While all customer experience strategies are important, healthcare brings it to a whole new level. Patient experience, and the potential for harm, amps up the significance of customer experience principles, creating literally life-changing outcomes.
That’s why I really enjoyed working with Chrisie Scott, VP Marketing at Meridian Health, a leading and still growing integrated health network in New Jersey. Our work with them will be published as a case study in the forthcoming book Mapping Experiences. After our project I had the chance to interview Chrisie about her organization’s overall approach to customer experience.
She begins by contending that patient or customer experience isn’t so much what you do, but more about who you are and what you value as an organization. At Meridian, they take a comprehensive approach to experience, collaborating across the organization to create consistent expectations and improvement. “Marketing, nursing, HR, operations, guest relations, and quality are coming together so that our ideas and initiatives are note created in silos,” Chrisie explains. “We’re changing how we approach patients and families and viewing those we serve as true partners. This view is helping us humanize the experience.” This core philosophy influences how Meridian recruits for talent and takes care of team members, how they set expectations for how team members treat and interact with each other, how they respond to consumer inquiries, and how they support front line caregivers who take care of the ultimate customers — patients.
“We’re doing something different here at Meridian,” she says. “It’s not just about being nice to a customer. Addressing a person’s fears and emotional needs is fundamentally important to achieving a good outcome. It’s all connected. Healing and being healthy depend as much on a person’s emotional preparation as his or her physical one. It’s about focusing on the entire experience and creating a high-reliability organization.”
What exactly is a high-reliability organization? “In a highly reliable organization, when you encounter a problem, you don’t put band-aids on it, you don’t find work-arounds, you fix it at its core.” Chrisie believes fundamentally that all health systems have the best intentions, but that they often miss the mark because they allow their less than optimal circumstances to dominate how they operate. “In a highly reliable organization, there’s no hiding weak links or breakdowns: instead you talk about them, no matter what with no excuses. You are mindful about even routine things so that you minimize distractions that could cause serious errors. You defer to expertise and you ‘heartwire’ practices around safety.” As Chrisie admits, healthcare organizations haven’t always been good at being consistent or transparent.” Her goal is to make health care at Meridian less mysterious so people can get the care and the answers they need and feel respected and heard during the process.
This necessitates a single-minded focus on the experience. “We don’t talk about experience as something extra or on the side. Care isn’t the clinician’s job and service the guest relation’s or marketing professional’s job. Experience is the whole thing — quality, safety, respect and empathy.” Chrisie explains that Meridian has adopted the Hawaiian phrase Kina’ole to describe their highly reliable experience. “It means doing the right thing in the right way at the right time in the right place with the right person for the right reason with the right feeling the first time. The focus, as you can see, is on always doing what is right.”
Chrisie has become well-acquainted with the ins and outs of creating the right experience, and she’s uses her learning to build a framework for her organization.
For example, when looking at patient experience scores, she knows to what extent they’re useful —and to what extent they aren’t. “Focusing on scores only gives us short-term improvement. Once leadership focus moves on, the scores tend to drop again. So we’re not focusing on teaching to the test, but on how to make long-term, lasting changes.”
Partnering with her experience steering team, Chrisie has discovered other ways to incorporate CX principles into her organization to achieve their goals of transparency and customer-focused care. Getting the patient involved in bedside shift report, for example, allows patients to feel like—and be—an active participant in their own care. This also builds trust and creates human connections for those involved.
A program that really fascinates me is their simulation lab, used to train hospital team members in a new system or procedure. This capability lets staff learn in a safe environment removed from the high stress of their actual workplace, allowing them to practice and ask questions to better prepare themselves to serve patients and families.
Chrisie says, “They abide by a motto of what happens in simulation stays in simulation. This safe role playing lets team members interact with actors instead of real patients, so that they can practice their communications and empathy skills the same way they do their technical skills.” There are many clinical skills that the staff must know, but the human element is just as important, and the simulation lab is the perfect answer for how to teach both in a less overwhelming environment. “Every person who went through simulation said how valuable it was. Everybody just felt better prepared,” Chrisie says.
Meridian has also worked hard to make sure consumers and patients feel their feedback and their ideas are valuable. Meridian has recruited an online insight panel of more than 3,000 individuals to consistently involve the voice of the customer in everything they do. “There’s really nothing we should be doing in healthcare without input from the people we serve,” Chrisie says. There must be a voice within your organization that can speak for your customers and make them heard among your governance in a way that can allow them to influence decisions, policy and services. Marketing should be that advocate.
The voice of the customer and the focus on providing a highly reliable experience should be the most important things in healthcare. For some hospitals, patient experience stops short at making and keeping people happy. “We’re really trying to create something special at Meridian — a better experience for our patients, but also for our team members, caregivers, families and our community,” Chrisie says. You need a persistent voice advocating for customer well-being, and a structure in place that’s able to receive and utilize that voice—that, Chrisie explains, is the secret to a “heart-wired” organization.