Saturday, May 31, 2008

Branding Hospitals and the Role of the Chief Experience Officer

Within most companies lives a corporate culture based on the fervent belief that if they produce the best product, they will succeed over the competition. This obsession with product efficiency may seem logical and sound, but marketing history is littered with products and brands that lost to inferior competitors.

I had a personal experience this week that caused me to consider how vital it is for companies to find a way to give attention to the consumer experience, even when the vast majority of people within an organization feel the product is of utmost importance. These thoughts occurred to me while I was sitting in a hospital Emergency Room.

I was not in the ER for myself but for my mother in law. My wife and I received one of those late night calls you don't want to get, and we found ourselves anxiously rushing to a local hospital. As it turns out, my mother in law will be fine--she's getting treated for pneumonia and should soon be on her way back home.

Once it became apparent my relative was going to be fine, my mind turned to branding in the competitive world of hospitals. You might not immediately think of hospitals as brands, but medical competition and advertising is increasing across the country as new facilities are built, more choice and responsibility are shifted to employers and consumers, and hospitals compete for the boomer's exploding medical spend.

It may be hard to remember, but hospitals used to be completely utilitarian and rather unwelcoming places run by people who saw no need to advertise or focus on the "experience" because they believed patient care was their only relevant concern. Nowadays, hospitals advertise and strive to improve the patient and visitor experience with mall-like architecture, valet parking, and upscale coffee shops.

In my day-to-day life, I am sure that I am exposed to dozens of hospital billboards, TV spots, and print ads, but none of them stick. Since I have no immediate need for medical care, these ads get none of my attention. Certainly they are working on some subconscious level, but for all the marketing spend these health organizations make to reach me--an aging boomer--I am aware of no change in my awareness, consideration, or preference for nearby medical facilities.

But if hospital marketing is easy to ignore, you know what isn't? A trip to the ER when your relative is in urgent need. The experience you have in the hospital as an anxious, fearful, info-seeking, support-needing consumer is worth a thousand billboards featuring smiling, stock photography nurses.

Clearly, there is nothing more important than that my loved one receives immediate and effective medical treatment. But, it is also clear that this isn't the only thing that matters. The hospital I was visiting also wants to earn my trust, respect, and preference for some future time when I need to make medical decisions for myself or a family member.

As it turns out, my experience in the ER didn't leave me feeling this particular hospital was terribly compassionate. The desk staff was indifferent and unhelpful; the waiting area was messy and uncomfortable; ancillary staff such as cleaning and security personnel were often downright rude; and no one seemed to think that keeping relatives informed was a priority.

What good does it do to spend millions on ads to convince consumers your facility is the most caring if the experience you provide isn't caring? Winning the trust and respect of the thousands of distressed and needy visitors who pass through the hospital every day is where the organization can live up to the compassionate brands they wish to create. It's also the best way to create the kind of Word of Mouth that gets people talking about and recommending one hospital over another.

Do I really want hospital leaders more focused on the cleanliness of waiting rooms or pleasantness of desk staff rather than patient care? Of course not, but even organizations that deal in matters of life and death still have to find a way to focus on the consumer experience if they wish to succeed.

How can hospitals--or any organization--balance the need to focus on both product and the experience? Perhaps the Cleveland Clinic has an idea worth emulating: They've appointed a second CEO--a Chief Experience Officer. M. Bridget Duffy, MD knows that patient care is important, but she also sounds a lot like a smart marketer when she speaks of "competitive differentiators" and of focusing on the "patient and employee experience." Says Duffy, "People today are seeking more than just the best clinical outcome, (and) will start seeking institutions to go to that will deliver on both" clinical outcomes and experience.

Of course, giving someone the title of Chief Experience Officer won't do anything unless the position has authority. At the Cleveland Clinic, their second CEO (or the CEO2 or the CXO) has the support of the first CEO, which lends "visibility and credibility."

Organizations might ask themselves if appointing a Chief Experience Officer is the right idea, but I think the better question is why the CMO isn't already filling this role. If more CMOs saw themselves as--or were permitted to act as--responsible not just for the advertising budget and outcome but for the entire consumer experience, organizations would be better equipped to create marketing and consumer experiences that are coordinated, seamless, and successful.

In the age of transparency, there has never been more need for more consistency between a brand's advertising and the experience it provides to consumers, so perhaps all CMOs should become CEO2s or CXOs!

1 comment:

SusieRN said...

As a healthcare provider who has had such horrible experiences with emergent care in my local hospitals, I couldn't agree more with this concept. As in all service industry, and yes, healthcare is a service industry, your customer's experience is key to your success