From first to last impressions: How to bring voice to consumers and inspire loyalty
You only have seven seconds to make a positive first impression—so how does your health organization stick in the minds of consumers?
Jill Ellis, RN, Solutions Expert and Magnet/Nursing leader at NRC Health, suggests healthcare organizations need to ask how they can ensure that their 50th patient feels as good about their visit as their first patient does. She says healthcare leaders need to re-energize employees from start to finish to create lasting impressions to build relationships and inspire loyalty with patients.
“If we acknowledge, introduce, explain how much time something is going to take with a patient, and follow up with a thank you, it covers all the components of communication needed to help reduce anxiety and improve compliance,” says Ellis, a nursing and operational management leader of 35 years.
The typical non-verbal attributes we all know are also involved in creating a good impression. Still, especially during COVID-19, healthcare consumers need to ensure that communication is better than ever, given mask-wearing and other barriers to full communication. Body movement and posture, gestures, eye contact, touch (when appropriate), and tone will help us build trust and respect with our consumers.
“Try to sit down if you can,” Ellis says. “It implies more time, but it doesn’t take more time to do that. You can sit on the edge of the chair. But tell them, ‘I’ve got five minutes. I want to have a conversation with you.’ Give them some idea of how long it will last. Even giving eye contact will help people relax.
“In some regards, we think of hard skills as absolutes; they’re not negotiable. And we think of soft skills as negotiable,” Ellis continues. “We have to determine to build them both into the framework as absolutes. Some places are doing this well—building into training what it looks like from first impressions to last impressions. Healthcare systems have to figure out how the whole package works so they can have the best performance from their staff.”
Changing Views of Consumer Healthcare Require a Big Shift
Health systems have been slow in their evolution to meet contemporary consumer demand, and expectations go unmet. Therein NRC Health reports alarming numbers: 48% of all non-frequent healthcare consumers are frustrated with their experiences both as consumers and as patients.
More shocking is that 75% of frequent healthcare consumers are frustrated with more than three encounters per year. Those who use healthcare the most are the most frustrated and the most at risk for alienation. And frustration and confusion rank as the top emotions associated with healthcare for five years running, rather than emotions of gratitude or loyalty.
Ellis says we are in a state of shift—where healthcare has the opportunity to change confusion to loyalty by bringing the voices of consumers to the forefront. Healthcare is moving from patient-centric to relationship-centric care. Yesterday’s goal is satisfaction; the future is making today’s experience meaningful to drive loyalty. While yesterday’s thought was retrospective, today’s belief is in real time, with the future headed toward predictive healthcare maintenance. Yesterday’s focus was on point-products; today’s emphasis is on Human Understanding, which will allow for an integrated healthcare ecosystem tomorrow.
Tips for Nursing Leadership to Improve Delivery of Patient Experience and Care
“I think for years—ten years ago, twenty years ago, thirty years ago—we all would’ve said our plate is full,” Ellis says. “Now, if I ask you to go back five years and hear yourself say that, you would probably laugh compared to where we are today, after COVID in general. But the truth is, consumers expect change—and now in the last two years, more than in the last decade, they’re asking for people to treat them differently.”
Ellis’s recommendation to nursing leaders is to have three significant, consistent conversations. “Our staff having conversations with patients and families is one,” she says. “Nursing leaders having conversations regarding our staff and our patients is another. And then coaching our staff closes the loop as well.” Meaningful measures like these are proven to improve the delivery of care.
Ellis says getting to the heart of the matter requires rounding people, providers, and patients to get to know them differently. You can use specific questions to get to their opinion, asking for detailed follow-up, saying thank you, and fixing problems where you can; this helps nursing leaders inspect what they expect and permit what they promote. Then Ellis advises nursing leaders to lead by giving feedback on the good, bad, and ugly, offering observations that deserve great feedback, coaching conversations on any missing skill sets, and following through on any underperforming needs with consequences.
A lasting impression requires making your brand stick—using your mission, vision, and values to guide the process from registration through discharge. Closing words and actions should be consistent, and patients should feel cared for to build trust, loyalty, and a good reputation for your organization.
“The way to ensure you are making good impressions,” Ellis says, “is to validate, validate, validate.”