What hospital brands can learn from french fries

I love french fries.

I love salty fries, crispy fries, curly fries, waffle fries and cheese fries.

As intensely as I love these potatoes, I recognize I am ever so slightly north of my thirties. Translation? My metabolism is sluggish, and I’ve considerably limited my indulgence.

When I do treat myself, I head straight to McDonald’s, because I know the fries will:

  • Be hot.

  • Have just enough salt.

  • Come in a little sleeve that fits perfectly in my car’s cup holder.

A home run, every time.

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In it for the long haul

I can count on McDonald’s french fries, because I am the textbook loyal customer. My expectations drive my behavior. I’ve been conditioned to believe I will receive a consistently positive experience, and because I do, I’m loyal.

As marketers, we know making customers happy during one single transaction or experience isn’t enough to build loyalty. We must meet—and exceed—our customers’ needs and expectations during each engagement.

In health care, this typically means a significant journey.

Consider a recent experience of mine. When a head cold recently developed into a sinus infection, I called my doctor for an . I couldn’t get in to see her that day, so I opted to be seen at another facility. It was the same practice, just a different office.

Through the congestion, aches and watery eyes, I immediately noticed differences between the two offices. The one I usually visit is run like a well-oiled machine. I trust my doctor implicitly; she’s smart, personable and keenly perceptive. The staffers are friendly and knowledgeable; the office space is welcoming and even calming.

The sister facility wasn’t quite the same.

A wind chime attached to the main door dinged each time someone came in, as if to say, “Everyone, look! A patient has arrived!” A hand-drawn sign on red construction paper directed patients to sign in, complete with an arrow pointing to a deteriorating clipboard with a pen attached. The pen had bells on it; more dings. “The new patient is signing in now!”

I took a seat and, in an effort to ignore the television blaring a morning game show, flipped through a three-year-old copy of Car and Driver magazine. The address label had been haphazardly torn off. In between a barrage of phone calls, I was treated to details of the receptionist’s weekend. She and a friend saw a movie (she really liked it), her dog was spending the day at the groomer’s (his hair mats easily), and she got a new dress (it was discounted).

More patients came in (cue the ringing bells), some were called back (actually, the nurses half hollered for them: ATKINS? HALL? LEWIS?), while the rest of us sat a bit dazed.

In the cacophony of ringing telephones, dinging door chimes, gossiping staff and cheering game show contestants, I regretted not waiting to see my regular physician. 

I also wondered how a visit to two offices of the same practice could be so different.

Visits to my own doctor’s office are marked by exceptional clinical care, personal touches and a sense of trust. I left the sister facility feeling overwhelmed.

Did I have a bad experience? Not really; however, there were noticeable differences that left me unimpressed.

Patients are your customers

Here’s my point. When a patient visits your facility—that’s any facility bearing your organization’s logo—what do they expect? Will the experiences be consistent from visit to visit and patient to patient? How is your customer service?

Consistency is important in every single encounter, because it can create positive experiences, build trust and increase brand loyalty.

Try this simple exercise.

Walk through your facility. Choose one area at first—it could be the emergency department, a primary care office or surgical scheduling. Observe what’s happening from your patients’ perspective.

Are the experiences you witness consistently positive?

Think about all the ways your brand touches a patient, their families and caregivers. Everything from the website to call center scripts to staff to the physical environment affects your patients’ perspective of your organization. Each time patients interact with your brand, their levels of engagement and loyalty are either increased or diminished.

Whether the consumer is buying french fries or health care, loyal people come back.

Customers who come back are a really good thing.

Megan Walworth is client relations director at Franklin Street, a health care brand consultancy. The original version of her post was published on the agency website.

This article was first published in April 2016.

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