Center for Services Leadership - Cluing in Customers

Cluing in Customers

A critical element to achieving service excellence for any company is to carefully manage the physical clues that communicate the value of your offering. Customers cannot taste, touch or try on your service. At first glance, it may seem you have little to work with in terms using physical tangibles to communicate value; however, by taking a deeper look, you can find rich opportunities to communicate value by carefully managing physical signals.

A classic example of this is Mayo Clinic. A comprehensive study by affiliated center faculty, Dr. Len Berry and Dr. Neeli Bendapudi, the results of which were summarized in the February 2003 Harvard Business Review, reveals the attention to detail that Mayo Clinic has put forth to establish their patients’ trust. By literally moving into Mayo Clinic for about five months, Dr. Berry and Dr. Bendapudi were able to carefully observe how Mayo Clinic so carefully manages its brand. Their work was facilitated by Center Board Member, Dr. Victor Trastek who serves as Chair of the Board of Governors of Mayo Clinic Scottsdale.

Healthcare is a pure, as well as complex, service. The quality of it is crucial to the patient, yet it is often very difficult for patients to judge the value of what they are receiving. As a result, patients pay close attention to the physical details of the healthcare experience to help them get clues about superiority of the service they are receiving.

Mayo Clinic has taken a very deliberate approach to making sure patients see what they want them to see. They have one simple message that they desire to communicate above all else: patients come first. By thinking through a multitude of details, this message becomes highly tangible to the employees.

Hands down, their most important communicator of quality is their employees – both medical personnel and the support staff. They look for medical personnel who embrace the ethic that the patients’ wholistic needs should be put first and avoid candidates who appear to wish to become “stars” within their field. They then build financial compensation, technology and processes to support this philosophy. Because of the emphasis on collaboration, the patients see doctors and nurses who work together to find solutions to their health care needs and derive value from the sense of being supported by a network of experts. The same philosophy extends to non-medical staff as well. The whole training program is designed to communicate how key every job – including janitors and accountants – effect patient well-being.

Physical layout of the buildings also plays a key role in communicating that patients’ needs come first. Mayo Clinic carefully designs the space so that family and friends can be with the patient. They make good use of beauty – such as open spaces and fountains – calming colors, music and very clear signage as ways of helping employees feel relaxed and comfortable. They have gone so far as to put a car in the building while it was being constructed so that patients in physical rehab could practice “every day” life skills like getting in and out of a car.

The physical layout affects employee behaviors toward patients as well. The layout of the building has a calming effect on staff as well as patients, so patients take notice of the fact that employees at Mayo Clinic do not seem rushed or stressed as they do in many medical facilities. The sofas and comfortable chairs in each of the doctor’s offices enable the doctors, patients and patients’ families to communicate in a more relaxed manner rather than across a desk. The decorum and appearance of the employees is also thought through. Doctors are not seen in white jackets or casual clothes – they wear business suits unless they are in surgical scrubs to communicate their authority and expertise in their field.

The principles that Mayo Clinic uses can be applied to any service organization. Pick one message that you want to communicate clearly, engrain it into your culture and work diligently to make sure that all the physical details that your customers see support that message.

Go to the Article at HBR's Website