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The High Touch Culture of the Hospital of the Future

April 4, 2013

The High Touch Culture of the Hospital of the Future

When pressured by competition, a slumping economy or consumer demand, companies in far-flung industries - from retail, to manufacturing, to finance - have learned to rebuild their cultures around the customer experience, focusing on service as a differentiator and the goodwill, brand loyalty and positive halo effect that often follows.

Now, it's healthcare's turn.

Engaging in a dialogue
In the face of the Affordable Care Act, the hospital of the future will learn how to speak the language of marketing and sales and create a high-touch customer experience. Customer-centric exemplar organizations such as Zappos, Starbucks and Ritz-Carlton can provide useful lessons. How did these popular, category leader brands create their consumer-focused cultures? How do they generate word of mouth, customer loyalty and repeat business?

For starters, they 've created an outside-in culture that actively engages consumers in meaningful dialogues that embed a highly memorable and talk-worthy experience associated with the brand. For payers and providers, it's not just a matter of having patients fill out satisfaction surveys. It's about creating a sense of urgency around engaging and pleasing patients throughout every step in the care process.

Successful brands don't ever rest on their laurels, but continuously engage consumers at every possible touch point in a personal, customer-centric way.

Cleveland Clinic famously built a brand around the patient-centric culture they created. The resulting world class experience touches on patient access (intake request processing, patient information capture, payer communications); care planning (practitioner input coordination, treatment plan coordination, cost and revenue estimates); and revenue cycle management services (patient access including scheduling, pre-registration, admitting; service documentations including charge capture and health information management; revenue management including claims, reimbursement, collections, denials). Marketing professionals at the Cleveland Clinic look at each and every aspect of the patient experience so that the clinic's leaders can manage daily operations and personnel to assure the best possible customer experience. No surprise, it gets people talking - and returning when they need care in the future.

Cleveland Clinic puts patients first. Every employee - from surgeons to cafeteria workers - have the word "caregiver" on their name tags. Cleveland Clinic was always respected for its clinical outcomes, but today it is also respected for its service outcomes thanks to its patient-centered culture change. The key is a highly engaged workforce. Engaged employees know what's expected of them, they have the resources they need, they're recognized for their performance, supervisors encourage them, they feel that their work counts, they have opportunities to develop and they believe that the organization's mission is important.

Following the Cleveland Clinic's example, the hospital of the future will do a better job than today's institutions at keeping patients informed so that they are more familiar with the processes and caregivers. The hospital of the future will understand that patients are now consumers and will increasingly make consumer choices regarding their healthcare. The hospital of the future won't only provide excellent care, but it will know how to communicate about that care, how to capture patient input and needs and use these to retain current patients and attract new ones. It will provide real-time customer service, enabling patients to provide feedback regarding doctor/nurse response time, care and hospital accommodations. It will likely offer enhanced personalization such as walk-in clinics (as an alternative to ER visits), coaching and patient advocacy, in-room Netflix streaming and other amenities. After all, competition will be steep.

Generating word-of-mouth buzz
The going won't be easy. There will be increased complexity around recruiting and hiring, performance management, Medicare and Medicaid, and virtually every patient touch-point along the way. It will require new training, new methods of patient education (such as e-Learning modules) and perhaps a few personnel changes because not every employee will be suited to work in a service-focused culture. These complexities will lead to cost and quality challenges. There will be casualties, just as there are in other industries. On the other hand, new efficiency models are being applied at leading healthcare organizations - with dramatic results. Most experts agree there's no panacea, but a combination of preventive care, cost cutting via provider payments, more patient participation, more young people on insurance rolls and improved efficiency models.

Some solutions will be low-tech, such as basic waiting room and ER redesign, and capturing patient and family opinions for use as word-of-mouth advertising. Beyond that, hospitals must begin to think about themselves as marketers. Some marketers at hospitals think they are doing it right. But are they collecting data, getting patient experience feedback, doing surveys, developing case studies and measuring results? The efforts should be methodological, scientific and constant.

Face-to-face communication still works. It drives decision-making. The hospital of the future will figure out how to capture and analyze patient satisfaction, how to create meaningful content and how to generate word-of-mouth marketing based on a customer-centric culture.

Ultimately, the hospital of the future will thrive because of relationships, not advertising. Customer-centric organizations engage their customers in deep and meaningful dialogue, the fruits of which provide the direction needed to build a culture around great service outcomes. So it is with the consumer-centric retailers of today, and so it will be with the patient-centered hospital of the future.

*Note: This article originally appeared on

RonWince_small.jpgAbout the author: Ron Wince is the president and general manager of Peppers & Rogers Group. Contact him at

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