If you are a hospital CEO who touts customer service — the customer experience — and you have not heard about Apple’s remarkable product innovation, their laser commitment to service, and their remarkable out-of-the box retail experience, you are probably so far inside the box that you are immerdiately vulnerable to competitive market forces.

Apple redefined the customer service experience. Not just for the computer industry or the technology sector. Steve Jobs and his colleagues raised the bar for everyone in business. From their technical support access, which is far and away the best in any industry, to the amazing Apple retail experience, this company is about delighting the customer. They thrive on that sense of accomplishment.                                    Jobs.Hero.

When I think about the  average hospital admission process and the endless waits in the ER that can be made worse by, in many cases, the absolutely terrible customer service and non-existent communication from the staff, I wonder why the healthcare industry seems so afraid to explore game-changing innovations.   

When we talk about Apple it is easy to say, “Oh, computers, that is different. That industry is not anything like healthcare,” as if to say that Apple wanted to emulate the mediocrity that has come to define Microsoft. The beauty of Apple is that Steve Jobs empowered his people to redefine the customer satisfaction experience from a standard that said satisfactory was OK to one in which anything less than delightful was unacceptable. Outsourcing his customer support through terrible telephone connections to some  remote outpost in India, which is how so many companies attempt to maxmize profitability, was not in the Jobs’ playbook.  He drove profits by doing the opposite — spending money on taking care of his customers.

Apple became a bigger company than the once invincible Microsoft in terms of market cap as the result of its passionate commitment to focus on game-changing design and a level of service that delighted their customers.  

As we mourn the loss of such an incredible innovator, it behooves those of us in healthcare to pause and to think how our industry can bring a little of Steve Jobs’ keen insight for innovation and a customer-centered delight into our complex organizations, and to think how we can offer our customers — doctors and patients — service that delights and surprises. 

He showed that it can be done.  And he offered some compelling words during a Stanford commencement speech in 2005 to help guide the way.

“Follow your heart…Your time is limited so don’t waste time living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice…” 

What are we waiting for?

© 2011 John Gregory Self


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