The patient experience begins from the inside of the practice outward
By Lonnie Hirsch and Stewart Gandolf, MBA
Editor’s Note – The following Healthcare Success article by Lonnie Hirsch and Stewart Gandolf was originally published by Dental Economics magazine. The principles of branding and marketing management are appropriate to healthcare organizations, group medical practices, hospitals and individual practitioners.
For any healthcare service provider the business of branding has many facets…and they all need regular attention. Take the point of view of a first-time visitor to the group, practice, hospital or healthcare organization. The staff, the building, and the office collectively represent the ‘patient experience.’ And that’s just for starters.
Achieving success in healthcare branding is all about consistently delivering on a promise of an exceptional patient experience. Unfortunately, some of the most important elements that make or break the branding message can be neglected.
“Branding” brings to mind the logo design, the tagline, the brochure. And to be clear, these things help speak the branding message. But the full impact of branding is not just a matter of what you say in your latest series of newspaper ads. It is a matter of what you and your staff express to every patient…with every visit. The actual experience must fulfill on the promise.
Alignment: from the inside of the practice outward.
How often have you been drawn into the “fabulous” or “outstanding” expectations of an advertising campaign—and when you actually saw the product it did not compare with the promise of the ad campaign? The disappointment is hard to forget, and the negative attitude is even harder to overcome.
Because branding is the entire experience your patients have with you, your staff, and even the physical office environment—it’s best to understand that branding begins with the proper alignment of literally everything from the inside outward. Your brand has to be clearly understood, believed and delivered by owners and staff of the practice just as much as you want it to be understood and embraced by the target audiences.
Staff is the front line.
Branding is an emotional connection between the practice and the people it serves. And the staff and employees are the main conduit for making that people-to-people connection…from the first phone call, to the initial visit, to the chair-side conversation. If your staff isn’t buying your branding message, then you patients aren’t going to get the message or the experience that you intend. Without their buy-in and commitment, your branding will not succeed.
Some things to review…
- Train the staff in the branding message. Let everyone in on the goals and the reasons why it’s important to the practice, to them and to the patients. Be certain that everyone understands what the branding message means to the public and look for new ways for the staff to “walk the talk.”
- Recognize and reward positive behaviors. The day-to-day expressions that communicate a positive and helpful experience as part of the branding message should be encouraged.
- Bring branding to hiring and organizational culture. Look for ways to grow your own staff talent that demonstrates the right attitudes. Hiring and retaining the right people inspire a positive environment.
- Demonstrate by leadership. Show and lead by example, and encourage everyone to lead others in the process.
Your facility has a message.
When a new patient crosses your doorway for the first time, they get an immediate message about your physical environment. If your office is a benign message of an unremarkable office your branding message has failed to differentiate. Worse, of course, would be for the message to be a negative—an office where the patient does not want to stay or return.
- Consider the neighborhood/location. A practice that wants to communicate an up-scale branding message may be sending the wrong message if the address is wrong. Choose the practice location with marketing considerations in mind.
- Consider the building appearance. Long before the patient has a chance to see your wallpaper and carpet, they will see and make judgments about the office building. In selecting a location that’s consistent with your branding message, appreciate exactly what the patient will see and associate with your practice.
- Look closely at your office interior every day. The new patient sees everything for the first time, but unless you deliberately work at a fresh perspective, you may fall victim to not seeing what you’re looking at. Habituation is that deceptively simple form of leaning where—after a period of time—people stop responding to a stimulus. In other words, if we see a worn sofa everyday, we no longer pay attention to the wear.
Branding is…well, just about everything.
In the bygone days of the old west, a cattleman would put his identifying mark on his livestock. Simple, but effective. By extension in modern marketing, it’s much the same concept, but not nearly as simple. These days, it means putting your identifying mark on just about everything that is the business of the practice. Your brand is who you are, what you stand for, and how that information is communicated to others, as a total identity.