Front Door Ideas (and a Cookie) Worth Stealing

As a frequent traveler, I nominate the chocolate chip cookie as the nearly universal token of a friendly welcome at many hotels (and at least one airline.)

“Cookies are warm, personal and inviting, much like our hotels and the staff here that serves you,” a DoubleTree Hotels spokesman told the New York Times. DoubleTree may have been one of the originators, but many other hotels and Midwest Airlines have latched onto the idea.

From a broader perspective, cookies and other little amenities testify to the value and importance of a “front door focus.” Feel free to take a page from their experience and satisfaction manual.

Progressive hospitals and healthcare providers are not at all shy about stealing good customer service concepts from other business sectors and—with a bit of creative adaptation—putting those ideas to work toward greater patient satisfaction.

Over the past several years, hospitals have selectively borrowed hospitality industry techniques that move away from an impersonal, disinfected, “institutional” environment to a warm and welcoming guest experience. From free Internet access to spa treatments and massages, patient amenities are increasingly evident a part of hospital care (and among the competition.)

The hotel/hospitality industry and the restaurant business operate in an exceptionally competitive arena…made even more fierce as nation’s economy slumped and the public traveled and dined out less often.

To remain competitive (sometimes to keep the doors open) service businesses increasingly focus their attention on “the front door,” and making a good first impression with the customer. In doing so, the initial experience:

  • Helps shape expectations positively;
  • Establishes a customer-centered service environment;
  • Enhances brand recognition and reputation; and
  • Encourages repeat business and peer recommendations.

In most retail and service businesses, customer retention, repeat business and referrals can impact profitability dramatically. “A five percent increase in customer retention,” according to a Gartner study, “can increase business profits by 25 to 125 percent.”

Although the business model of hospitals and healthcare delivery is admittedly different, we’ve found that the principles carry over. What’s more, the “first impression” is not a one-time, one-person event. Consider your own experience at customer-centric restaurants and hotels.

To appreciate why these industries focus on the front door, count the number of first impression “touches” that typically occur in your own hotel/restaurant visits: 

  • Parking is convenient (sometimes with valet service)
  • Guests are greeted warmly…as if they are a returning patron, (even when they are not)
  • All staff members provide a smile and a greeting to everyone, every time. (Often, that includes several people…parking attendant, doorman, bellman, host/hostess, etc.)
  • When possible, guests are greeted by name, and if appropriate “welcome back”
  • Complimentary services or amenities are presented or explained
  • Delay in service, if any, is explained including expected duration
  • Guest preferences are asked and honored (and noted for return visits)
  • Self-service coffee, tea, hot chocolate station (with assorted cookies and fruit)
  • Business center, Internet access; wifi
  • Staff accompanies guests to room (or table)
  • Special items of noted; instructions are provided verbally and written

As you mentally review your own experience, other experiential moments—some good, and maybe some not so good—may come to mind that shaped your initial attitude about the hotel or restaurant. And all of the many and various “touches” were before you reached your table or your room.

It’s easy to translate and transfer these concepts from hospitality to hospital…or any patient-centric office. A few simple principles are at work: 

  • FRONT DOOR FOCUS: Track first impression opportunities from the earliest point of contact. Your “front door” is both literal and figurative, with more than one point of entry to consider.
  • UNIVERSAL CULTURE: Staff training includes everyone; those people whose primary job is “client-facing,” as well as employees who may have incidental encounters with your “guests.” Top to bottom, everyone is always making a first impression.
  • ONE PERSON AND ONLY ONE: Guests (patients, family, friends, customers, clients) are individuals, and to be blunt, they are unconcerned about the big picture and the other 278 guests. Service, experience and satisfaction are built on a one-to-one basis. To them, there is one (and only one) person to be concerned about.
  • PERSONALIZE: Use every opportunity to use guest names, anticipate their particular needs, and connect with them as a regular and valued patron, and exceed their expectations.

The experience continuum…

The patient experience and patient satisfaction are not limited to first impressions. There’s much more to it of course; the continuum of care has many other dimensions and a long timeline. But our point is that, as in many service industries, your “front door” is vitally important. A positive early experience creates a positive environment for the steps that follow. And a negative beginning can crush any good efforts that follow.

Statistically, satisfied customers tell nine people how happy they are, while dissatisfied customers tell 22 others about their bad experience.

Personally, we’re in favor of fresh-baked cookies at the front door…although that may not be a practical idea for everyone. But consider it a metaphor for positive experience and bake-up your own starting point for differentiation on the path to patient satisfaction. 

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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