Customer Service or Customer Experience?

One of the recurring topics of this blog relates to, “How we treat each other.” I am passionate about improving the patient experience at hospitals because I believe it has powerful implications for how we treat each other. If clinicians can demonstrate compassion, courtesy, and kindness during a difficult moment in a patients’ life, imagine how that level of care could impact how that patient will treat others in the future. Like other social epidemics, I believe that kindness can catch on as well.

A colleague of mine at Adventist HealthCare shared this 17 minute video with me. In the video, Fred Lee, the author of If Disney Ran Your Hospital, gives a TED talk about the difference between customer service and customer experience.

Lee defines a service as, “Labor done for me that I would otherwise do for myself”. He goes on to share and explain how an experience is far more emotional, difficult to measure, and impossible to fully control through mechanisms like scripting. Defining the journey of a patient as an experience allows us to embrace the fact that it doesn’t mean our patients have to be happy all the time when they are under the care of a hospital.

Lee uses a helpful analogy in the talk to explain this idea. When we go to the theater, sometimes we go to see plays and musicals that make us happy, while other times we see dramas or tragedies that touch our emotions in a different way. Both instances are experiences that speak to the human condition, not necessarily only positive emotions.  Lee describes this as, “We in the hospital business have the job of meeting the emotional needs of a family going through fear, pain and even tragedy together.”

Further, he says that “A hospital without compassion is like a trip to Disney without fun.”

When hospitals and other companies deliver an experience, it resonates with the consumer emotionally. In a hospital setting, emotion is already present. How clinicians understand the emotions of the patient and anticipate the patient’s needs shows how much they care and that they are attentive to the situation.

Lee tells a story of a caregiver who comes to take blood from a patient. In the first scenario, the caregiver follows a script. In the second, the care giver provides an experience. He quotes a Gallup organization study that found that just using the word “gentle” reduced a patient’s pain when receiving an injection. Small touches can radically change a patient’s care experience but it has to be individualized – not every interaction will be the same or have the same effect for every patient.

Lee posts this quote during his talk: “Experiences occur with any individual who has been engaged in a personal and memorable way…on an emotional, physical, intellectual, or even spiritual level. The result? No two people can have the same experience – period.” B. Joseph Pine III, The Experience Economy

Since experience is so individualized, it involves developing active listening skills, focus, compassion and empathy. Conveniently, these are the same skills that we can all demonstrate on a daily basis to each other to make the world a better place, not just in the work setting. While health care is a powerful setting to deliver an incredible experience, we can all be human experience ambassadors with our friends, family, colleagues, neighbors, and even strangers.

The first step is to want to make a difference in this way. Will you join me in being a human experience ambassador?