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2019 Customer Experience Collaborative recap: What can healthcare learn from Zappos.com?

In April, 36 healthcare leaders gathered in Las Vegas to see what an online shoe retailer had to teach them. At any other point in history, that sentence would be absurd. Today, it’s quite the opposite.

Zappos.com, after all, has become one of today’s standard-bearers for excellence in customer service. For NRC Health’s inaugural Customer Experience Collaborative, health-system VPs, CMOs, CEOs, and presidents from across the country—and across the continuum of care—convened at the Zappos.com Las Vegas campus to learn how to “deliver WOW” to their customers.

“A service company that sells ____________.”

The event began with a tour of the Zappos.com campus, where leaders learned the key to Zappos.com’s success: its culture.

Zappos.com founder Tony Hsieh built his company with a single-minded devotion to radically empathic customer service. Right away, Collaborative attendees could see how successful the company has been in pursuing that goal.

Tour guides (who were full-time Zappos.com employees) regaled the healthcare executives with stories: of customer-service representatives staying on the phone for 10 hours straight to help a distressed client; of the recruiting process for new employees taking up to 84 days, to ensure that they’re ready to bring their best to customers; of Hsieh himself going through customer-service training and taking up shifts at the phone bank.

It was inspiring, to say the least.

The tour was capped with a keynote address from Zappos.com’s Culture Maestro, Ryo Szun, who explained that no Zapponian (the word that Zappos.com employees have for themselves) believes that Zappos.com is just a shoe company.

Instead, Zapponians believe they work for “a service company that just happens to sell __________.” Whatever customers buy from Zappos.com, employees see it as their job to give them an outstanding service experience.

For leaders who are hunting for ways to better connect with their patients, this was important food for thought.

A deeper discussion

Of course, leaders didn’t just come for tips about customer service. They came to share and exchange their own ideas, too.

Talks from health-system leaders highlighted new strategies for securing loyalty, and novel ways of seeing the customer experience.

  • Joe Wolfcale, SVP at Parkview Health, emphasized how health systems must learn to transform healthcare transactions into experiences that build long-term relationships.
  • Ken Kozielski, VP at Orlando Health, used examples from the airline industry to show that quality improvements alone will not secure loyalty from customers—only authentic engagement can.
  • Chris Siebenaler, CEO of Houston Methodist Sugarland, talked about the importance of building highly reliable experience systems, putting special emphasis on coaching employees to embrace a culture of service.
  • Finally, Glenn Van Ekeren, President at Vetter Health Services, expounded the virtue of wise selectivity when it comes to making new hires. He quoted Andrew Carnegie’s wisdom about “looking for the gold,” and not settling for less.

Looking outward

These leaders all came to Las Vegas to see what they could learn from a remarkable innovator in service. They were not disappointed.

“Great tour and keynote speaker,” said one experience executive. “Zappos.com has an amazing culture. Empowering those closest to the work to make a difference is a lesson that healthcare definitely needs to learn.”

“What a great experience!—to learn that empowering and educating my team should be the focus, and the scores will follow,” said another.

A third reported: “Amazing event! Really demonstrated NRC’s commitment to transforming the industry, to disrupting the old model, and to connecting with the personal values that drive people to healthcare.”

While comments like that are flattering, real credit belongs with the leaders who came to this event. They chose to embrace the unconventional and lend an ear to experts from outside the industry. We can’t wait to see how they bring what they learned from Zappos.com into their work.

For an indepth overview of what our attendees learned at the Collaborative, please check out the Event Summary here.