Saturday, February 21, 2015

Learning to love social media- the easy button hospital guide?

Or, how would the hospital or health system like to create a sustainable, engaging and experienced based social media strategy and program?

Both questions are equally important and two sides of the same coin. Use of social media for engagement and experience management, can be a hit or miss proposition without the proper strategy and resourcing. When one considers that the healthcare consumer and patient have over 145 touch-points that impact experience, engagement and their decision making choices, social media is now a strategic business imperative, not a nice to have.

Provider marketing is no longer about puffery, grandiose statements or claims of excellence without proof.  That doesn’t work in a retail consumer- driven market. Provider marketing is now about meaningful engagement, managing the experience and meeting the healthcare consumer’s needs and expectations.

A tall order indeed that takes a strategic business outlook, an unrelenting  focus on the meeting the needs of the healthcare consumer, is meaningfully engaging and manages the experience across all touch-points, not just one to two.

What does the provider need?

First is an understanding of the social media channels that the hospital or health system needs to be participating in.  The following slide illustrates the easy button guide to the hospital using social media.

Now what?

Alignment. Alignment.  Alignment.

With clinical. With physicians. With executive leadership.  With the business plan. With the entire healthcare enterprise.

Effective social media utilization does require alignment and integration.  Danger alert- it can be very tempting to assign social media to one person and start publishing by throwing a lot of stuff against the wall.  To be successful in social media, it takes planning and execution that is in alignment with the healthcare enterprise, and the messaging is integrated across the social media channels and platforms that the healthcare consumer and patient is found. 

It comes down to the following key factors.
  • Do the market research. If you don’t know what social media platforms the healthcare consumer and patients are engaging in, then how can one decide what social media platforms to choose?  Know the audience. Know the markets. Know what information the healthcare consumer is searching out. Know what social media platforms they use to gather information and engage. Secondary research may give one clues in how to proceed with primary market research in the hospital service area, but these are guides only.
  • Build a social media content plan that is integrated into the overall marketing plan and strategy of the hospital or health system. Include in your plan, goals and objectives, key messages, engagement strategies. How it will be measured and evaluated and who is responsible for executing the plan. What gets measured gets done. Obtain executive by-in. If leadership does not support the plan or is not engaged in the effort, stop now and go find something else to do.
  • Evaluate constantly and learn what the healthcare consumer likes and doesn’t like. Test messages. Test engagement strategies.  Fail fast and become the learning organization and not repeating the same mistakes.
  • Engage and build a meaningful relationship with the healthcare consumer. Stay away from meaningless fluff and anything that looks like it’s all about the organization. And listen. Listen very carefully to what is being said in social media and responds accordingly.
  • Allocate the resources for someone to do this full time all the time.  Don’t say the hospital doesn’t have it.  Reallocate the marketing budget to social media from more traditional areas.
  • Invest in staff training on social media, identifying the skills sets that may be lacking and if need be, hire from the outside. Experience counts as the healthcare enterprise does not have the time for trial and error.
  • Budget marketing IT resources and systems for measurement, automation and reporting on social media channels and activities.
Social media done correctly will drive engagement, revenue and growth. It will also provide the healthcare enterprise with a continuous presence in the market that supports and is part of all the other marketing activities.  

In a retail medical retail environment, presence builds preference.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The healthcare consumer lives in a multi-channel environment; the response is?


The other day I was updating my Healthcare Consumer & Patient Experience Matrix, when from the sheer size; I counted over 145 different touch-points along eight dimensions of interaction, that a healthcare consumer is exposed too for engagement and experience. That is an awful lot of information used consciously and subconsciously by a healthcare consumer or patient.  And there probably a few more as well that play a role in the process.

Agreed that it is an eye chart, but it visually indicates the challenge in developing a coherent and meaningfully integrated strategy, based on the multi-channel informational needs and expectations of the healthcare consumer or patient, and becoming customer focused.

This really means, that the strategy and process that a healthcare provider must use, needs to be multiple in scope, parallel to other efforts and integrated across multiple channels and touch-points. If a healthcare provider says “We don’t do social media.”, or focuses a major effort only on improving patient satisfaction, or providing canned disease educational materials when there is an inpatient encounter, then they are missing the opportunity for total experience management, engagement and customer focus improvement.

In order to improve the experience and engagement, the effort must be across all healthcare consumer and patient touch-points.  Also indicated by the eye chart, is the need for an all inclusive process, which is broken down into manageable bits worked on simultaneously. For experience and engagement to be successful, the major requirement is that a true customer focused organization needs to exist. And that is a major cultural and business focus shift which I have written about previously.

Marketing is your partner and collaborator in all of this, not just there to make things look pretty.

But the first step in this with primary market research in the service area.  Today primary market research is a hit or miss proposition. Some do, some don’t.  Once the data is in, make data-driven decisions based on the needs of the healthcare consumer or patient, not the hospitals in the development of engagement and experience strategies for change, which will meaningfully impact the needs of the audiences. Once you know this, then it’s all hands on deck. 

The healthcare consumer is multi-channel in how they gather information, engage and experience the healthcare enterprise. 

Embrace the challenge and focus on their experience and engagement needs to be successful.

If you would like the pdf of The Healthcare Consumer & Patient Experience Matrix, please email me at and I will send.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Are hospital advertisements misleading by nature?

This is my favorite time of the year in hospital marketing.  New budgets and campaigns in 2015, allowing hospital marketers to bring new messaging to market for physician referral, centers of excellence, awards, technology and building opening campaigns.  All promoting something that the healthcare consumers for no other reason other than “believe us” messaging, should call the number or visit a web site.

My best hospital/health system advertisement in 2015 so far, “Why would you trust your brain to anyone else?” This is an advertisement sticker on the front of a newspaper.  The question posed by the hospital is probably being answered by the healthcare consumer with the question, “So why should I trust my brain to you?”  

And that goes along with the “we have everything from world class physicians to the all the tools to treat cancer”.  I guess it matters not that the competitor down the street has a proton therapy center for cancer treatment, and the advertising hospital doesn’t. Minor detail.

And that is the core of the challenge.

While traditional approaches and messaging to marketing the hospital and health system continue unabated, much to the delight of agencies, newspaper outlets, cable, traditional TV and radio outlets and others, the healthcare consumer is left scratching their head since its looks and feels so much the same for all the hospitals’  in a market.

The healthcare consumer is searching for information on the hospital or health system that includes brand reputation, price and outcomes data, and patient testimonials in order to make a healthcare purchase decision.  They are finding the information elsewhere. What they are finding doesn’t match with the message. And that doesn’t foster or create trust.

It’s a new business model for hospital and health system operations and marketing.

Health care is evolving into a retail driven, consumer focused medical market and that means new approaches.  A new transparency based on price, outcomes and the value that the healthcare consumer receives. It’s not about logos, awards, vague claims or misleading advertisements. It is about being healthcare consumer focused and meeting their needs with usable, transparent, actionable information, not hospital centric messaging that makes the Board, physicians and senior management feel great about them.

What should be communicated?

By the placing of context around the content of how that awards makes the hospital a quality provider of care in that category of care, not all categories.   The marketing and messaging needs to support the brand and brand message as well differentiating the hospital from competitors.  For the new market environment and healthcare business model, price, quality data, accessibility, convenience and testimonials for the healthcare consumer, is the new marketing currency. The healthcare consumer wants to be able to trust the hospital. The healthcare consumer wants to make a good decision.  Listen to what the healthcare consumer is asking for in the way of information from the hospital. Give information and solutions, not “trust me” promises and all encompassing claims.  No one believes it anymore.

Is the hospital listening?

In most cases healthcare advertisements and other channel communications are the primary contact that a consumer has that starts the experience process.   Talk to the audience in meaningful ways. Educate. Teach. Inform. Change opinion.   Tell them why the quality award is important and what it means to them. Frame the experience and setup the clinical service or physician by providing actionable information in terms the healthcare consumer can understand.

Winning healthcare marketers are driving growth by increasing their precision, broadening their scope, reacting quickly and telling a better story.

Respond to the needs of the healthcare consumer, not the needs of the hospital.  In doing so the hospital needs for growth and revenue will be met.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

What does a customer focused hospital or healthcare enterprise look like?

 James Cullen, CEO of Conach Consulting and a former hospital CEO, asked me to consider writing an article which describes what a customer focused hospital or health system looks like, from a customer’s perspective?  The question from James was a result of the Healthcare Marketing Matters blog post, “Can healthcare providers become customer focused enterprises?” .
The question was indeed fortuitous, as the news coverage this week in various hospital and provider focused news outlets,  reported that consumerism is one of the top concerns on CEO minds these days.

 But the answer to the question is not a simple as it may seem. There is no checklist of “if I do this and this, I will be a customer focused hospital or health system, and the healthcare consumer will think so too”. The answer to the question is really a two-part answer. And a hospital cannot arrive at the promised land of being a customer focused healthcare enterprise, unless it accomplishes part two of the answer. 

Part One- The Health Care Consumer

Think of one’s own experiences when interacting with a customer focused company.  One is engaged and highly satisfied. Interaction with the company in gathering  information is easy, accessible and clearly understandable across any of the platforms of my choosing.  The experience from first contact to last encounter is seamless, meaningful and totally integrated.  Proactive recommendations are sent and tailored to the individual healthcare consumer’s needs be that educational or preventative care. During the engagement process, trust is built and in the case of previous utilization, trust is reinforced and enhanced.  The brand promise is delivered every time. And most importantly as this is perceptual, there is an emotional connection that all that matters is “me”.  At no time do I feel or have an experience that’s it is all about the hospital and health system, making me secondary to what is taking place. The organization is responsive. Satisfaction scores exceed normalized standards.

A note regarding satisfaction. Because the healthcare enterprise may have high satisfaction scores, remember that it only measures the customer perspective during the process of care.  It does not measure external influences or needs. High satisfaction scores while important do not make a customer-focused enterprise. Satisfaction is only one indicator of customer centricity.  Satisfaction is a process that can be studied, manipulated, changed and improved.

Part Two- The Healthcare Enterprise

Sometimes, one must look at the lessons of the past to find the solutions of the future, as healthcare evolves into a retail medicine, consumer driven business model. So here is some reading homework:  MARKOR: A Measure of Market Orientation , Ajay K. Kohli, Bernard J. Jaworski, Ajith Kumar,  Journal of Marketing Research, Vol. 30, No. 4 (Nov., 1993), pp. 467-477, American Marketing Association; Harvard Business Review, “To Keep Your Customers, Keep It Simple”, Patrick Spenner and Karen Freeman, May 2012; And  McKinsey & Company, The consumer decision journey”, David Court, Dave Elzinga, Susan Mulder and Ole Jergen Vetyik, June 2009.

Becoming the total healthcare consumer centric enterprise requires two things. First is an outward market orientation. The second is the culture and behavior to support across all levels of the organization the customer focused business model.

Customer centrisity in its pure and simplest form is really a matter of market orientation. “Market orientation refers to the organization-wide generation of market intelligence pertaining to current and future needs of customers, dissemination of intelligence within the organization and responsiveness to it.” (Kohli, Jaworski & Kumar, 1993.)

To become the consumer-focused healthcare enterprise, and there are 20 indicators in the MARKOR scale to measure market orientation, these three can be considered to be the most important first steps:

Intelligence Generation
1.    Meeting  with customers to understand current and future needs
2.    An in-house market research department or the availability of external market research resources
3.    The ability to detect changes in customers preferences
4.    Annual surveys of customer perceptions which is different than satisfaction measurement

Intelligence Dissemination
1.    Regular interdepartmental meetings on market trends and development
2.    Important developments within the market or with key customers  are shared quickly
3.    Regular dissemination of satisfaction and perceptual  data at all levels of the enterprise

1.    Recognition of changes in customers product or service needs
2.    Alignment of product or service development efforts with customer needs
3.    Regular, interdepartmental planning to respond to changes in the business environment
4.    Responsiveness to customer complaints
5.    Making a concerted effort to modify products or services to fit customer needs

According to Walker Research and the Walker Index, these characteristics are some of the key differentiating elements of customer focused companies that are most likely to produce significantly better long term performance.

Systems to gather the intelligence to be an evolving customer focused healthcare enterprise are one thing.  Culture and behavior is another, and is more often than not, the potential stumbling block in hospitals and health systems becoming customer focused.

The culture and behavior of the healthcare enterprise influences and ultimately determines success.  Just because the healthcare enterprise completes one of more of the above, or a select few of the 20 MARKOR scale attributes, that in and of itself doesn’t make the healthcare enterprise customer focused. It only works if the culture and behavior of the organization is in alignment with the underlying organizational beliefs and values.

Customer centric organizational culture and behavior falls into four areas:

Senior management
1.    Committed to and takes action on being customer-focused
2.    Drives business and financial planning based on the needs of customers
3.    Utilizes  market data in decisions
4.    Business development  is externally focused on meeting the needs of customers
5.    Marketing is a member of the senior team, trusted and is involved in all decisions
6.    Has a high level of tolerance for change
7.    Accepts innovation and has some tolerance for failure
8.    Low tolerance for and eliminates “sacred cows”

Interdepartmental relationships
1.    Interdepartmental cooperation takes place at all staff levels
2.    Formal and informal connections to departments
3.    Openness to  ideas from other departments
4.    Focus is on meeting the needs of the customer
5.    Interdepartmental barriers to meet the needs of the customer are identified and eliminated
6.    Seamless hand-off of customers between departments

Organizational systems
1.    A balanced approach to organizational structure
2.    Market-based incentive structures that focus on long-term company health
3.    Low level of “office politics”
4.    Mechanism are in placed to share customer related data
5.    Continuous evaluation and training on organizational customer centeredness
6.    Strict standards regarding customer service competency skills for all positions
7.    All touch-points  of the customer experience are integrated and seamless

Organizational Culture
1.    Organizations core values are widely shared and intensely held
2.    Senior management establishes norms of customer focused behavior by their actions
3.    There is a culture socialization program for new employees
4.    Conveys a sense of identity
5.    People oriented
6.    Team oriented
7.    Outcome oriented
8.    Fosters behavioral consistency

Customer centrality  cannot be marketed into existence with campaigns and forays into the market with “customer-centric messages” or internal declarations of customer  focus.  Sooner or later the healthcare consumer will figure it out.  Employees will see it as the flavor of the day and wait it out until next grand leadership vision comes around.  As in a previous post, the customer focused healthcare enterprise is a way of life that permeates the hospital or health system with a singular focus. It is outward looking and responsive, not inwardly focused and unresponsive.

This is about changing the healthcare enterprises DNA.  The customer focused healthcare enterprise is hard to create and takes a lot of work. It’s not a box on a checklist and is not just satisfaction. But in the end, as healthcare evolves into a consumer centric retail market, it is the only way that the healthcare enterprise can survive. Cutting costs and going lean will only go so far in retail medicine.

Time to get to work and reap the rewards.