Embracing the Philosophy of the Chief Experience Officer (Even If Your Organization Won't)

Anthony Cirillo, for HealthLeaders Media , January 8, 2008
Last year I wrote an article about the concept of the chief experience officer, a person in the organization who is in charge of taking the reigns to assure that the brand experience across the enterprise is both consistent and exceptional. Several organizations have embraced this concept, most notably The Cleveland Clinic. Others have written to me who are evolving this role in their hospitals, although they are not doing so at a C-Suite level. Since then I have spoken about the concept to many organizations. Here is the feedback I've received.

Philosophically, people agree with the concept. They accept the notion that people expect the quality of their healthcare to be good. They expect their doctors to be good. So often it comes down to the perception of the entire experience as a differentiator in choosing a hospital, becoming a loyalist, and spreading positive word of mouth to others.

The problem is not from those who "get it" but from their superiors, the decision makers who often don't understand the importance of the concept. They argue that they are known for their latest technology, the best cancer care, the fastest this, the largest that and so on. And they want to lead with what they believe are their strengths. However, if you promise x, y, and z and people come to you and have a lousy experience it doesn't mean a thing. They probably won't come back and they'll tell ten others not to consider you, too.

There are organizations that will clearly not make this a priority until they experience a pain point so great that they can not ignore the fact that no amount of expertise can take the place of a poor experience. To the people working in those organizations who embrace the CEO concept I say adopt it for your own function and if that is still hard to do adopt the principles for yourself and you own career enhancement.

Audit the Touch Points
One of the hallmarks of organizations that examine the experience is that they audit every interaction with every audience. What are the points of interaction and what occurs from your perspective? Then ask the intended audience what their expectations are. Where are the gaps? How do you fill them?

OK, so let's apply that to marketing.

Marketing departments produce a lot of what I affectionately call "stuff." I know because I worked as a chief marketing officer in healthcare for more than 16 years. Hospitals seldom test the end product of their marketing efforts--the brochures, the Web sites, the advertisements--before a campaign. When they do, it is more about how people react to the creative as opposed to being moved to action by it.

Start looking at your output in a different light. What happens when a brochure hits the mailbox and is retrieved by the woman of the house? What happens when someone reads the patient blog or administrator blog that you initiated? What is the experience when someone first opens your home page? Looking at the emotional triggers before you fully launch a campaign can help you tweak it before or after launch.

Here is an example. The front page of Oregon's Mid-Columbia Medical Center is nice enough. But when I first saw the site for their cancer services I did a double-take. The images on that page tell a story. They are soothing. They say that this is a place where the patient will experience a different kind of care. Is it any wonder that patients from seven states come here for treatment?

This is what I mean when I say you should create experiences right within your function. There is something emotional happening when someone opens that cancer page. It is not a cold page full of technology images, speaking of features and not once showing a patient. That's what many hospital Web sites look like. It is not surprising that in a Planetree Organization the marketing department would be infused and empowered to offer experiences through what they do. Start looking at what you do in this light. How do you move people?

Let's Talk About You
OK, so maybe the organization and your function do not have "experience" high on the list of priorities. But you as an individual can. Just as organizations have brands, so do people. There is a certain image that you project by the way you conduct yourself. And you have "targeted audiences" that you interact with daily.

The brand of a job candidate, for example, is not just the sum of his or her resume and the personal interview. It also includes his or her Internet search results and online presence on social networking sites. All of these add up to an impression.

Have you audited your own personal touch points? With whom do you interact? What is the experience like? How do people feel about it? How can you improve upon these interactions?

Creating an experience does not have to be an enterprise initiative. Starting with each individual then transforming a function can be steps that slowly change a culture resistant to the concept and philosophy of the chief experience officer to one that will consider it--and then, perhaps, embrace it.

Anthony Cirillo, FACHE, ABC is president of Fast Forward Strategic Planning and Marketing Consulting, LLC in Huntersville, NC. He may be reached at cirillo@4wardfast.com.

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