Dare to Rethink What’s Always Been Done: A Case Study in Rethinking the Wait


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Can I please ask: what’s with all the old magazines in waiting rooms? For my whole life (and probably yours), old and dog-eared magazines have been a part of my doctor, dentist and hospital visit experience.  Not only are the magazines old, but I also encounter the weirdest assortment. (Horse & Hound anyone?)  Waiting rooms appear to be the recycling bin of the healthcare industry.

The crazy thing about this weird foible in the healthcare experience is that what we seek in those rooms a place of “c-a-l-m.” Or sometimes to find a bit of escape—to take our minds off of what might be about to happen.  Or to create a diversion to lessen our worry for what is happening inside with our loved one. And so in the absence of a deliberately crafted calming experience, we sit in waiting rooms and read very, very old magazines.

My stats tell me that Americans spent 1.1 billion hours every year waiting for and receiving medical care for themselves or others—time the researchers valued at $52 billion.  The most admired companies set their table to honor customers.  They imagine customers walking in their door, sitting in their chairs, passing the time waiting for them.

And while it pains them to make customers wait, they honor that time by making it pass as smoothly as possible.  They reimagine the ‘waiting’ experience.

Imagine your mom in that moment. And then reimagine it….

Are there any moments in your business that are a little bit comical?  Things that have happened since day one that people always ask about, and the answer is: “we don’t know.”  Or “it’s always the way we’ve done it.”

Especially if these moments are standard to your industry – take the opportunity to stand out. Design out the foibles that make customers scratch their head in wonder. Why not be the company that opens the door to calm, and honors your customers’ time with pleasure and ends the experience with care?

Here’s a fantastic story about totally rethinking what ‘waiting’ for service means. It’s the tale of how one Dentist’s office got rid of the magazines, because they got rid of the wait!

Dentist Dr. Guerra Got Rid of the “Wait” in Waiting Room

Dr. Guerra, a dentist in the Colorado Springs area, has his experience so deliberately designed, that there are no magazines in the waiting room!  Old or otherwise, they are not necessary, because this dentist has started with customers’ emotions and designed every part of the experience—beginning with removing the ‘wait’—out of the experience at his office.  What I love about this is that he has taken the weird experience of reading last year’s magazines completely out of the equation, by getting rid of the need for you to sit there—bored—reading them.

Greeting to Service in Less than 5 Minutes

This shift to build an experience starting with the customer (patient) in mind was a deliberate move on Dr. Guerra’s part. “A filling is a filling. There isn’t much I can do to improve that,” he said.

So here is what his office has done to stand out from the usual experience at a dentist or doctor’s office: Instead of making you wait while the office finishes up their paperwork or gets organized in the back, or while the doctor or tech is finishing up, they are prepared for you before you arrive. And once you are greeted, the goal is to get you relaxed and settled within five minutes.

Deliberate Choices

There is a very well orchestrated set of experience activities that Dr. Guerra’s team deliver.  They deliver a service experience that defines your emotions as you settle in.  A beverage is offered, after which you are brought back to the Tempurpedic padded treatment chair waiting for you.  As you settle in, depending on your service, noise-cancelling headphones provide calm and relaxation.

Any patient who waits more than 5 minutes is given a $25 gas card as an acknowledgement and an apology. And these are tracked to constantly improve the patient welcoming experience. Dr. Guerra’s position is this:  “Time is valuable, and that includes my patients’ time. Why should they spend it waiting in my lobby?”

Beyond this approach to honoring your time, this office, as do most companies who are this deliberate, have thought through the entire customer journey.  From a concierge service for patients who don’t drive, running down with umbrellas to escort patients in when it rains, music and video and the departure experience, ending with a personal follow-up call to each patient the evening of their treatment, each experience rethinks the normal to deliver an experience you want to repeat and tell others about.

Dr. Guerra Honors His Patients and Their Time

Dr. Guerra is growing and profitable in a very competitive market for his services.  His investments in experience make him stand out in what might otherwise be a commoditized service.  His 400+ five star reviews from customers all cite the comfort, efficiency and care of his people, his office, and experience delivered.

This blog post is adapted from materials explored in Would You Do That To Your Mother? Get more case studies, activities, and insights in the book. Learn more about the book and find out where to order »

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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