of loyalty and advocacy (again, not independent of product excellence, but as the halo above it).

So what does all of this have to do with your healthcare system? A lot.

Providing a Better Patient Experience

Think about your health system, the services it offers, certifications achieved and awards garnered. Now think about your direct competitors. Do they offer similar services? Do they also have clinical certifications? Have they won awards? Can patients expect to receive quality care from both you and the competition?

If you’ve answered yes to most of these questions, your health system is probably a commodity.

So how can you differentiate your brand and drive customer loyalty in a commodity marketplace? Provide a better customer experience, for patients as well as clinicians.

This isn’t a flavor-of-the-week HR program. This is a paradigm shift from a focus mostly on clinical quality (product) to a more holistic view of the enterprise, where customer experience is as important as clinical quality. Health systems that adopt this approach will, in my opinion, grow market share and volumes at a much faster pace than those organizations that fail to address this gap.

And it is happening today. Major health systems such as Bon Secours and Johns Hopkins have brought in Ritz Carlton Consulting to “transfer service excellence best practices from hospitality to healthcare.” I have no particular allegiance to Ritz Carlton, but let’s face it: They know how to operationalize service excellence. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat across the desk from a healthcare executive who has said, “We want to be the Ritz Carlton of health systems.” 

Operationalizing Service Excellence for Health Systems

Ladies and gentlemen, isn’t it time we move beyond patient navigators? Can you imagine having a Vice President of Patient Experience at your health system? What about a Chief Experience Officer?

If you want a leg up on the competition, perhaps now is the time to start considering this.

Some of you are rightly thinking, “What will it cost to do this?” Maybe the better question is, “What will it cost to do nothing?” If cost is the main concern, perhaps start small. Think about all of the different interactions physicians and patients have with your brand (call center, online, credentialing, OR scheduling, patient referrals/tracking, check-in, physician office visit, urgent care visit, bill payment, etc.).

Then sit down as a leadership team and challenge yourselves to figure out one thing you could do to make each of these interactions a better experience for the customer and the physician. Next, go out and implement the solutions. Then start the process again.

Before long, you’ll have an organization that not only provides clinical excellence, but service excellence as well—an organization that patients and physicians will be loyal to for years to come.

Jason Brown

Jason is CEO & Chief Strategy Officer of Brown Parker & DeMarinis (BPD), an internationally-recognized advertising agency that is on a mission to make health systems and hospitals the most beloved brands in the world. A pioneer in hospital marketing, BPD works with clients to unlock the power of their Purpose inside and outside their organizations, resulting in highly engaged employees and physicians and dramatically higher brand preference and service-line volumes.

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