Book Review: Prescription for Excellence

You may have noticed that health care has been in the news a lot recently. Whether it is the Democratic Party presidential candidates talking about their plans, price transparency, or access to prescription drugs, it is fairly safe to say that the current system is not working for a group of people in our country.

There is so much to fix, including the experience of receiving care. Many patients experience customer service outside of health care and they expect that same level of care, treatment, ease, and convenience.

RxforExcellenceSeveral years ago, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) health system decided to work on fixing the experience of care. Their results were astounding, going from the 30th percentile of U.S. hospitals to the 99th percentile. Dr. David Feinberg, the then CEO of the UCLA hospital system (he has since run the Geisinger Health System and now is the VP of Google Health), was committed to doing better as the UCLA system grew in Southern California.

Using the lessons from other retail leaders who are known for their customer experience, UCLA did some progressive things to enhance and enrich the hospital’s patient experience. The progress is summarized in Joseph Michelli’s book Prescription for Excellence: Leadership Lessons for Creating a World-Class Customer Experience From UCLA Health System.

I appreciate that Dr. Michelli, who has written on companies like Starbucks and the Ritz Carlton, used part of his introduction to the book to acknowledge why it was important for him to write about a health care organization. The demands are high, regulations abound, safety is paramount, and politics are rampant. Delivering excellence in that environment is a unique feat and one that keeps those of us who are part of the business aspect of health care both fired up and very busy.

What I enjoyed about Prescription for Excellence was learning about the leaders from the organization who invested in the patient experience system, called “CICARE” (pronounced See-I-Care). Leaders modeled the behaviors that they asked the staff to model as well, and they were constantly present, speaking to patients to learn more about their care.

What UCLA figured out is that, just like in another industry, the three main elements of hard-wiring a consistently excellent and customized patient experience are: alignment, empowerment, and engagement. CICARE was their system of alignment, they empowered the team to act on it by training them, and engaged them in the work, partly by emphasizing the importance of it.

The following quote in the book sums this idea up nicely, “Relationships-based caste is often about empowerment. Empowerment starts with leaders giving staff members the tools and the trust they need to provide extraordinary service. Those tools include structure service behaviors…When well-selected employees are given resources, trained, and empowered effectively, extraordinary service relationships developing, and customers are empowered to build skills that meet their needs.” (Michelli 64).

Developing systems and allowing people to innovate within those systems are keys to delivering service excellence whether in health care or any other industry.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Excellent service systems are created from aligned, empowered, and engaged team members.


Prescription for Excellence is available for purchase on Amazon for $30 (does not include Prime discount)

Book Review: The Starbucks Experience

Joseph Michelli is a talented author who has written about many companies that have developed systems and processes to deliver exceptional customer experiences in a consistent and reliable manner.

So when he featured Starbucks, I couldn’t wait to read it. Despite (for the most part) giving up coffee approximately 4 months ago, I still look for excuses to take meetings at Starbucks. I am a big fan of Starbucks’ founder and former CEO Howard Schultz (and possible 2020 Presidential candidate), who has written two books himself about Starbucks, Pour Your Heart Into It and Onward.

the starbucks experienceI love having meetings at Starbucks because after reading Schultz two books, I admire how his vision became a reality. Schultz changed both how we consume coffee, which previously viewed as a 10 cent commodity, and how the coffee shop became the “third place”, or a regular hangout besides home or work, for many people. Starbucks is now just as Schultz had imagined it, in all its reality and splendor. But, to get there, it wasn’t easy.

Putting aside Schultz’s personal struggles in creating the Starbucks we know today (you can read his books to get the inside scoop), creating the systems and processes to implement the customer experience he wanted to create was especially difficult because because of the hyper-customized nature of Starbucks’ drinks. The design of the product and the experience made scripting and rigorous memorization both useless and impossible.

Starbucks designed a system is called the “Five Ways of Being” to implement the customer experience:

  • Be welcoming
  • Be genuine
  • Be considerate
  • Be knowledgeable
  • Be involved

To support the system, Starbucks’ key processes are articulated in the “Green Apron Book”, which every Starbucks partner (the internal Starbucks jargon for employees) carries around with them.

Starbucks leadership understands that when it comes to delivering a consistent, reliable, and, at times, an exceptional experience, their main audience is the staff, not the customer buying the coffee. Starbucks actively markets to its employees in a manner that emphasizes and reinforces the “Five Ways of Being”.

Examples of this include using real-life mistakes that have happened in the past and asking partners to articulate how some of the strategies in the Green Apron Book could have prevented the error. Further, baristas receive regular updates in a newsletter called “Conversations and Connections”, which share customer stories and how the stories reflect the Five Ways of Being. Finally, Starbucks uses a board game to help train partners in how to empathize with customers based on their body language and subtle verbal cues to better anticipate and meet the customers’ needs.

These examples also reflect Schultz’s mantra, “Retail is detail”. In Starbucks, there are very few accidents from the way the stores are laid out to how the drinks are made. One of the goals of Starbucks leadership is for people who are traveling to find a familiar experience at both their regular Starbucks and the one they are visiting on the road. To bring this idea to reality, Starbucks sweat the details of hiring, training, empowering and establishing regular reminders for the team.

Next time you go to Starbucks, look for the attention to detail in the experience. In Onward Schultz articulated how the smell of Starbucks is a vital part of the experience. This is just one example of the types of details that get the attention of, and are then implemented by, great companies.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Starbucks is famous for their environment and service. Starbucks has a clear vision, system, and processes that are as consistent, reliable, and as high a quality as their product. Starbucks actively markets to their team to bring Schultz’s vision to life every day by paying attention to the details. 


The Starbucks Experience is available for purchase on Amazon for $28.00 (does not include Prime discount)