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Improving the customer service experience is one of the new buzz phrases that many healthcare executives are using in connection with improving their HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) scores.

For my non-healthcare readers, HCAPHPS scores are important because they will drive higher rates of reimbursement in the near term.  Beyond that, the reality of the federal deficit and long-term debt crisis requiring significant cuts in Medicare spending, HCAPHPS will become a tool to penalize non-performing hospitals with materially lower rates of reimbursement.  For many organizations on the bubble of survival, those reductions could lead to closure.

In other industries, such as the consumer technology segment, tablets, MP3 players and software, an exceptional customer experience is the defining factor between market leadership, acceptable mediocrity, and/or embarrassing failure.

Apple is one company that understands the importance of the customer experience.  Delighting the user and excellent customer experience are hard-wired into the culture.  Some would argue those two phrases are two of the most critical elements in defining what makes Apple a leader in innovation and their ability to deliver products that work – that delight the customer.

By contrast, Microsoft’s reputation is “we get it right – the third time.”  They move product to market and then try to improve on it through endless updates and patches.  The Zune MP3 player and the VISTA operating system are two products that quickly come to mind.

At Apple, the designers are key to the development process.  They are among the most important people in the product development process, and other members of the team know and respect that.  At Microsoft, product development rarely includes designers, according to those who do business with the company.  They are an almost “after-the-fact” part of the process.  Recent “improvements” in Outlook are another example.

Apple’s products work and they typically delight their customers. Yes, Apple makes mistakes in design and production, the early roll out of MobileMe and the antenna for the iPhone 4 are two examples of mistakes that made it to public consumption, but for the most part, their mistakes are made and corrected in the design process. For Apple CEO Steve Jobs, the rule “is do not lie to yourself and call something great when it isn’t.”  Jobs will dump product design or development ideas that are not meeting the Apple standard of great and delay product introduction.

Apple’s design of their retail stores and technical support programs are, again, based on delighting the customer.  Microsoft does not control its distribution and its technical support is legendary – bad. Amazingly, many of the computer manufacturers that run Microsoft products have worked hard to match the dismal Microsoft customer service experience.

While the specifics of Apple’s business model are not applicable to healthcare, their emphasis on delighting the customer and improving the customer experience certainly can and should be adopted by healthcare leaders.

Personal Disclosure:  My  less-than-a year-old Toshiba laptop with its Microsoft Outlook and Business Contact Manager program is now a very effective paper weight next to my MacBook Pro.

© 2011 John Gregory Self