Improve Patient Satisfaction: 5 Things Healthcare Organizations Can Learn From Disney

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24_44Disney and healthcare are worlds apart in their product offering and purpose. While healthcare is largely a utilitarian service offering (i.e., patients need a problem to be resolved), guests visit Disney parks seeking an exciting, carefree experience. Despite the obvious differences, success can be measured similarly; what kind of experience did the guest have? If a service provider is professional, competent, and treats the guest with respect, then the guest’s experience and appreciable outcomes, taken in aggregate, will be manifested. However, focusing too much on tangible or financial metrics can cause an organization to lose sight of its entire purpose and mission: to provide the customer with the best experience possible. Losing sight of this goal could lead to a decline in the financial performance of the organization.

Healthcare organizations need to focus more than ever on patient-centered care. Patient satisfaction metrics will play a bigger role in reimbursements as healthcare reform progresses. Fortunately, most healthcare organizations can improve the patient experience using data and taking a few lessons from Disney.

Learning a Patient-centered Approach from Disney

Disney’s central focus is the guest experience, and all other metrics are manifestations of how well Disney is meeting guests’ expectations. This guest centricity pervades all levels of the Disney Company, from the front-line cast members (Disney employees) all the way up to the senior leaders, including the CEO. During my time as a cast member, I was impressed with senior leadership’s focus on the guest experience from behind-the-scenes meetings and the research being reviewed whenever important decisions were made. Naturally there would be talk about operational and financial numbers, but all discussions would ultimately revolve around the guest and his long-term satisfaction. The focus on the guest experience has to become a living, breathing part of an organization for it to be successful; having it as another bullet on a company mission statement will not produce the desired effects.

In this article, I will share some practices that illustrate Disney’s dedication to providing a great guest experience. You may wonder why a data-driven healthcare company would be writing about a company such as Disney, but I would argue that the ability to intelligently leverage data is directly correlated to delivering a great guest experiences. Relevant and impactful applications of healthcare data first require having a firm foundation focused on the patients’ wants and needs. Without this guest-centric approach, an organization may end up focusing on disparate and low-priority activities that do little to contribute to a cohesive, satisfying experience. As you read the Disney practices highlighted in this article, compare them with the average healthcare organization, and reflect on the changes that need to be made to become truly guest-centric and how harnessing the power of data can assist in driving and sustaining long-term change.

Lessons for Healthcare: Five Ways Disney Creates the Ideal Guest Experience

  1. Understanding the Guest

The foundation for providing a great guest experience starts with understanding the guest. And much of this understanding comes from hands-on experience. The Parks and Resorts Division at Disney Corporate recruit heavily from its college program. Many of its cast members have risen through the ranks and started on the front lines selling ice cream bars, running an attraction, or working in guest relations. This gives cast members an intimate knowledge of the guest experience because they worked face-to-face with guests on a daily basis. Disney’s leaders speak of the value of their own day-to-day communications with guests when making decisions (e.g., operational changes, offer restrictions, etc.) and often refer back to their prior park or resort experience. In addition, Disney encourages all cast members to sign up for park shifts during peak periods, so even those far-removed cast members working in corporate are able to interact with guests and see things from their perspective.

Along with the personal experience cast members have with guests, Disney has a concerted effort around market research to analyze guest behavior and better understand the forces driving superior guest satisfaction. Regular surveys are sent out to understand party dynamics and travel behavior, as well as guests’ thoughts and feelings about their experience. With this data, Disney can track changes over time and identify the attributes that most strongly influence the guest’s overall experience. There is also a significant amount of exploratory research to understand guests’ reactions to modifications to park operations and attractions. This information is incorporated into the planning process and could easily stop or alter planned changes. Disney also has a tremendous amount of internal data on guests taken from past interactions and transactions. This information is used to determine contact strategy, targeted offers, vacation recommendations, and more.

Disney’s new “magic bands” will provide a wealth of information about guests’ transactions and interactions, including guests’ locations at a given point in time. Whereas before assumptions were made about the average guest from a combination of survey and internal data, Disney will now be able to understand guest segments with a much higher degree of granularity. A greater understanding of guests enables Disney to better identify opportunities that enhance the customer experience and provide relevant recommendations to them. Research at Disney isn’t done just for the sake of research; it is actionable with clearly defined benefits to the guest.

  1. Everyone is a performer

Disney cast members, not only include those who are actively involved in entertainment and shows. In reality, every Disney employee is a cast member and a performer, whether she is a greeter, a cashier, or custodian. The performance isn’t too complicated—be friendly and attentive, and treat the guest with courtesy and respect while performing job functions. Every job at Disney is a performance for the guest, and anytime a guest is within sight or earshot, cast members are on stage and must be “show ready.” Everything about that performance should lead the guest to feeling valued, respected, and happy. This is accomplished through giving the guest undivided attention, making eye contact, smiling, communicating clearly, understanding and anticipating needs, and resolving guests’ concerns.

Imagine going to a play where there was no division between onstage and backstage, or where the actors broke character or carried on personal conversations with each other (e.g., talking about weekend plans, complaining about their work environment, etc.) during the performance. It would be disastrous! Why should it be different in a service setting? Every interaction should be a performance dedicated to the guest where the end-goal is their satisfaction.

  1. Seeking out interactions

Disney cast members go out of their way to actively engage and interact with customers. As a guest enters the park, he is greeted by friendly cast members who make eye contact and wish him a great day. It’s common for cast members to ask if a guest is visiting for a special occasion, and if so, he is often given stickers or badges (e.g., first visit, family reunion) to reflect that. This simple visual cue provides insights into guests’ motivations and reasons for visiting and allows cast members to use this information to strike up conversations and wish guests well throughout their visits. And, like any proper host, there are cast members at the exits bidding farewell to guests as they leave, waving their giant Mickey hands.

A couple years ago, a feel-good story was published by the Huffington Post that told the story of a security guard at Magic Kingdom who delighted a young girl dressed as a princess by asking her to sign his autograph book as if she were a real princess. It was a simple interaction, but the effect on the girl and her family was powerful. This experience reinforces the earlier point that everyone is a performer, and often the most impactful and positive experiences are those guests don’t expect. This security guard is a perfect example of an employee who actively looks for opportunities to make a guest feel special.

  1. Owning the guest

Disney aims to reduce guests’ anxiety about their vacation and walk them through the various phases of the vacation cycle, from planning their one-of-a-kind Disney experience until the time they arrive back home. Before the guest ever steps foot into a park or resort, information is gleaned about the reservation and traveling party so that reminders and time-appropriate information can be sent to the guest, whether it be on transportation options to the resorts, packing tips, or reminders to make fast pass selections and dining reservations. These efforts are largely automated and a great example of consumer insights coming together with information technology to deliver the right information through the right communication channels at the right time.

Upon arriving on a Disney property, guests are not passed on to someone else. When feasible, cast members escort guests to nearby locations they are searching for, and if a resort is overbooked, arriving guests are physically “walked” (more likely to be driven in a golf cart) to another resort. This avoids any confusion for the guest on where to go. Another important aspect to owning the guest is encouraging cast members to temporarily stop their basic duties to help the guest, such as offering to take a picture for them or offering directions if the guest appears to be lost. The important distinction is to remember that guests are not a burden or an interruption of work but rather the entire reason for the job.

  1. Accountability

Another important component in ensuring great service is the establishment of a measurement system that actively collects, and even solicits feedback from guests and peer cast members, in an unbiased manner. Disney uses this information to celebrate the great service given by cast members via public acknowledgement and service awards. Sometimes the data also allows for benchmarking so other teams can learn from the success of those teams leading the way. On the flip side, dissatisfaction must be addressed with a plan for improvement, along with accountability if cast members do not follow the plan. In the case of a dissatisfied guest, there are also levels of service recovery that reasonably match the inconvenience or negative experience that the guest faced.

Just as the guest focus should permeate every level of an organization, all must also share accountability of the guest experience. I remember going on walking tours of Walt Disney World resorts with the general managers (GMs), and in almost every case, I noticed the GMs would reach down and pick up an occasional piece of discarded trash on the otherwise impeccable grounds. It wasn’t beneath them to pick up trash, and they didn’t bother asking someone else to do what they could so easily do themselves. The GMs understood the purpose of their role was to deliver a great resort experience, and ultimately they held themselves accountable for every aspect of that experience.

A Patient-centered Approach to Healthcare Delivery Is Possible

Healthcare delivery in the United States is complicated. A myriad of forces are driving the industry to change its delivery, and simultaneously reduce costs, improve outcomes, and accommodate more patients. Although the healthcare provider-patient relationship is not a 100% consumer-driven relationship (e.g., just because a patient wants an antibiotic doesn’t mean one should be prescribed) healthcare organizations can mimic level of guest service by understanding Disney’s guest-centricity. The guest-centered approach is both a philosophy and culture from which all organizational decisions should flow, balanced of course by the business and financial goals of the organization.

So how to maximize patient satisfaction? Begin by understanding the patient journey and discovering which aspects of the patient experience drive satisfaction, as well as dissatisfaction. What attributes do patients (e.g., cost, comfort, convenience, service, etc.) value? Where are patients willing to make trade-offs? Knowing the answers to these questions will help to prioritize the strategic direction and resources that will improve the patient experience.

Another way to set priorities is to think in terms of qualifiers, winners, and losers. What are those qualifying attributes necessary just to be competitive? What are the winners that will put an organization over the top with positive patient experiences? What are the losers that will offend patients and turn them away? Often the attributes that drive winners and losers aren’t the same, and compared to qualifiers they tend to be lower cost and easier to manage.

The key takeaway is to not presume to know what the patient wants; find out who the patient is and what her wants and needs are and how best to meet them.

The application of patient-driven insight and centricity to health care data has the potential to revolutionize the healthcare industry in a way that greatly reduces costs and inefficiencies while providing relevant, personalized care. That kind of care can be accomplished by understanding the patient using data and research; ensuring that every member of the hospital team is ready to perform at all times; enabling staff to seek out interactions with patients; showing the care team how to put patients first; and finally, finding constructive ways to hold staff accountable for patient satisfaction.


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