Customer First? Communicate First.

“Customer first” has become a rallying cry across industries - it has even crossed into pharma and healthcare industries, and unsurprisingly not all companies can live up to that standard. With the move towards greater accountability in patient satisfaction surveys and Value Based Purchasing, it's a great reward for the best performing healthcare organizations. We've now moved into the Year of the Patient.

According to a recent article by Michael MentesanaGregory RotzDoug Strang, and Michael Swanick of Strategy&, "The most successful firms are moving away from a traditional, top-down model of product promotion and toward a flexible, interactive approach that gives patients better tools and more focused information about the drugs they are taking and how to manage their conditions." That sounds rather simplistic especially when factored over the course of the patient's journey - or journeys for those with multiple conditions and physicians - it doesn't take long before management of one's health becomes difficult. Let's face it, pharma, physicians and facilities are competing for the time and attention of the individual suffering not just with one another but also against the online presence of WebMD, the multitude of symptom checkers and social media feeds.

Many providers as Strategy& forecasts are going to get sucked into big data analytics in search of improving the patient experience. Some will find valuable insights, and I am willing to bet that most will only discover the obvious. I am reminded of a 1971 Harvard Business Review article, The Myth of the Well-Educated Manager.

Some managers who have the intelligence required to learn what they need to know fail because they lack “whatever else is important,” especially “affective empathy” and the need to develop and stimulate the productivity of other people. But the main reason many highly educated do not build successful managerial careers is that they are not able to learn from their own firsthand experience what they need to know to gain the willing cooperation of other people. Since they have not learned how to observe their environment firsthand or to assess feedback from their actions, they are poorly prepared to learn and grow as they gain experience.

What is obvious is that successful relationships - be they personal or professional - are determined by how well the parties communicate. This holds true for virtually all professions: call center agents, realtors, attorneys, managers, nurses and so on. Communication is the human element and the emotional connection that builds trust.

Seeing from the other person's point of view is the most powerful form of communication to build trust. It is eighth principle in Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People and affords one the opportunity to influence and lead others. Achieving that viewpoint and influence requires three communication skills: 1) situational fluency 2) personal connection 3) solution path.

  1. Situational fluency is both the insight and listening skills that demonstrate you understand the current reality and opportunities (i.e. "How we got here." and "You really get it.")
  2. Personal connection requires the eye-contact, more listening, and personalizing the experience. Knowing the person's goals, aspirations, priorities, tastes, fears and motivations. (i.e. "You get me." "You understand where I'm coming from.")
  3. Far too often the solution path is prescribed, and I am reminded of the phrase "Telling isn't selling." When proposing a solution or path forward, empower the other person. Offer alternatives. It is critical to remember that the other person(s) own the problem - not you - as such, they too need to own the solution. (i.e. "I see how this helps me." "Yes, this will work. I can do this."

More than analytics, these human relations skills are the difference between knowing, connecting and achieving results. Data without context is just numbers and words. Invest in your people for customer-centric, patient-first strategies, and you will achieve real growth.