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Executive Q&A with Preston Gee, VP of Strategic Marketing, CHRISTUS Health

Healthcare executives have long recognized the importance of patient loyalty. What’s less clear is how to cultivate it. Building a coalition of enthusiastic customers requires a broad, expansive approach in relating to them. This can be a challenge, given the industry’s unique constraints and the sporadic patterns of healthcare consumption.

Preston Gee is well acquainted with these complications. Currently Vice President of Strategic Marketing at CHRISTUS Health, he’s been in health-system leadership for more than 25 years. In this installment of Executive Q&A, he shares some of his insights on what attracts customers and what keeps them loyal.

  1. Why is patient loyalty so important in the current healthcare landscape? 

Our research shows that individuals are inclined to remain loyal to a health system or hospital if they have a favorable patient experience. For our research, loyalty was defined as the intention to use a facility or system for comparable or additional services. This is a significant finding, as it’s obviously easier and less resource-intensive to retain a customer/patient than to gain a new one.

  1. What are some of the forces that are making people look at consumer loyalty?

Part of it is the realization noted above that it’s more economical and practical to retain customers than to acquire them, but there is also the significant consideration of what might be termed the “reference” or “referral factor.” Our market research found that consumers—before they become patients—will consult and consider several sources (in addition to their physician) in selecting a healthcare facility. Chief among these non-physician sources of information are family and friends. Consequently, if an individual is loyal to a system or hospital and had a good experience with that enterprise, they become a potential conduit for business with their circle of influence—their family and friends.

  1. How is your organization preparing for and responding to Millennial consumers?  

We factor in the Millennial element in many ways. One is in our messaging and the vehicles or avenues for messaging. Another is the portfolio of services we offer, and how those should be configured to meet the interests and needs of Millennials. Finally, major consideration/strategy is given to the hiring and retention of Millennials and utilizing that demographic sector as positive ambassadors for their peers in regard to our services and facilities.

  1. Why is it important for healthcare providers and executives to embrace transparency? 

We live in an age of pervasive and increasing transparency precipitated by a number of factors, chief among which is the Internet. All industries and organizations are dealing with the need for and expectation of heightened transparency. Healthcare is no different. Transparency exists and will continue to do so. Consequently, it’s more a function of whether we embrace transparency and foster it, or just reluctantly accept it.

  1. What is one piece of advice you can share with health-system boards or leaders to get them started down a path to make their care delivery more customer-centric?  

It’s the same piece of advice I’ve been giving for decades: ask the customer what he/she wants or needs. The leaders in consumer-driven industries or sectors do just that: they let the consumers—or in our case, consumers/patients—drive the business. In so doing, they are truly consumer- or customer-centric. The only way to achieve that lofty ambition (and it is lofty for our industry) is to consistently and continuously ask consumers what they want, and then deliver on their answer.

In addition to his notes on loyalty, Preston drives home an important point about transparency: that it has already arrived. Leaders now face the choice of embracing it or “reluctantly accepting it.” Really, as Preston points out, this isn’t much of a choice at all.

He says that it’s incumbent on healthcare leadership to “consistently and continuously ask consumers what they want, and then deliver on their answer.” What consumers want—especially younger Millennials—is to see openness and transparency in their providers, so they can make the best possible choices for their care. Organizations that find that consumer-centricity, and foster the transparency that patients want to see, will have the best chance of thriving as the industry evolves.

How is your organization reacting to the demands of transparency? Have you found unique ways to foster it? If so, we want to hear about it! Contact us at mcharko@nrchealth.com to schedule your interview.