Promises, promises…

You’ve seen the slick TV commercial dozens of times. The camera slowly pans across a long row of smiling physicians and nurses. Orchestral music swells as an authoritative male voice promises “the latest technology and the most qualified physicians and nurses – Hospital X; we’re here when you need us.” 

Now you do need them. When you call, the phone keeps ringing. Finally there’s a click, followed by a couple of chirps and a beep. Then, a coarse voice – not at all like the confidence-inspiring announcer, says, “Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line or choose from the following menu options…”

You hang up and dial the number for the next provider on the list.

We’ve all had experiences like this – a business overpromises and immediately underdelivers. It is always frustrating, particularly when the shoddy performance is related to something as important as our health. Why do hospitals, physician’s offices, testing facilities and other medical providers so often disappoint us?

In my experience, it’s because the exciting process of conceiving, creating and executing the tools of an advertising campaign too often overshadows the critical, but less sexy, need for effective strategic planning and realistic evaluation of resources. This is frequently the root cause of cognitive dissonance like that created for the caller above.

No matter how clever the campaign, how compelling the selling proposition, or how effectively targeted the audience, promising a level of service you can’t deliver is the quickest path to long-term failure. Consumers are smart. It doesn’t take them long to come to their own conclusions about your organization. Those thoughts, not your radio campaign, will determine their likelihood to recommend you to others – or not.

So, what’s the answer?

First, customer satisfaction is based on their perception of whether the product or service they received lived up to what they expected to get. No more, no less. Think about the last time you stopped for a snack at your local fast-food restaurant. You didn’t get linen tablecloths and an attentive wait staff, but, if the place was reasonably clean and efficient and the food was hot, you were probably totally satisfied. If the person at the cash register was exceptionally pleasant, you might even report that you were extremely satisfied. So when you consider a go-to-market plan for any business, your first question must be “What can we do well?” followed by “What don’t we do well?” A realistic evaluation of your people, processes, culture and facilities might be painful, but it is critical.

Second, keep in mind that as tempting as it may be to try to take market share from your competitors by promising customers the moon, the smarter course of action is to underpromise and overdeliver. Not the other way around. It may seem counterintuitive, but it works. By accurately aligning your potential customers’ expectations with reality, the customers  you do get will be happier and more likely to recommend your establishment. That will buy you time to work on the things that need improvement. That way, when the authoritative announcer on your next campaign claims “the highest patient satisfaction scores in the region,” it just might be true.

Have you experienced exceptional customer service in your life recently? Tell us about it.