While most practices have neither the Imagineers nor unlimited financial capabilities to create an audiology clinic for a “Disney experience,” practice managers should realize that every patient visit to the clinic has to be an unexpected positive experience to turn them into a loyal, repeat customer.
Business Management | July 2019 Hearing Review
Understanding and analyzing three clues that define a unique patient experience
If you think that patients simply come to your clinic just because you are there, something is wrong with your perspective. Yes, you may have a Doctorate in Audiology or other credentials, be licensed or have special certifications, and have many years of experience in hearing care and hearing rehabilitation. But the whole picture is not about you. While rapport and trust are an essential part of the patient visit, the whole picture is not just about the professional or the state-of-the-art products or the best practice services offered; it is the patient’s experience while providing superior hearing healthcare.
In fact, it is the patient’s total unexpected experience in your clinic that may be most important to success. Creating the unexpected experience involves strategic initiatives focused on a competitive advantage. This experience is fueled by a sum of the clues given before, during, and after the clinic visit.
Value and the Unexpected Experience: A Prerequisite for Future Success
Most will agree that Disneyland or Disney World is a clued-in, total customer experience (Figure 1). As a person involved in creation and development of the Disney Imagineers, Carbone1 describes a visit to a Disney theme park as a total customer experience that truly creates value and builds preference for the Disney theme parks over the competition. He describes how Disney works hard to create these special experience—right down to the temperature of the ice cream and what is going on while guests are in line for rides and other activities.
An example of this special attention is, when entering Florida’s Magic Kingdom, a look down Main Street toward Cinderella’s Castle makes the castle look farther away than it really is due to the subtle angling and relative heights of the buildings. This increases anticipation in the hearts and minds of their customers, old and young. Later, at the end of a long day with crying children and hurting feet, mom and dad can stand at Cinderella’s Castle and look back toward Main Street and the Main Gates, and again, the building angles seem to minimize the walk to the parking lot. The day is a totally managed unexpected experience—“Imagineered” to bring customers back time after time.
Walker Inc,2 a customer experience consulting firm, reports that as we move through the 21st century, patients will be more informed and in charge of the experiences for everything they receive: products, services, and, yes, even clinic visits. After decades of discourteous receptionists, long forms to fill out, excessive waiting room times, and apathetic clinic staff who do not take the time, energy, and effort to know them, patients now expect practices to know their individual needs and personalize their experiences while proactively addressing their current and future desires. If any type of practice or business does not meet these needs—especially when not covered by insurance or other funding sources—those seeking products and services will find them elsewhere, no matter how competent the clinician and staff.
While most practices have neither the Imagineers nor unlimited financial capabilities to create an audiology clinic for a Disney experience, practice managers should realize that every patient visit to the clinic has to be a positive unexpected experience to turn them into a loyal repeat customer. Obviously, it would be difficult and expensive to modify an exam/treatment room or soundbooth to create a total patient experience like Disney.
However, becoming a clued-in practice is less involved.
Clues that Frame Customer Experience
Berry et al3,4 offers three types of clues in any business that frame the total customer/patient experience: Functional, Mechanic, and Humanic (Figure 2). In a practice, the unexpected experience is the total of the positive and negative clues perceived by each individual. Carbone1 shows that the Functional clues are related to the products and/or services offered by the practice, the Mechanic clues are the environment in which the products and services are offered, and the Humanic clues are those related to professionalism of the clinician and their staff. During a patient’s visit to the clinic, each patient sensation (positive or negative), is a clue that contributes to the cumulative sense or feeling of the total experience.
Not all clues are created equal, as they can be sensed and valued differently by different people. Since people are from different backgrounds, with various personal styles, lifestyles, and generations, the way a specific patient puts these clues together may be somewhere between largely insignificant to very significant in their assessment of the total experience. As the patient’s mind combines all these stimuli/clues, their total unexpected experience is formulated, and their preferences are created and amended.
These clues are the obvious rational perceptions. Carbone1 states that functional clues register with the patient’s rational thought process, with their meaning and value interpreted by the brain’s logical circuitry as it assesses the functionality of the goods and services being provided. As its name implies, functional clues are all about functionality, which might include “Does the car start?,” “Does the faucet still drip?,” or “Can I hear?” Functional clues answer the patient’s questions of:
- How detailed was my hearing evaluation?
- Is this clinic capable of accommodating my needs?
- How professional are they, really?
- Can they achieve better hearing for me?
Additional functional clues might be degrees and qualifications (eg, AuD) or licensing and certifications from your state or professional organizations. Further clues are a best practice hearing evaluation procedure and quality products.
Most audiology clinics handle functional clues about the same. The unexpected—such as documenting product performance and patient outcomes, detailed hearing evaluation, and other unexpected functional clues—will win them over easily. For success, however, functional clues must at least be as positive as the competition.
These clues come from the environment in which the professional products and services are provided. Mechanic clues to patients come from the physical surroundings such as the sights, sounds, smells, and textures. For these clues, care must be exercised to keep the clinic clean, and sounds must be subtle and engaging.
Some practices that are savvy to mechanic clues have fresh baked cookies and coffee delivered to the practice each morning.5 While fresh baked cookies, coffee, and other subtle smells and treats are great in some venues, practice clientele and culture may dictate other requirements. For example, if you specialize in pediatrics, a playroom with videos and possibly treats for kids, may be a necessity.
Additionally, care should be taken to ensure that furniture and fixtures and other physical surroundings are in the best possible condition (Figure 3). Frays in the soundroom carpet or other areas, torn wallpaper, light bulbs out, and worn waiting room chairs can be negative clues to patients as to how you will ultimately take care of them.
Humanic clues are the stimuli produced by people, such as the way patients perceive choice of words, tone of voice, cadence of voice, voice level, enthusiasm, gestures, actions, body language, and other human factors. For example, it has long been an unwritten law in practice that the attitude of the receptionist for the first phone call, reception process, the amount of paperwork, waiting time to see the audiologist, the amount and quality of time spent with the clinician, the detail of the evaluation, the discussion, a high- or low-pressure sales presentation, the fitting techniques, discussion of the hearing results, the exit, follow-up, and continued contact are all part of the ultimate unexpected experience.
Putting It Together
Clues are seemingly small things, but when added up—summing both the positives and negatives—they may often represent the important difference between patients receiving an positive unexpected clinical experience and one that is substandard, or just average.
Baby Boomers expect more. From the time their generation began, institutions and products have been created just for them. New products were created; theme parks and schools were built; colleges expanded and specialized foods were created just for them. Now we see long-term care and other facilities being created just for them. Therefore, audiology clinics need to cater to them as well by offering an unexpected experience where the positive clues far outweigh negative clues.
Windmill et al6 found that audiology clinics will not run out of patients anytime soon with a huge supply of prospective patients until 2040. While there will be many more patients, the commoditization of amplification will take its toll. The idea that “all hearing aids are the same” supports the mindset “just get the cheapest one.” Thus, patients who perceive that the Functional clues are the same from one clinic to another (and/or Big Box and online options) makes the Mechanic and Humanic clues even more essential for success in private practice.
Recall that the Mechanic and Humanic clues become the great clinic equalizer. Clinicians need to ask, How is my clinic different? Do we offer unmatched Mechanic and Humanic clues that create an unexpected patient experience, or do we offer only the functional clues that suggest we are the same as all of our competitors?
Robert (Bob) Traynor, EdD, MBA, FNAP, is an audiologist and former private practice owner, and has recently established Robert Traynor Audiology, LLC, based in Fort Collins, Colo, a consulting and expert witness firm. He has been a longtime lecturer and educator in the field, a blog contributor to HearingHealthMatters.com, and serves as an Adjunct Professor of Audiology at four university programs. Dr Traynor and Robert G. Glaser have published the 3rd edition of their book, Strategic Practice Management (Plural Publishing, 2018).
Correspondence can be addressed to Dr Traynor at: [email protected]
Citation for this article: Traynor R. Are you “clued-in” to offer the ultimate patient experience? Hearing Review. 2019;26(7):25-27.
Carbone LP. Clued In: How to Keep Customers Coming Back Again and Again. 1st ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ:FT Press;2004.
Walker, Inc. Customers 2020: The future of B-to-B customer experiences. https://www.walkerinfo.com/Portals/0/Documents/Knowledge%20Center/Featured%20Reports/WALKER-Customers2020.pdf. Published 2013.
Berry LL, Seltman KD. Management Lessons from Mayo Clinic: Inside One of the World’s Most Admired Service Organizations. 1st ed. New York, NY:McGraw-Hill Education;2017.
Berry LL, Carbone LP, Haeckel SH. Managing the total customer experience. MIT Sloan Management Review. April 15, 2002;43(3).
Kasewurm G. Dr Gyl’s Guide to a Successful Hearing Care Practice. 1st ed. San Diego, CA:Plural Publishing;2019.
Windmill I, Freeman JS, Hall JW III, Freeman BA. Audiology and Medicare: Where economic reality collides with hearing care. Paper presented at: AAA 2019 Annual Convention; March 27-30, 2019; Columbus, Ohio. https://www.eaudiology.org/products/aaa-2019-audiology-and-medicare-where-economic-reality-collides-with-hearing-care-03-tier-1aaa-ceus#tab-product_tab_overview.