Become Best in Class in Patient Experience: Service Lessons from Iceland

best in class patient experienceReykjavík, Iceland, is an unlikely place to discover best-in-class patient experience lessons. But the main airport has already established itself as a premier customer service facility. We’ll spotlight their success story shortly—along with a page or two you can use from their playbook.

Stick with me on this, but first, here’s a bit of the health care connection.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of an excellent hospital or health care provider is that they don’t sit still. They aren’t satisfied with everyone else’s “standard” of anything. Instead, they are proactive leaders.

Administrators, facilities and practitioners deliberately push beyond “what everyone does” to a higher level that exceeds expectations. Striving for excellence is what separates the leaders from the followers.

The critical importance of best in class patient experience…

Among physicians and industry professionals, many factors help characterize the leading health systems, hospitals and individual doctors. But patients and ordinary people have no professional skill or training. Thus they don’t know squat about evaluating or measuring medical quality or competency.

With rare exception, “civilians” judge hospital and doctor qualities based primarily on what they see, feel or experience. They only know about attributes such as “being attentive,” “caring,” communications skills or the relative quiet of a hospital room.

Although all these factors—both “professional” and “non-medical” considerations—are vitally important, people/patients are the customers making buying decisions. Hospital and provider selection and various related choices flow more often from subjective than objective considerations.

The retail world and other service industries have been tuned-in to this for some time. In many instances, the healthcare delivery industry is still low on the adoption curve.

Greenland is icy, and Iceland is green…

There are highly effective service lessons making Keflavik International Airport (KEF) the best in class, and establishing Iceland as a primary gateway to Europe. This KEF story includes ideas that can maximize the community impact of proactive hospitals and medical practices.

The thumbnail sketch is that Reykjavík–Keflavík Airport is the largest airport in Iceland and the country’s main hub for international transportation. It is becoming top of mind for “Icelanders going abroad, people visiting Iceland and people stopping on their way from Europe to America or the other way around,” says Iceland Monitor

KEF airport has tripled its size in its three-decade history, and WiFi service is free everywhere. You can’t take a dozen steps without encountering tax-free shopping, various restaurant options, banks, tourist information, a kids’ play area, digital device charging stations, comfortable seating, and other weary-traveler accommodations. And it’s all new, visually stunning and sensory satisfying.

Listening to the voice of the customer…

patient service monitorAs you might imagine, winning at satisfaction and experience (in an unexpected location) is challenging. Nevertheless, the constant expansion and the comfort and convenience modernization is impressive. For the most part, the ideas and satisfaction assurance comes from the voice of the customer. Here are some of the ways that this service industry is tracking how it’s doing, and what passenger/customers have to suggest for exceeding the competition.

At virtually every touch point, simple “happy-or-not” digital polling stations track traveler satisfaction. You might find half-dozen “smiley face” opportunities from check-in to departure. (Health systems use these devices to supplement other methods, and are appreciated by patients, particularly among older demographics.)

In addition, airport employees talk face-to-face with people, interviewing travelers about survey issues, ideas for future improvements, and things that can be changed, upgraded or corrected. Interviewers are open to new ideas from passengers, ask open-ended questions, and present “what if” to hear reactions.

As yet another connection tier, travelers can opt-in for a follow-up email or online questions about their experience and satisfaction. Some travelers may be invited to be part of a consumer or users’ panel.

Who benefits the most from best in class?

It’s decidedly a win-win outcome. By listening to the voice of the customer, and creatively presenting new service ideas, both the hospital and the customer benefit. In the hospital and healthcare provider world, patients are the front-line winners. A high level of service exceeds expectations and inspires a world-class experience. What’s more, this is the foundation for a top-level reputation, delivery on a brand promise, and an assurance of new and repeat business.

  • Poll your customers (patients) regularly and at important touchpoints
  • Engage patients one-to-one and face-to-face to draw out ideas and feedback
  • Bring customers into the planning and future decision process
  • Create a patient satisfaction director or leader
  • Make incremental changes at major touchpoints
  • Institute new and patient-centered ideas
  • Routinely solicit comments and ideas
  • Don’t resist or reject “breakthrough” ideas

Hospitals and provider practices that want to excel (optimize or exceed expectations) cannot settle for today’s ordinary standards. In many situations, the usual and customary patient experience pattern has not changed much…and that’s an opportunity to excel beyond the competition. Healthcare delivery is new at this game and a new level of ‘best practices’ is open for invention. The leadership position—breaking the mold and exceeding expectations—is open for claiming.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA

About Stewart Gandolf, MBA

Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is both the Publisher of PatientExperience.com and the Co-Founder of Healthcare Success. Stewart has written for dozens of leading healthcare publications and spoken at hundreds of venues on a variety of topics including marketing, reputation management and patient experience. Additionally, he has personally consulted for over 1,500 hospitals and practices. Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, Stewart worked for leading advertising agencies including J. Walter Thompson.

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