Want A Kumbayah & S’mores Healthcare Experience?

These are the weeks when millions of bright high school students begin their college journey. We drove our son to orientation at the Rochester Institute of Technology. His next five days will be filled with Kumbayah moments with intermittent breaks for s’mores around the campfire while the parents haul refrigerators and ion-fans across the quad. It will be one big celebration of diversity and the individual.

His orientation is different than I remember mine being. Maybe that is because my orientation was at the US Air Force Academy. By noon, every head was shorn to its respective scalp and fifteen hundred individuals were all dressed identically. We were told that we were only allowed to say, “Yes sir, no sir,” and “No excuse, sir.” So, when I asked a senior cadet if I was allowed to keep my puka shell necklace, I did not experience a Kumbayah moment celebrating our mutual diversity.

We’ll get back to orientation at the end of this piece.

I spent two years in Rio in the role of the acting Chief Customer Officer fro a startup phone company. For me, most of the fun I’ve gotten from watching the Olympics has been from seeing Rio again.

For people of my generation, the Olympics will never regain the importance that it had when we were growing up. In my day, the Olympics was the battle of right and wrong played out in the pool, the boxing ring, the track, the basketball court, and the hockey rink

It was us against them. The ‘them’ were the Soviets and the East Germans. ‘Them’ were the communists and the drill that made us practice hiding under our school desks to protect ourselves from nuclear attack.

Back then nobody had the temerity to suggest that synchronized swimming was an actual sport.

I think the Olympics would be more interesting if there was a way to show just how good these athletes stack up against people like you and me, people who think they are good, but who do not possess Olympic skills. Take cycling for example. During my run Saturday, I passed a group of middle-aged men all kitted out in their cycling gear—padded, crotch-hugging shorts, skin-tight, logo-emblazoned jerseys, riding gloves, cycling shoes, and aerodynamic Kevlar helmets.

They wore pulse-monitoring devices, GPS trackers for measuring speed, distance, and feet climbed. Their fanny packs held nutrition bars made of steel-cut oats, and their water bottles were filled with some sort of electrolyte replacement drink. Nowadays, you have to spend a lot of money to ride three miles. And you have to look better than you ride.

They thought they looked good. I thought they look like old trick-or-treaters. I would pay money to see them ride against an Olympic biker. Or to see some guy who has a Ping-Pong table in his basement play a Chinese Ping-Pong player. Or a group of guys who like to wear the jerseys of the Philadelphia Flyers play the US hockey team.

Those of us who participate at some level in some sport may all be equally good when compared to people of our same age and ability in any given sport. Those of us who used to be runners have turned into joggers. Having been good enough to be a bench player on your high school basketball team may have made you cool enough to sit at the popular senior lunch table. You may still retain enough of those skills to play a game of pick-up ball.

That does not mean you are still a good player. It probably means that you are no worse than the other guys playing pick-up ball.

But that is okay. Being no worse than others, as long as you are in the right group of others, can make you feel pretty good about yourself. “I’m no worse than that guy.” Having that as a goal is okay in Ping-Pong, the Saturday cycling club, and a lot of other activities that don’t matter.

All other things being equal, if you were given the choice to buy something from among K-Mart, Target, and Walmart, which chain would you choose? More than fifty percent of you would choose Walmart. Given the choice of Acme, Giant Foods, and Wegmans, most people would choose Wegmans.

Given a choice of experiences among good, better, best, or a choice of being worst, really bad, and simply bad, people—customers and patients—choose the best experience.

Being “no worse than the other guy” fails as a growth business strategy. Target doesn’t advertise itself as being better than K-Mart because that is nothing to write home about. Unfortunately, no-worse-than-the-other-guy in terms of customer experience is a pretty popular business strategy. It fails the innovation test. It fails the test of relevancy and sustainability. If your firm or your health system is no better than the firm across the street, one of the two firms is superfluous. Isn’t it?

And that is where nearly every health system and every payer stacks up when it comes to customer experience, access, and engagement.

Being just-as-good, or being no-worse, is the business equivalent of being just-as-bad. It makes for a poor marketing campaign. But those firms keep on marketing.

“Call us to schedule an appointment.”

Permit me to conclude by referring back to college orientation. The Air Force Academy’s approach of everyone will do everything our way works great if you are rearing military officers.

Healthcare’s approach to customer experience requiring every patient and customer to call them for every need is a resounding failure when it comes to acquiring patients and improving care.

Nobody wants to have to call his or her health system or payer. Even the people who tell you that they want to call you only say that because you have never shown them a better alternative.

Your patients and customers want a Kumbayah and s’mores healthcare experience. And that experience only needs three things. Access and engagement:

  1. When I want it
  2. Every time I want it
  3. On any device I want it
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