Surprise and Delight

I recently came across a book called The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip and Dan Heath. If you haven’t read it, I strongly suggest you do. Once I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down and it completely changed the way I approach my work in patient experience and employee engagement.

In healthcare, we talk a lot about Evidence-Based Best Practices, things that have been tested and shown to be effective. We work tirelessly to implement and measure best practices and then we wonder why our patient experience scores are so low. It’s frustrating.

I took a look at our comments on our surveys and the responses we get on our discharge follow-up phone calls. They largely consist of, “Everything was fine.” Ugh. Fine. I hate fine. Fine is the kiss of death.

Turns out, these best practices, things like introducing yourself to patients, explaining what the next steps are in the plan of care, or describing the possible side effects of their medications are things patients have come to expect from us. We’re not going to get outstanding surveys if we only give them what’s expected. It’s like buying a car with air conditioning. We’re not going to wow people with the awesome air conditioning package; they expect it. They didn’t always. I can still remember cars without air conditioning but it’s unthinkable now. Same with these best practices. Patients notice when we don’t do them.

So how do we create a hospital stay memorable enough for patients to even bother filling out a survey and then to describe their stay as exceptional?

This is where Dan and Chip’s book changed my whole perspective. They dive into the science behind what makes things memorable and offer real-life, practical examples of what staff can do to create those peak moments that patients will remember more than anything else. They don’t have to be expensive or labor-intensive or time consuming. They can be quiet moments of connection or surprising moments of responsiveness. And they not only delight the patients, they can touch the other staff, re-engage them, reconnect them to their passion and have a ripple effect across departments.

Best practices are important, they’re the minimum level of service we should be providing every time, and they’re not going to get you anything but middle-of-the-pack results. If you want to deliver a truly exceptional experience, surprise and delight.

The other piece is knowing that, as leaders, we are very good at solving problems. We know how to smooth out the potholes but we probably don’t know how to create peak moments for patients. You know who does? Your front line staff, that’s who. Let them drive this. Don’t roll out some ‘moment making’ program in which administration tells the staff exactly what they are to do to delight patients. Empower them to come up with those ideas and deliver them.

And while they’re out there pouring their hearts into this, you’d better be doing everything you can as a leader to surprise and delight them. Fill their cups, do a few unexpected things to show your support and appreciation of them. Don’t expect them to create any moments for patients that you wouldn’t also create for them. Watch how fast your culture changes, how happy your staff members are, and how infrequently you hear the words, “Everything was fine,” in your discharge follow up phone calls.

Author: Kate Kalthoff

It's simple: leave people, places, and things better than I found them. For more than 20 years, Katherine Kalthoff has been working to improve the way healthcare organizations connect with the people they serve. She began her career at Gift of Hope, the organ procurement organization for Illinois, approaching families and securing their consent to donate a loved one’s organs for transplant. Through compassionate, empathetic listening, Kate led the Family Services team to one of the highest consent rates in the country. From there, Kate went to Advocate Health Care, Illinois’s largest healthcare system, as a Physician Relations and Business Development Manager, improving physician satisfaction and strengthening the relationships of both the employed and independent physicians with the system as a whole. Just prior to joining Northwest Community Healthcare as the Patient Experience Officer, Kate was the first Manager of Patient Experience at DuPage Medical Group where she built a platform of organization-wide service excellence through her inspiring brand of education, training, and one-on-one coaching. A much sought-after speaker and trainer, Kate has a very simple approach to her work: leave people, places and things better than you found them.

2 thoughts on “Surprise and Delight”

  1. I always enjoy your articles and will definitely buy this book you recommend
    Thank you Kate for always adding great ideas to this important work

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