Hospitality in Healthcare | An Opportunity to Improve the Treatment Experience and Earn Loyalty

A simple truth is that we all like to be made to feel special. Paying careful attention to individuals’ needs and addressing them without compromise are the underpinnings of the hospitality industry. The word “hospital” is derived from the Latin “hospes” meaning “guest.” But most frequently our experiences with healthcare institutions, doctor’s offices, health insurance companies, and the pharmaceutical industry are void of any effort to recognize personal preferences nor do they provide interactions that foster genuine loyalty. This concept extends well beyond customer service. And it extends beyond developing and disseminating resources. The concept of hospitality in healthcare is all about understanding the differences among the people we serve, anticipating needs, and then—the exciting part—delivering on the chance to exceed expectations.

Integrating hospitality into healthcare should be intuitive. The services and support provided are all geared to a person’s well-being. Too often, however, the focus has turned toward accountability to the bottom line without harnessing an organization’s culture to not only enhance revenue, but also the customer or guest experience. It is ironic, as the opportunity to influence one with the other is obvious. Even the lexicon used within healthcare pushes us further away from this goal. People are labeled “patients” with case numbers and are viewed through the lens of their medical condition. We know definitively that people suffering are not the only ones affected. Caregivers, spouses, siblings, friends, colleagues—when one person has health issues, the consequences can be far reaching. And to make matters worse, when people are consumed by the healthcare system, they are bombarded with unfamiliar terminology, complex processes and a sea of faces with unclear roles. People are at their most vulnerable when they can benefit from hospitality the very most.

Of course, there are exceptions—beacons that can be looked to as a pathway forward. One such example are the support service programs that are provided for people receiving treatment for rare diseases. Companies like Biogen and Genzyme were the pioneers of this initiative. They provided support services that were unrivaled in the industry at the time and did so in a manner that was personal, personalized and fueled by empathy. These programs were created because leadership fostered a culture in which their customers mattered. Customers were seen as people, not patients. They were seen as having needs beyond themselves. And they were seen outside the confines of their diagnosis. At the helm of the relationship with customers are the teams of support specialists who form genuine bonds with the families they serve. They are educators who can explain the intricacies of medical conditions and their ramifications. They are advocates who can champion their right for treatment coverage. They are conduits who can introduce families to others in similar circumstances. And, perhaps most of all, they are seen as friends. This is particularly impressive as most of these support specialists seldom get to meet the people they serve directly. Yet the connection formed is real and built on earned trust. The result is a loyalty that any company, regardless of its focus, would envy.

It’s important to acknowledge that when we look to the hospitality industry as a model, there are exemplary examples to emulate and poor paradigms to avoid and learn from. Some key things to note:

  • Leadership Drives Culture
    For better or worse. Leadership’s behavior will set the tone for the company. It dictates how employees will interact with each other as well as existing and potential customers. Leadership must not underestimate its direct impact on how people feel toward the organization. It is the driving force that can motivate people to not only meet objectives but do so in a manner that is contagious.
  • Companies Must Thrive Internally Before They Can Succeed Externally
    Does the company understand that it is a brand? Is it meaningfully differentiated and well defined? Is the company comprised of a team of people with a shared sense of purpose? Is that purpose and vision overt and reinforced? In order for anyone outside of the organization to value it the way you want, it is essential that the team of people who comprise it share a passion to actualize its potential.
  • The Ability to Act with Authority
    People cannot make a meaningful difference unless they are empowered to do so. It should be part of any organization to enable team members to excel, take sensible risks and go the extra mile to assure that customers/guests are more than satisfied. This can be incentivized in a number of ways, including monetary rewards and corporate recognition.
  • Assume Nothing and Never Broad-Brush
    It’s critical to understand similarities and differences across customer types. To do this, primary and secondary research are key. If you want to know, you need to ask. If you need to know, you must listen and be open to what you might hear. The key is aligning what you learn to your brand. Findings should inform decision-making and how you shape your offering. Remember not to rely on your research for too long. Things change, which is an opportunity to evolve.
  • The Balance Between Technology and the Human Touch
    We rely on technology to move through our day and it can play an important role in creating a positive brand experience. Accommodating customers as they are accustomed to living their lives matters. Taking advantage of technology to minimize redundancy can also make a difference (i.e., filling out form after form, time after time can be both tedious and a source of great irritation). In harnessing technology, sometimes the human touch gets overlooked. There’s no replacement for a person connecting with another in a compassionate way. This is the bedrock of developing lasting relationships and loyalty.

Healthcare does present challenges – regulations must be adhered to, privacy must always be maintained, and different regions of the world have distinct cultural norms and governmental policies. But this does not obviate the need to take action. Remember your brand – what makes it different in a way that matters. Create unforgettable experiences. Sometimes it’s the smallest gestures that make the most profound impressions. The connection between healthcare and hospitality is ripe for further development. Done well, it presents the chance to differentiate and earn lifelong customers.

by Jonathan D. Katz