The Corner Office

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I love to shop, but there's one shopping quirk that never ceases to annoy me: the optional extended warranty. Nothing makes me second-guess a purchase more than a salesperson basically telling me I should extend the warranty today before the product breaks tomorrow.

Clearly, retail chains and car dealerships make money from these extended-warranty offers. But when you're a consumer throwing down hundreds, even thousands, of dollars for a new piece of equipment, you expect it to be good. That's why, presumably, you selected the brand and product that you did. You want it to be high-quality, long-lasting, and backed by good customer service.

Healthcare consumers want the same thing. Yet hospitals are always rolling out new guarantees: Be seen in 30 minutes, get treated courteously, have error-free surgery—or you'll receive a $50 gift card. Patients want these assurances no matter what the guarantee. Movie tickets or a gift basket won't account for bad care.

Several years ago, Christus Health in Irving, TX, asked patients (via focus groups) how they felt about receiving gift cards or other apology gifts for failure to deliver on a guarantee. Hands down, patients said they wanted delivery of the guarantee, not a consolation prize. That's why Christus doesn't offer gifts to back up its service guarantee; delivering on the guarantee is mandatory.

Christus implemented its service guarantee (promising prompt and courteous care, concern for needs and privacy, and open and honest communication) in 2000. Although the guarantee itself may seem squishy (one person's definition of good care might be different from another's), the guidelines around the guarantee are clear-cut: Meet each patient's customer service expectations, period. At the time senior leaders implemented the guarantee, Christus' patient satisfaction scores hovered in the low 30s, says Linda McClung, Christus' senior vice president for communication, public affairs, philanthropy, and system services. Today, their scores are in the 80s.

The key to a good guarantee is not the gift you offer to back it up but your actual ability to fulfill the guarantee's promise. If you offer a guarantee, like Christus, make sure you're really delivering. Providing an "I'm sorry" prize only sends the message to patients and staff that good service is optional.

Healthcare is a service industry, and basic service should be a guarantee. That's what patients want, and that's what will make you stand out against competitors.

Molly Rowe

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