Patient Experience Starts with the Hiring Process

It’s 6:45 am on a Sunday morning and I’m sitting in an airport waiting on a Southwest Airlines flight to Chicago. The flight is running a little late, and bleary-eyed passengers bemoan the extra half hour of sleep they could have had. Meanwhile the Southwest gate agents, who look much too rested and energized for such an early hour, begin the lighthearted banter for which they are known. Pretty soon, the delayed passengers are laughing at their goofy repartee of corny jests and bad-rhythm rap. Once on board, the pilot apologized for the delay and joked that he’d just had a low-carb, high energy drink to help get us there in record time.

While some might see these gestures as silly, they are part of the airline’s legendary culture – one that turns customers into loyal followers. Southwest’s vigorous hiring process assures they have a better than average track record of selecting good-natured individuals that love to serve others but don’t take themselves too seriously. It makes for a great customer experience on an otherwise no-frills aircraft.

With all the talk about customer experience in health systems today, I wonder how many organizations have hard-wired their HR systems to weed out those applicants who just don’t have customer service in their DNA. Why try to train the surliness out of people that shouldn’t have been hired in the first place?

So many of our healthcare employees truly enjoy serving patients and customers, and do so admirably – often under trying circumstances. But those that don’t, hijack your brand – and break the covenant of trust between the brand and customer. That’s a marketing problem.

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