10 Lessons From Asheville: Healthcare, Wayfinding And More

I was recently in Asheville, NC to speak with a group of customer service/experience executives from large health care companies. We decided to add on a few days to the trip to spend some vacation time in the city. Here are some of my thoughts from the trip:

  1. Biltmore Estate is worth a full day. We visited the Biltmore Estate, which is owned by the Vanderbilt family. With 240 rooms, it’s the largest home in America. It is a beautiful property; we had a great time. The tour of the house was spectacular; with lots of details about what it was like to build and live in this house over the decades. I was particularly struck by the detail in the ballroom and the fact that it has an indoor swimming pool and a two-lane bowling alley. The grounds are spectacular as well. We walked more than a mile through the gardens and grounds that were manicured by Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park in New York. As if that was not enough, the estate also has a winery (fun to taste, but we didn’t love the wine) and an adventure center. It’s a must-see attraction.
  2. Wayfinding is not a lost art. The self-guided tour through the Biltmore Estate was considerably enhanced by an extremely well-designed flow. As you walk through the building, the signage clearly marks where you are and where you need to head next. The guide book, which provides an easy to read paragraph about each room, uses numbers that correspond to signs in each location — so there is never any confusion about connecting the description with the location in the house.
  3. Chronic care requires more experience design. A lot of the structure of health care was built to deal with acute issues, but the world is shifting to be more about ongoing care of chronic issues. This shift requires people to have a more lasting and deeper set of interactions with the health care system. As this happens, experience design will become an increasingly important component of overall health care success.
  4. The Grove Park Inn is spectacular. We stayed at The Grove Park Inn in Asheville, which is a magnificent site. The hotel lobby is on the top floor and overlooks the mountains. There are places all over the hotel to grab a rocking chair and hang out with great views. The hotel is full of Arts & Crafts mission style furniture, which is one of our favorites. I only wish I had time to try out the golf course that looked fantastic.
  5. Doctors will become more experience-minded. During my session, we discussed getting doctors to care about experience. Yes, doctors are not the easiest population of people to influence. But the entire health care system is changing and doctors will increasingly care about things beyond just diagnosis and treatment — especially younger doctors who are entering a different environment. The key to getting doctors to “care” is to relate patient experience to some of the things that they do care about. There’s research that shows that better experience leads to better medical outcomes (they care about that) and it also leads to better word of mouth and utilization of facilities (which leads to more money to invest n research and medical equipment, which they also care about).
  6. Delta messes-up the little things. I’m a Gold Medallion member of Delta’s frequent flyer program. One of the benefits that the airline touts for this level (and higher) is early-boarding, which shows up as “Group 1″ on our tickets. However, in about half of my Delta flights the gate agent calls out Group 1 with other groups (e.g., Group 2 and Group 3) — eliminating the “Group 1″ benefit of early-boarding. Also, on our flight from Atlanta, the airplane sat on the runway for 45 minutes before take-off, but the pilot never bothered to give us any status during that long wait. As I’ve said in the past, good experiences often come down to these little things.
  7. Emotion is a critical component of patient experience. We’ve identified three components to an experience: Functional, Accessible, and Emotional. When it comes to healthcare, the emotional element is even more important than it is in many other industries. So companies need to understand how to design experiences to deliver the desired emotional response — and measure themselves against that goal.
  8. Noise is not the same as the perception of noise. One of the things that the attendees were struglling with is the noise in a hospital at night. It’s one of the areas that is negatively affecting their Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) scores. While they were discussing ways to minimize the noise levels, I urged them to also examine options for lowering the patients perception of the noise levels. For instance, if they made a point of explaining that it might be a bit noisy, explaining what causes the noise (keeping track of patients), apologizing in advance for any inconvenience, and offering ear plugs — then the patients would likely have quite a different perception of the noise levels.
  9. Asheville is a great destination. What a gem. The airport is right outside the city and the Asheville area is full of lovely vistas, good restaurants, and many, many interesting artisans. Here’s a piece of art that I found particularly meaningful.
  10. There’s hope for healthcare experience. The group of healthcare executives with whom I spoke, who are part of The Leader’s Board, are focused on important elements of healthcare experience. They are struggling with the same types of things that we see in other industries like measurements, customer feedback, and employee engagement. As long as groups like this continue to wrestle with these issues, and help their organizations master customer experience competencies, then the healthcare system will definitely improve the experiences that it delivers.
The bottom line: I enjoyed Asheville; personally and professionally

About Bruce Temkin
I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, marketing, interaction design, customer service, and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

5 Responses to 10 Lessons From Asheville: Healthcare, Wayfinding And More

  1. E. Wallace says:

    I love your post — for a couple reasons:
    1) Asheville is a favorite place of mine & I could really connect with your perspective on the Biltmore & Grove Park! The folks who manage customer experience at the Grove Park family of hotels are top notch & really know how to connect customer needs in their corporate culture.
    2) Delta not only messes up the little things, but frequently can’t even get the basics right!
    3) I think we’re on the cusp of real changes in health care from a patient experience perspective & I admire the fledging focus that the industry is placing on the opportunity.
    Great stories!

    • Rita Suiter says:

      Awesome article…with many nuggets. I work a lot in healthcare, and it is truly about the “patient/customer experience.” The mindset is changing; however, we have a ways to go. With hospital reimbursements now being based on patient satisfaction scores, I feel serious focus/attention will be given to the “care” side of “healthcare.” With my background being hospitality/tourism, I have been able to inject hospitality based practices (i.e. Disney/Ritz Carlton), in to hospitals. After all, patients/customers expect the clinical/technology/facility side; however, what they are hungry for is how they or their loved one was treated.” Thanks for sharing your exceptional experience.

      After flying Delta a lot lately, I concur. They haven’t yet mastered the “basics,” much less created a more positive passenger experience.

  2. Dennis Gershowitz says:

    Bruce,
    I live on the eastern coast of NC and share your thoughts regarding the Biltmore Estates and the Grove Park Inn.
    I also wonder when airlines will learn that communication is a wonderful part of engaging the customer. How often they leave us in the dark. I remember when United promised more…short lived that was!!
    It also seems that there is collusion of a sort with the airlines. I am US Air Platinum and we load Zones 1&2 at the same time. Just makes you feel special.
    As someone who has spent their career on the customer side of healthcare, I often think that someday I will have the chance to help teach the airline that their behavior can be costly. But alas, flying out of Wilmington basically affords me the the US Air or Delta privilege…what a choice!!
    Dennis Gershowitz

  3. Kristen Simmons says:

    Great points! Another reason that doctors will care about better experiences (your #5 above)… I have read, and certainly find it easy to believe, that better experiences (e.g., a doctor’s kind bedside manner) can reduce malpractice lawsuits. As with your example that hospital noise is different than the perception of noise, the objective quality of patient care is surely different than the perceived quality of patient care. Just a thought.

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. The information I picked up from your website was phenomenal . I am grateful .

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