Patient Experience: Maybe You Should Go Grocery Shopping

It is a three-dog-night, and I only have two dogs.

See Paul. See Paul shiver.  We lost power 16 hours ago—ice storm, trees snapping like match sticks and landing on the power lines. The temperature in the house is fifty-one degrees and is dropping faster than my lack of affection for all things Celine Dion.  Rumor has it that we may get power back Saturday-seventy-two hours from now.  By then I should be able to just leave the refrigerator door open without worrying about the food getting too warm.   Having lived in Colorado for twelve years, I’m pulling out all of my North Face gear; crampons, gators and ice ax just in case I need to rappel down to the first floor in the morning to let the dogs out.

Southeast Pennsylvania is having a mini version of Hurricane Katrina, only nobody is being rescued by helicopter since the roofs are too slippery to climb upon.  I am writing by candlelight, like Abe Lincoln must have done, only minus the beard and the stovepipe hat.

The cell phone charge shows twenty-two percent power left.  The iPad is dead, and the gerbils powering my laptop have taken their mandatory union break.  Alferd Packer, turned to cannibalism in Colorado when he and his friends ran out of food in the cold.  I look at my dogs. They look back at me with suspicion.

Time passes.  It is forty-seven degrees—inside the house.

Several of you have written asking what it means to design someone’s experience—you can call them a patient if it makes you feel better.  I like also calling them customers—they can be both, and it does not offend them.  Maybe we should make it like the word brunchpatomers or catients.

Anyway, customer design.  He are real examples from my personal experience yesterday of firms who did not design a customer experience, firms who designed one but did it poorly, and one firm who got it right.

There are 150,000 homes in my county without power, and every person from every one of those homes made it their mission yesterday to find power at a place that also had internet. (I’m becoming a bigger Al Gore fan every day.)  I first tried the library.  There is a big sign to let people know they have free internet.  Their lights were on, but they were closed because of the weather.  Good intent, poor execution.

I next tried the mall—400,000 square feet.  Banners hanging overhead hawking their free internet service.  I walked the entire mall.  There is not a single accessible power outlet anywhere in the mall.  Good intent, poor design.

Giant Foods is a mile from my home.  A few cars were in their parking lot.  ACME Foods is another mile down the road, another clump of cars in their parking lot.  Wegman’s—my favorite food store on the planet is another three miles down the road.  Their parking lot was packed.

If you have never been to a Wegman’s, all of their stores were purposefully designed to create a great experience.  They have an eating area with eighty or so tables and a few couches and free internet.  And they have lots of electrical outlets.

My family and I went in and I went to work.  We spent six hours there and about a hundred dollars to eat two meals.  I would have done my grocery shopping but realized it would be silly to buy food if the temperature in my refrigerator was bordering on tropical.

Giant, ACME, and Wegmans.  At first glance, one would think the three companies are in the same business—groceries.  What I learned is that two of them are in the grocery business—Giant and ACME, the stores with the empty parking lots—and the third, Wegmans, is in the people experience business.

The point is that unless your hospital has defined the type of experience it wants people to have when they visit your hospital online or call it the experience you are providing those people is probably poor.

Too many hospitals think that because they have a web site and because someone is answering their phones entitles them to check the box indicating “mission complete.”  Your customers and patients are checking their boxes too.  They come away from their experience saying it was pointless to go online because they could not do anything once they got to your web site.  They are saying it was pointless to call the hospital because they never accomplish what they set out to do when they called.

The result of an undersigned experience is a failed experience.

The result of too many failed experiences is that the person will go somewhere else to purchase their healthcare.

One final kudos for Wegmans. I found a vegetable that I hadn’t seen since I worked in Taiwan—yu choy.  I Googled it, went to Wegmans’ web site and searched for it.  Wegmans’ web site asks you to enter your zip code.  When you hit enter they site tells you in which aisle in the store closest to you your item can be found.  It also tells you its price, the nutritional information, and provides you the recipe, along with others, of how they prepared the vegetable in their buffet.

Many hospitalists do not want to call their patients customers. Those people are hurting how the hospital presents itself to the public.  Maybe it is time for them to go grocery shopping.

6 thoughts on “Patient Experience: Maybe You Should Go Grocery Shopping

  1. Paul –

    Another great post. (Hope the power comes back soon.)

    Customer vs. Patient – I believe the term patient is somewhat of a shield. A patient is someone that needs care; a provider is someone that provides care. Through this lens if I’m the provider, you need me. Therefore I don’t need to worry about the distractions of the “consumer experience”. By god you need me – be thankful that I’m here.

    As an industry we’ve “talked” about consumer-centric healthcare for a long time now, we feel good. As the consumer takes on more and more financial responsibility for their care, we should be scared.

    Remember “heads in beds”? Wow, times have changed. There is an alternate lens of course – the lens of opportunity. The opportunity for health systems to embrace the “consumer”, create the future state consumer health experience and grow their business has never been more apparent. To many consumers “health care” remains a black box – and therein lies an epic opportunity for those so inclined to capture it.


  2. I am not surprised that Wegmans figures as a place that surpasses expectations in customer experience. I used to love their stores when I lived in upstate NY. And I am also not surprised at hearing about the author’s pleasant experience in locating the exotic vegetable. Wegmans has embraced technology in its operations from the very outset and was one of a select number of grocery chains involved with the National Association of Chain Stores in the late 1960s to set up the Universal Product Code (UPC) standards.

    When I lived in Syracuse in the late 1980s and early 1990s, they innovated again with the country’s first automatic coupon redeemer with a free ATM-like card that a customer could use at the checkout. Imagine – a customer did not have to spend time with the Sunday newspapers and laboriously cut out coupons! Wegmans did it for you, automatically, and also instantly, transparently, passed on the benefits of both manufacturer and store rebates. So the zipcode and aisle locator service only extends what they have been doing for a long time.

    A great company, a great example by the author, and one that is an informative lesson on designing customer experiences. What Wegmans demonstrates, however, is that designing customer experiences is all about leveraging technology but to do so in a manner that hid the complexities and left the customer feeling pleasantly surprised and satisfied.


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