How Was It for You?

Posted on October 26, 2011

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At the AHCA / FHEA Conference in Orlando a few weeks ago, I shared lunch with a gentleman whose business is after-market service on hospital beds, which wins the prize for the most mundane healthcare business in my book. I asked him how he did what he did, and he described his small company almost sheepishly, despite the fact they were growing.

Glamorous it’s not, but as it turns out, there is a mint to be made. He said the two dominant manufacturers of hospital beds offer such poor customer service to hospitals after the sale, that after-market product services for beds are very much needed. After a short warranty runs out, who is there to maintain, repair and recondition the beds? If you think this sounds silly, remember that beds are not four wheels on an aluminum frame anymore; they are high-technology inventions with batteries, electronics, hydraulics, and a lot of moving parts doomed to fail given how hard they get used. And many Hill-Rom and Stryker models cost more than a loaded 2011 Toyota Camry.

This revelation was shocking. I was surprised customer service after such a major purchase was non-existent. Customer service should be proportional to the purchase. I do not expect much service after I buy a belt or a pair of shoes from a menswear store unless the item is defective. But for $30,ooo+ per bed—and hospitals buy far more than one at a time—I would expect at least what I would get out of a car dealership, and likely much more because my likelihood of repeat sales over time would be much greater.

Haskell invests in customer service, and always wants to get better. After building a multi-million dollar clinic, medical office building or hospital, the last thing we want is to feel the client was left high-and-dry after move-in. In fact, the customer experience—how it feels to work with our team and through a design and construction project every day for a couple years— is one reason integrated design-build is attractive to so many hospitals. Hospitals are tired of the design-bid-build experience:  defensive communication, reactivity, self-interest, expensive and slow-developing solutions, and terrorial fighting.

Integrated design-build (IDB) offers the client maximum choice, flexibility and control over the value decisions that drive the design and process. Haskell provides one relationship manager, the project director, who orchestrates the entire project and is the client contact from beginning to end. The IDB experience provides a superior natural team (all working for one company) with freedom from the conflict that arises from debate of contract responsibilities, and who “owns” a problem when it comes up. Integrated design-build is not torture, which is how I have had some administrators describe the project process at their hospital.

In their book The Experience Economy, Joseph Pine and James Gilmore posit that companies are selling experiences, and our impression of a company is translated by our five senses and digested emotionally. Our impression of buying, using the product or service, and relationship after the consumption, our experience, is the way to differential value.

No architect or contractor can recreate Cirque du Soleil, nor would that be affordable by most hospitals; yet think about your hospital’s latest experience with its project team. Is your project “team” simply a mix-and-match patchwork of service providers looking to “get-er-done” and move on? Were you happy when it was over, or did you want to keep going because it was engaging, you were learning, and were treated well? Customer service and the hospital’s experience in a project should not be compromised when considering the next capital project. There are too many qualified teams who invest in and care for their clients to be treated as a process afterthought with emotional collateral damage. No project is worth that.

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