Customer Experience versus Patient Experience: no real difference.

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Earlier this year, I extended my idealism to the healthcare sector, and I’d be delighted to make a useful contribution there. Being my usual willful self, I assumed that the customer experience approach would translate well into health care. I’ve spent the last months talking to a number of healthcare parties and my conclusion is: it does indeed!


Over the years, there has been a striking central theme throughout each branch, even in each organization, that they all believe themselves to be unique. I thought pretty much the same when I started 15 years ago. Not so much in terms of products and services, but in terms of internal organization and system, the context in which they must operate and the challenges which face them. In my experience however, this is not the case. I probably have a somewhat distorted image, as I mainly work with the large B2C organizations. The mechanisms you recognize and the challenges faced by each organization are virtually identical. The outside world with all its demands, supervisory bodies, government regulations, social media image risks. At most, some organizations are further down the line than others.
However, the people who work there are unique, and each change which you wish to achieve therefore requires other interventions. While the customer experience method is readily duplicated therefore, each new situation requires reanalysis of the best possible route for successful introduction in that specific organization. I believe the same to apply to healthcare.


A number of trends have become distinguishable in customer service in recent years, which can be translated directly into healthcare.

1. From product centricity to customer centricity, how do you do that?

Within healthcare, this shift is recognizable in increased focus on the patient experience when determining the medical quality of treatments. This theme is nowadays receiving more attention within healthcare, although it is also noticeable on a daily basis in other branches too. Hospitality has long since been an important factor in health care, though often not broadly enough in my opinion, when it comes to patient centricity. Hospitality often concerns the reception area, the hostess greeting you on arrival and also the way in which staff members treat their clients. It is certainly very relevant, but not all-encompassing if you are looking to improve the end-to-end customer journey.

2. From department or channels to the customer journey approach.

This once again works at two levels in healthcare. Every large healthcare institution has multiple departments, in which it is very useful to examine the customer journey which transcends these departments, in terms of both customer experience and cost efficiency. On the other hand, there is often a journey outside the institution. A simple example: if I need a repeat prescription for my hay fever, I need to call my GP and then collect the medication from the chemist. My customer journey for repeat prescriptions therefore involves both the GP and the chemist. When looking to improve customer experience here, you will need to bring these two parties together therefore. And therefore include them both in your survey.

3. From assuming we know what customers want, to objectively measuring what customers want.

How can I put myself properly in the driving seat and know exactly how to improve satisfaction? The healthcare sector uses so-called CQI (continuous quality improvement) questionnaires, as a standard to indicate the degree of satisfaction among patients. It is once again apparent, as for virtually all other service providers who struggle with customer satisfaction, that there is insufficient use of statistical techniques to (a) know exactly whether you are asking the correct questions from the customer’s perspective and (b) to know whether driver A is not five times more important than driver B. The complicated discussions between healthcare insurers, health care providers and patient organizations are not exactly helpful of course.

4. From measuring satisfaction in order to meet KPIs, to genuine drive to improve service for clients.

Sometime ago, I was requested to give a workshop for dentists. On looking into the situation in more depth, I became aware that the KNMT (national Dutch dentists association) requires a customer satisfaction survey once every five years. Nowadays, more and more organizations are feeling the need for continuous measurement, not only to enable effective steering, but also to bring the customer experience aspect to life internally, with real-time dashboards and tangible scores. The same developing need is also increasingly seen in healthcare, in order that all teams can truly implement customer experience in practice.

5. From effectively dealing with customer contact moments to avoiding unnecessary customer contact moments.

In other words, shifting towards prevention. What do people need in order to avoid them having to make use of healthcare? What are the most important knobs to twiddle? How can you adjust your total services, from focusing on solving the problem to actually avoiding the problem? That is a whole new ball game, in which the customer journey approach becomes stronger and stronger. In order to simply carry out a gastric band operation, I do not need any other parties. However, if I want to help the same person live healthily, therefore removing the need for an operation, I need a GP, a dietitian, a sports trainer and a psychologist. At that point, one of the key questions is: how does this affect the interests of the hospital, which earns money carrying out treatments, if such operations can be avoided? That is a greater issue of course, and concerns an interesting and complex discussion of our healthcare system.

Is there really no difference?

In my view, the main difference lies in the ‘product’. With the exception of events such as childbirth for example, most visits to a hospital concern an unpleasant, uncertain, sometimes fearful situation in which I’m already 3-0 behind in terms of knowledge and therefore have little control over what happens to me and my body. However, this does not mean that the customer experience method as such is not useful. It probably does mean that those drivers concerned with emotion and awareness of what is happening, will have more impact than other drivers. And this can be easily discovered if you develop satisfaction analyses on the basis of the customer journey.

Read the other articles in the Customer Experience miniseries here:

  1. What purpose does customer experience management really serve?
  2. CRM versus CEM versus CCM
  3. Experience Engineering: a brilliant discovery, but how can you start it right now?
  4. Customer Experience versus Patient Experience: surprisingly similar.
  5. What is the shelf life of customer inspiration? 3 x 7 tips!

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