Build patient loyalty with personalized service recovery

Recently, I made a large purchase from a well-known wholesale photo/video company. Long story short, the experience was extremely disappointing and frustrating. I even had to go to the UPS Store while on vacation after discovering the newly purchased camera was defective.

While highly trained phone agents apologized at several "moments of truth" along the customer journey, company policies and department silos prevailed in the end.

For my inconvenience, the company emailed me a coupon for a free tote bag, backpack or disposable camera. Unfortunately, not only were the gift offerings unrelated to my specific experience as a customer but the coupon could only be redeemed in their store some seven hours away!

Hospitals often make similar service recovery efforts. When free parking or meal tickets are offered for patient or family experiences not related to parking or food issues, the service recovery may be perceived as generic and impersonal, and only make matters worse.


So how can hospitals turn a frustrated customer into a customer for life?

They can follow the lead of Zane's Cycles in Branford, Conn., which used exceptional service recovery following a Valentine's Day snafu that left a woman, her husband and several co-workers out in the cold, founder Chris Zane described in a video.

On Valentine's Day a woman went to Zane's Cycles and picked out a bike to surprise her husband. Short the total amount to take it with her, she asked if she could put half down as a deposit, decorate the bike with balloons and note to her husband and have Zane’s put the bike in the window before they closed for the day. They agreed.

Later that day after work, the woman brought her husband to the bike shop--along with some co-workers to see her husband’s reaction. They parked, got out of the car and the woman said "Go look in the window." But, the bike wasn't there. Ticked off, she left a voice message later that evening for Zane's.

The next morning, Chris Zane and the store manager Tom got the woman's unhappy message. A traditional service recovery approach could have led Chris and Tom to offer the woman a 10 percent off coupon, free seat pack, bike helmet, headlamp or similar.

Instead, their customer-centric vision, culture and values led them to take three critical steps.

First, Chris and Tom blamed no one, accepted full responsibility for the customer's experience and asked, "What are we going to do about this?"

Next, they viewed the experience--both its immediate and lingering dimensions--through the eyes of the customer.

Chris and Tom appreciated the frustration and disappointment felt by the woman when the bike wasn't in the window. Also, they sensed the equally important, damaging and lasting aspects of the experience--the negative impression left on the co-workers and a soured Valentine's dinner for the couple later that evening.

Chris and Tom "got it!" They personalized the service recovery by not only waiving the remaining balance owed for the bike but also recreating the Valentine's dinner for the couple, catering lunch in the woman's office the next day for her co-workers, and delivering the bike and doing all of the fittings for the husband at their home that evening instead of at the store. The woman was so delighted she kissed Tom, the store's manager!

Only very dissatisfied and very satisfied patients have a story to tell; satisfied ones don't. Traditional service recovery merely assuages a patient's dissatisfaction.

Service recovery that is specific and personalized, as illustrated by Zane's Cycles, can transform moments of dissatisfaction into experiences that exceed expectations to such a degree that patients and their families have a new, positive and memorable story about our hospitals to tell others.

Every patient encounter and interaction along the continuum of care--even when we're attempting to recover after a poor patient experience--is an opportunity to build relationship and create a positively memorable experience that creates patients for life (and may even result in a kiss)!

Doug Della Pietra is the director of Customer Services and Volunteers for Rochester General Hospital in New York, where he co-chairs the hospital's Patient Experience Team, in addition to responsibilities for an intentionally-designedpatient- and family-centered volunteer program and front-line First & Last Impression initiatives. Follow Doug@DougDellaPietra on Twitter.