There’s a trend among consumers that one highly respected research firm calls “the age of the consumer. A focus on the customer matters more than any other strategic imperative,” advises Forrester Research. “Customer experience translates into real business value, and customer-centricity is your best bet for sustainable competitive advantage.”
That’s mighty strong language, and sound advice for healthcare providers, hospital administrators and medical marketing professionals. But the thing is, Forrester’s tough talk is aimed at American business, not the healthcare industry particularly. The “consumerist era” is nearly universal and sharply evident in the retail world, but in healthcare, it’s new muscle for the patient and a challenging perspective for the provider.
The brand names of consumer-oriented companies are immediately recognized. “Disney, American Express, The Ritz-Carlton, Starbucks, USAA and FedEx focus on delivering an experience targeted at the evolving behaviors, needs and expectations of their customers,” cited in the Deloitte report for healthcare providers, The Patient Experience. “Delivering on a ‘customer experience’ that is truly distinct from the competition can help an organization to increase market share by providing a basis for attracting and retaining profitable customers.”
Consider this example from the New York Times business page: Apple Inc. products are hugely popular worldwide, and the company is hugely successful. It’s not a stretch to suspect that if you have a smartphone it’s an Apple iPhone. And if you don’t have an iPhone, chances are that you want one or are planning to get one.
Apple—the brand, the business, and their products—enjoys a nearly sustainable competitive advantage for many reasons. But one overarching theme is that Apple is all about controlling, defining and delivering the user experience. And the iPhone 5 product launch sold millions of units in what may be the largest consumer electronics product launch in history.
Competitive Advantage Strategies for Healthcare Providers
The typical health system, hospital or medical group practice isn’t selling popular consumer goods, but they might envy the success of customer-centered brands. What’s more, according to Deloitte, “As health care delivery becomes more competitive, health care providers would be wise to consider shifting their focus to attracting and retaining patients. Patients have more choice of hospitals and information available to them now than ever before, and they are increasingly acting as consumers.
“This makes gaining customer loyalty as important as managing costs and revenues, and hospitals should innovate to retain customers and maintain profitability.” (Emphasis added.)
Deloitte points to four customer experience capabilities to cultivate for a consumer oriented healthcare business, such as:
- A clear vision and strategy of delivering an exceptional customer experience based on a deep understanding of the service expectations of their customers;
- Internal delivery capabilities, both operational and technology-enabled, that are focused on delivering the envisioned experience and agile enough to evolve with the customer;
- A structure and culture that empowers and rewards employees for superior delivery;
- Measurement capabilities to identify and track customers’ evolving service expectations.
“Making a strategic choice to provide patients with the best experience is a proactive and sustainable way to create competitive advantage in this dynamic marketplace,” concludes Deloitte.
For more on this topic, the complete Deloitte Patient Experience Report is available online here [PDF], with further reading about differentiation in this article: Healthcare Branding: That Was Then. This Is Now.