(US) 1.800.388.4264 | (CANADA) 1.866.771.8231

Don’t Just Talk About Loyalty—Commit to It

There’s no escaping it: “loyalty” has become a buzzword du jour in the world of healthcare.

For the most part, that’s a good thing. Healthcare organizations are right to prioritize retaining customers. It’s not only fiscally savvy, but it also reflects a sincere commitment to serving the patient.

But as with so many other business innovations, it’s taking some time to mature. Many consultants, marketers, and healthcare organizations echo the need for loyalty, but have trouble implementing it.

It may be time to reflect on what the pursuit of loyalty really looks like. How can we tell the difference between organizations that are really achieving customer loyalty, and those that just pay lip service to it?

Here are three big tells.

Lip service sells; loyalty invests.

As with any business, a good way to gauge a healthcare organization’s priorities is to track its spending. All health systems market themselves in their communities. Their billboards and television ads are inescapable—and nearly all of them espouse some kind of commitment to the patient’s care experience.

But it’s worth asking: are these organizations able to fulfill the promises of their marketing?

That’s far from easy to accomplish. Loyalty doesn’t come cheap. It requires significant investments of both time and capital.

Healthcare organizations sincerely pursuing consumer loyalty pour their resources into their communities, because they know that will help spark a meaningful relationship with patients.

They will also hire plenty of staff dedicated to perfecting the patient experience. Loyalty comes from paying close attention to the nitty-gritty details of each patient’s interactions with the health system. Clinicians often don’t have the time to do that. That’s why healthcare systems that are truly pursuing loyalty need dedicated experience specialists—and the very best of them even have Chief Experience Officers.

Finally, healthcare organizations committed to loyalty will invest in platforms and services that elevate their ability to generate it. Because loyalty is so longitudinal and complex, it takes an extraordinary effort to collect the data required to measure and manage it. Most health systems can’t do that internally. The best ones recognize that, and know where to turn for help.

Lip service talks; loyalty walks.

Nearly every health system’s website has an “About Us” section that proclaims their commitment to the patient experience.

And of course, it’s gratifying to see these organizations declare that patient-centered care is important. But from the very best of them, we should expect to see leadership follow through on the website’s promise. They actually walk the walk.

A useful benchmark may be to simply ask, where can leaders be found? To whom do they lend their ear? Are there at least a few executives with experience from the front lines of care?

Truly committed health leaders don’t spend their days locked away in their offices. They regularly walk the floors of their facilities to make sure they understand their patients’ experiences there. They also take care to observe the clinical work being performed at all levels of care. Often, they’re clinicians themselves.

Studies have shown that such active leadership contributes to fiscal health, operational excellence, and customer satisfaction. It takes time—but it’s very worthwhile.

Lip service tells; loyalty listens.

One last way that earnest organizations distinguish themselves is through empathy.

High costs of care, unprecedented access to alternative treatments, and emerging non-traditional competitors all make modern patients more discriminating than they’ve ever been. Misreading their desires can be costly. Experiences that fall short of their expectations might alienate them forever.

That’s why dedicated organizations recognize that their work hinges on understanding their customers. They know they can’t afford to settle for an incomplete grasp of their patients.

However, the process of filling the gaps in their understanding is far from straightforward. Healthcare consumption is inherently episodic; patients only seek care when a health need arises. Unless health systems take special care to connect with their patients before, during, and after these care episodes, they’ll never get a holistic picture of how patients interact with their brands.

Making this effort is ultimately what sets true loyalty-driven organizations apart. And no wonder—it’s extremely difficult to do.

What real loyalty looks like

But it’s not impossible.

A proactive approach to patient loyalty is a demanding task for any institution. But health leaders that brave it will see an incomparable competitive advantage in the healthcare marketplace.

It all starts with a whole-hearted commitment. If you’re ready to make it, NRC Health is here to help.