What hospitals can learn from retail giants like Amazon, Zappos

As hospitals strive to attract and engage patients in an increasingly competitive industry, some of the nation's biggest names in retail may hold the key to improving the patient experience--and boosting an organization's bottom line.

Zappos, for one, is a company that provides a great example of how to win and keep customers, according to an article published by business media brand Fast Company.

"Extreme customer service--delivering happiness--is what Zappos is all about and what should be the foundation of healthcare delivery," writes Sarah Bader, a principal at Gensler who leads the firm's Health & Wellness practice area. "I believe this notion that patients are customers, first and foremost, needs to be shouted from the mountaintop yet again."

In a similar vein, "hospitals are turning to the best of online and retail payment experiences like those at Amazon and Apple to help shape their new approach with patients," writes Simplee CEO and co-founder Tomer Shoval in a blog entry for the Huffington Post.

Here's some of the lessons healthcare organizations can learn from big retail's success, according to the articles:

  • Emphasize speed and convenience. Zappos' customer-friendly speed in shipping can be translated to the healthcare industry by using technology to reach people "on their own terms, on their cellphones or devices, within the confines of their busy day" and to allow "basic check-ins to happen organically," Bader writes. And convenience should also be paramount when it's time for patients to pay their bills, according to Shoval, who cites high consumer satisfaction with online and self-service billing in urging healthcare organizations to overhaul their revenue cycles.

  • Focus on the individual. Showing "micro-devotion" to improving the patient experience is the best way to emulate Zappos' famous devotion to customer satisfaction, Bader writes, noting that many faith-based hospitals already have shown keen aptitude for practicing empathy and humanizing medicine. From a financial standpoint, Shoval says reforming the billing and payment experience is crucial to empowering patients as consumers and overall increasing their satisfaction and loyalty.

  • Increase transparency. Calling most hospitals' billing strategies a "broken system" in light of the recent health reform, Shoval adds that consumers are "not sure what we need to pay and why," which is why he advocates emulating retail companies' payment models. Similarly, Zappos' price comparison services for its retail products have had great success when translated to price menus offered by retail clinics, writes Bader.

Another way hospitals boost patient engagement is by growing their social media brands, though many could be doing more with these powerful online tools, FierceHealthcare has reported. Some of the top qualities of successful social media brands, according to Forbes, are: trustworthiness, a unique voice and brand personality, authoritativeness and responsiveness.

To learn more:
- read the Fast Company article
- read the Huffington Post blog
- read the Forbes article