The Hospital and Car Dealer Odyssey: Reimagining Customer Experience

It turns out that healthcare providers and auto dealerships have much in common. Often, what they share is a sour reputation with the people they serve.

Stick with me on this for a minute. Surprisingly, improvements in the “dealership experience” world illustrate some useful concepts for better “patient experience.”

Bad reputation legacy to overcome…

Hospitals, doctor’s offices and healthcare providers have been burdened with negative, although unfair, associations. The reputation springs from attitudes that “nothing good happens in a hospital.” Of course that’s a sweeping generality, and largely untrue these days. Yet in some ways it’s understandable; hospitals are full of sick people, anxious and uncomfortable patients, family and friends, and outcomes that are potentially dire.

The stereotypical auto dealership experience has its own historical issues of unpleasantness. Notwithstanding that everyone loves owning and driving a new car, there’s a certain amount of dread in expecting to face-off with a salesperson, arm wrestle over price, and worry about making a wrong, big-ticket purchase.

Many people arrive at the front door (dealership or hospital) with a baseline of lingering, and largely negative expectations. Some problems in common include:

  • Uncomfortable waiting
  • Process bottlenecks
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Easily finding product/service information
  • Impersonal interactions
  • Shuffling of forms and paperwork, and
  • Oh, did I mention waiting?

Both reputations—although historically grounded—are largely out of sync with a contemporary experience. Nevertheless, perception is often the reality, and this is often the starting point for improvment.

Redesigning the Audi experience…

Both hospitals and dealerships have come a long way in improving the customer experience. But, in a case study from one carmaker, Audi of America was not satisfied with the usual measures of satisfaction. How Audi set out to aggressively redesign the car dealership experience is well-worth reading in detail from BusinessWeek.

The article reveals some pathways to improvements that transfer to patient experience. They include these takeaway concepts:

Reimagination begins with a blank slate. Genuine insight—and meaningful improvements—are deeper than tidying-up the “old way” with superficial changes. In the Audi story, a big-league corporate design firm [Continuum] brought an unbiased perspective and independent thinking. Imagine for a moment, what you might achieve if there were no preexisting barriers.

Design the experience, not the process. Efforts to improve patient experience often focus first on the usual linear process steps from front door to exit. While these are important considerations, interaction is at the core of experience (and satisfaction). How can the experience first be responsive to the patient’s perspective and still achieve an efficient process? (In some instances, some administrative steps can be simplified or eliminated with a cost savings benefit.)

Achieving internal buy-in for experience improvements. Change carries an element of “fear of unknown” for doctors, staff and employees. In the Audi process, a full-scale model showroom was built. “People can feel it, see it, experience it, then give their feedback,” says Continuum. But the intensive development work was done with managers and employees who invest input and ideas.

Easier said than done, you say…

Well…yeah. Healthcare providers and hospitals seldom have the budget or resources to build facilities from the ground up, or to leap into an aggressive re-engineering of systems, processes and patient experience touch points. And engaging long entrenched, “we’ve always done it another way” attitudes is a considerable challenge.

We agree; reversing the course of an aircraft carrier is a long, slow and extremely wide turn. But, as was the situation with Audi, the greatest need harbors big rewards. (On average in that industry, improved customer service sells hundreds of more cars each year.)

Likewise for hospitals, studies show that patient experience drives selection, adherence, compliance and improved outcomes. And for more on this topic, read Leadership: The Multi-Faceted Challenges and Rewards of Patient Experience.

Lonnie Hirsch

 

Lonnie Hirsch

About Lonnie Hirsch

Co-Founder of Healthcare Success Strategies, Lonnie has consulted for over 2,000 health care clients during his 20-year career. Lonnie writes for many healthcare publications, and also has spoken at hundreds of venues nationally. His topics include patient experience, customer service, marketing, branding and business development.

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