By Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D.
Joseph A. Michelli is a New York Times #1 best-selling author and consumer experience expert who looks at the best practices and successes of consumer brands like Starbucks, Zappos and UCLA Health System. He will be sharing his insights and expertise as the keynote speaker for the InstaMed User Conference 2017.
Given the title of this article, you might be wondering if I’m really going to make a case that healthcare can learn from brands like Zappos and Starbucks. How can I possibly attempt that linkage, given there are significant differences between retail customers (most of whom seek pleasure, products and value) and healthcare consumers (who primarily seek health improvement, disease resolution and pain alleviation)?
I do believe there is a strong linkage. I began my career as an organizational development specialist in healthcare and continue to work with healthcare systems, insurance companies, and other healthcare organizations today. I also consult for and write about brands like Zappos and Starbucks. Through my diverse travels, I’ve come to admire and respect the unique challenges of healthcare delivery, while also recognizing the universal truth that every business must create value for those they serve. Leaders in healthcare, like those in other industries, must leverage people, process and technology in the service of others.
So what might brands like Zappos and Starbucks have to offer healthcare leaders? Here are five quick examples:
- Walk Like a Customer – Starbucks leadership realized that customer experience is an enterprise-wide core competency and all employees (referred to as partners) must look at the business from the vantage point of the customer. In its simplest form, at Starbucks, store partners are expected to do a “customer walk” each shift. Partners rotate the role of walking from the parking lot into the building just as customers do. The designated partner looks for the “easy fixes” (picking up litter from the floor or cleaning up the condiments area) and items that may require a larger process solution (simplifying confusing signage, making items more easily visible at the back of the display case, etc.). The key to the “customer walk” is to ritualize a process of looking at the business from the customer’s perspective and regularly exploring the customer’s journey from the customer’s side of the interaction.
- It’s Not Fast Enough – A key to the success of a brand like Zappos is something I describe as “service velocity.” Velocity implies accelerated speed in a given direction. At Zappos, rapid service delivery is gauged by both speed and accuracy. In simple terms, fast errors are no better than slow accuracies. The goal at Zappos is to expedite service in the desired direction. To that end, Zappos has dedicated considerable effort to develop a website with exceptionally rapid load times and leadership has invested in mechanisms to deliver products with industry-leading speed and accuracy.
- Effort is Everything – Today consumers expect service to be delivered as effortlessly as possible. Starbucks continues to reduce the “effort” and “pain” of beverage and food purchases through technology advances in mobile pay and mobile ordering.
- Expectations are Perceptual Controls – Expectations are like thermostats. Customers set their expectations like we set our thermostats at home. From a customer’s perspective, as long as service delivery reaches an acceptable level they don’t need to take action. If however, service fails to reach an acceptable level customers complain, tell others, or churn from the brand. At both Zappos and Starbucks, leaders are constantly studying other businesses to see how service expectations are changing (often trending upward) and how they can assure consistent service delivery above the thermostatic line of acceptability.
- Memorable Equals Lasting – Executives like Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, have shared the view that human beings are largely a collection of memories. In order to engage customers in a lasting relationship with Zappos for example, Tony and leaders at Zappos have focused on concepts like “personal emotional connections (PECs)” and “delivering WOW through service.” In essence, great experiences involve three elements: a) consistent fulfillment of needs, b) effortless and expedited delivery and c) positive/unexpected/emotionally engaging/memorable moments.