Healthcare x Hospitality: Customer Service As a Strategic Differentiator For Hospitals

Vidya Kumar, Co-Founder & Director, Cloudnine Hospitals, IndiaVidya has been instrumental in setting-up the Cloudnine Group of Hospitals. Her focus is to provide the best customer care and experience to the patients. For her innovation in this field, she received the Dr B.C. Roy Award in 2013.

The healthcare landscape in India has undergone a clear transformation over the last decade, with countless new-age players clamouring to claim a share of the industry’s Rs. 4 trillion pie. With increasing competition and near identical product offerings, healthcare companies are striving to create an edge by banking on strategic differentiators like technology, analytical intelligence and customer service.

The Evolution of the Indian Healthcare Consumer

The past thirty years have paved the way for a behavioural metamorphosis of the Indian healthcare consumer, attributed largely to the advent of the internet and the subsequent digital explosion. In the 80s and 90s, and even the early millennium, consumer healthcare decisions were significantly inspired by prior personal experiences, community referrals and doctor recommendations. In turn, hospitals and healthcare operators seldom looked at customer acquisition and service under a marketing lens. Today, the healthcare ecosystem has seen the emergence of customer service as an added layer in established players’ product repertoires. And for good reason. With patients now basing decisions on savvy research, curated information and online testimonials, top-tier hospitals are amping up their marketing and advertising engines in accordance with their core clinical portfolio.

Example: The Indian Maternity and Neonatology Realm
The Indian maternity and neonatology realm is a classic showcase of the ubiquity of mainstream healthcare operators. And while there is an apparent polarity between established industry leaders and newage emulators, the need to differentiate remains paramount. With patients giving utmost priority to logistical considerations such as minimal travel time and traffic, the key to overcoming the growing value dilemma lies in crafting peerless product distinctions and tailoring unique, personalised experiences.

Product Differentiation In Healthcare
With healthcare companies owning virtually indistinguishable service suites, weaker operators are
inevitably succumbing to a slow and distinction-less death. There’s no doubt that superlative healthcare is seeded in a spirit of continuous innovation. And yet, it begs the question; how should one differentiate? Well, in these four ways, certainly.

Differentiator 1. Brand
There’s no better differentiator than your brand itself. Your brand is a living, breathing representation of your company; an emblem of your commitment to your customers. By building your brand up through clinical excellence, technology orientation, clear communication and customer centricity, you can bolster the organisational fabric you’ve already woven into place. And in turn, you can shine a light on all the resulting success stories.

Differentiator 2. Inward Marketing Focus
You’ve won half your marketing battle when your employees buy into your brand. Your workforce lends faces and names to your organisation, and when you’ve got a healthcare brand that commands a spot on the leadership board, it’s vital that you envelop your employees in your brand’s ethos and identity. Adopting an inward focused marketing approach can help you reimagine your branding paradigm, and turn your employees into initiators, innovators and influencers.

Differentiator 3. Customer Service
The anticipation of lightning-fast communication and instant gratification has enabled customers across industries to become more democratic and less discriminatory in their buying approach. One cab service charging a premium? Toggle to another. Groceries late to the doorstep? Claim a refund at the touch of a button. For healthcare operators, superior customer service can act like a shield of immunity that keeps them unharmed against grievances and complaints. Customer service is an inimitable asset fostered through effective training. It takes time to hone and is not something that can be adopted by competing players overnight. In a world where products and services are often considered commodities, customer service becomes imperative in distinguishing your brand from the next.

As hospitality and healthcare unite into a singular service model, the future promises a healthcare paradigm far removed from traditional archetypes; one where everything starts with customer service

Differentiator 4. Technology
The healthcare industry, until recently, predominantly used traditional means of communication. However, leading hospitals have changed the game through technological elevation. From exclusive apps, seamless hospital-to-home experiences and personal relationship managers to online payment options, e-lab reports and more, these hospitals have underpinned their core competencies with matchless digital service elements pointed at garnering customer loyalty.

As Indian healthcare consumers become more discerning, established hospitals are leaning towards a customer service paragon rooted equally in healthcare and hospitality. This is especially evident in my first example, of the Indian maternity and neonatology arena. Today, expectant and new parents expect a bouquet of experiences as part of their pregnancy programme. With hospital rooms modelled on hotel suites, labour delivery wards crafted for both parents, and unrestricted visiting hours, India’s foremost woman and child care hospitals are holding a mirror to the unyielding benchmarks set by the hospitality industry.

In an era where customer service serves as a symbol of a brand’s equity the healthcare industry is on the anvil of a gentle revolution. As hospitality and healthcare unite into a singular service model, the future promises a healthcare paradigm far removed from traditional archetypes; one where everything starts with customer service.