Why Patient Experience and Customer Experience Deserve to be Equal: Shareef Mahdavi

Why Patient Experience and Customer Experience Deserve to be Equal: Shareef Mahdavi


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On this week’s episode of the Voices of Customer Experience, we talked to Shareef Mahdavi, president and co-founder of SM2 Strategic. As a speaker and consultant, he’s on a mission to help doctors be better at their chosen profession by merging the core tenets of patient experience with those of customer experience, and goes in-depth with his new book, Beyond Bedside Manner.

About Shareef Mahdavi

Shareef Mahdavi is the son of a pediatrician and grew up in Bethesda, Maryland. Although he didn’t become a doctor, he’s been working with them since graduating from the University of Michigan in 1985.

With an entire career in healthcare and medical devices, he led the commercial marketing launch in the US of the laser platform used in LASIK eye surgery, which has gone on to become the most widely performed elective surgical procedure both in the US and worldwide.

Since starting SM2 Strategic in 2001, he has advised dozens of medical companies on the launch of their technologies. In addition, he has worked with hundreds of doctors and their practices on how to create more value by improving the patient experience. A gifted writer and speaker, he has published over 100 articles on business issues affecting medical doctors and has spoken at numerous medical conferences in the US and abroad.

Get more information at beyondbedsidemanner.com

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Follow Shareef Mahdavi on Twitter @shareefmahdavi

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The Voices of CX Podcast is a podcast that covers all things business strategies, customer decision insight, empathetic leadership practices, and tips for sustainable profitability. With a little bit of geeking out on behavioral science, A.I. and other innovation sprinkled in here and there. The guests span multiple industries, but all of them have years of experience to bring to the table

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Mary Drumond: Welcome to Voices of CX Season Eight, as usual, bringing you the very best thought leaders, practitioners, and academics, all in one place. Our goal is to make your job easier by providing you with the tools and inspiration that you need to lead through empathy, one new idea at a time.

We’re back with one more episode of Voices of Customer Experience Season Eight. Today Shareef Mahdavi is joining me. And Shareef is an author of a really cool book right here. He’s got it in the back of his screen as well, called Beyond Bedside Manner. It really focuses a lot on patient experience, which our frequent listeners and viewers know is a topic that I really, really appreciate.

So I’m excited to have him on! Shareef, welcome to the show. How are you?

Shareef Mahdavi: Mary, I’m great. Really nice to be here. Thank you for inviting me to come onto your podcast.

Mary Drumond: It’s our pleasure. I’m going to let you introduce yourself because you can do a better job at it than I can. Tell us a little bit about yourself, about your career and how you started in the field that you are today.

Shareef Mahdavi’s background

Shareef Mahdavi: Well, interestingly, I am the son of a physician. My dad was born in Iran. So he immigrated to the country, to the US in 1958 and has been a diehard American ever since. And his story is really neat, but people who are the firstborn sons of foreign-born physicians tend to become doctors.

I think if we were to look at the data, that’s a very high probably. I did not. Becoming a doctor did not hold interest to me as a kid. I wanted to run a lemonade, stand cut lawns and work as a lifeguard. But I ended up, in my career, working with physicians. I’ve been in healthcare ever since I left school. I graduated from the University of Michigan in Smith Cline’s Management Training Program.

And two years after that, I joined opthamology. In some ways maybe ophthalmology chose me, but I have worked now with eye surgeon who are now refractive surgeons doing LASIK and advanced lens replacement. I’ve worked with plastic surgeons and cosmetic dermatologists doing aesthetic procedures. I worked with dentists because dentistry is a really interesting field when you understand that the patient really does pay for most of their services and other specialties as well, and have just enjoyed an incredible career that, I would say the first half of it was as a corporate employee doing equipment sales and then marketing. And I had the chance to lead the team that launched LASIK here in the US, the marketing team for one of the manufacturers of the lasers.

Somewhere along the way, I’ll say 20 years ago now, I decided to go on my own. I started my own consulting firm with the belief that I could help both doctors and manufacturers do a better job. Especially in this area of elective self-pay medicine, where there is no third party reimbursement and the value and benefit of both the technology. And the outcome needs to be good enough that a patient would pay directly for those services to the doctor and to the practice.

Mary Drumond: Yeah, that’s really interesting. Tell me how your path crossed with Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore and how that changed the way you approach the patient experience.

Shareef Mahdavi: Thank you. Jim and Joe are just great friends and mentors of mine. And when I started my consulting practice, I did not have a business plan.

I just had a sense that I wanted to do this. I started writing a monthly column for a very well-regarded magazine. If you’re in eyecare, it’s called Cataract and Refractive Surgery Today. Now, I’m not a doctor, so I didn’t write about clinical things, but I wrote about business issues. As a marketer, I was frustrated. Because I thought the market for laser vision correction could and should be a lot bigger.

I wrote a monthly column and what I learned in that process of writing and developing my writing voice, was that the issue was not about how much advertising doctors were doing. It’s much more about the level of service they provided, the customer service, if you will. And I found the Experience Economy by Pine and Gilmore about five years later.

And it was like a light bulb went off. I was like, oh my gosh. These are guys that talk about customer experience, a broader range than what we think of as customer service, and they had come up with – they didn’t invent the notion of the experience economy. They just put a language to it. And they helped me understand that neat thing that you might do with a patient, it’s really called a signature moment.

You want to inject signature moments in the experience. And all those bad things that are in the practice, those are negative cues in the patient’s overall experience, and we want to work to eliminate them. So they broadened my horizon greaty. I studied under them, I became one of the first certified experts.

I was recognized a few years later as helping lead the way with refractive surgeons to help them understand the notion and how important customer experience was. So that’s how I got started with them. And I’ve wrestled with this; is it customer experience or is it patient experience, and in the context of medical and healthcare, they’re patients, so let’s call it a patient experience.

Patient experience – how do you make your patients feel?

Mary Drumond: Yeah, that’s an interesting thing. Healthcare tends to shy away from the term “customer”, but at times I feel like, if physicians and the practice of medicine in general looked at patients more as customers, it might just improve the way we all go through practices of medicine, because, let’s be honest, the system is not fantastic.

And as patients, we have to put up with a lot of crap. And we’re not really used to that. So when we have a choice and we get to pick, when it comes to elective procedures, which is the part of healthcare that you focus on. If we get to choose, we’re going to choose whoever makes us feel the most respected, the most, seen, the most appreciated, the most valued, right? And that is very, very much a customer.

So what are your thoughts on this? Do you think that the community in general should perceive us as patients /customers and be a little bit more intentional about how they provide us with experiences?

Shareef Mahdavi: Definitely, definitely. And you said a couple things there that I gotta touch on. One. You talked about feelings. It’s about how you make customers feel. And we know from the world of hospitality, right? You remember how -as a customer in a restaurant, for example- you’re going to long remember how you feel, well past you forgot what you- how you were made to feel.

Let me get it right. You’re going to remember how you were made to feel by that waiter, waitress, maitre d’, whoever it is you interacted with. Long after you forgot what you had for dinner that night, even at a fine restaurant, right? You’re gonna remember that; how they made you feel.

It’s the same thing at a medical practice. We’ll remember how we felt. And this notion, that comes from the world of customer service and customer experience. And we want to bring that thought into the realm of healthcare and absolutely without question, doctors need to be thinking “both-and”. They are both patient and customer.

It is not a trade off, it is not one or the other; it is both. And certainly when they’re flat on the table, right? Or in the exam lane, they’re a patient. But when they’re standing up, when they first arrived, when they were vertical, as opposed to horizontal, they’re our customer. I believe it is the customer diagnosis that is more important initially than the clinical diagnosis, because people want to feel special and important and that’s largely missing from healthcare.

Mary I got to ask you why, why is it that healthcare got a hall pass for the last 40 years when every other industry that we interact with that we buy goods and services from raise the level of service they’ve had to respond? And they’ve done so.

That’s the whole thing with the experience economy. Look, the goods we have, the quality of the goods are right up there. The response to the service has risen everywhere. Right?

And if you don’t, if you’re left on hold, if that Comcast cable person on the phone is nasty, well, guess what? They’re going to hear about it. Cause it’s going to be out on Twitter and LinkedIn and Facebook. If the United Airlines throws my luggage around and I can see it from the airplane window, I’m going to – that one guy wrote a song about how they destroyed his guitar, right? So every company in every industry has had to pay attention.

And my point of view is very simple: it’s high time that healthcare went there too.

Mary Drumond: For sure. Do you think that it’s maybe because, in general medicine has had this practice almost like, it’s a calling and we are giving you the gift of life back in return. Don’t complain about how we do it.

Everything that happens outside of clinical care

And I think that when it comes to emergency services, you’re being rescued. You’re saved from an accident, whatever. But that’s not when we’re going to be focusing on the experience. But there are so many factors to healthcare that absolutely involve experiences, especially long-term patients that have ongoing treatment and have to come in on a regular basis. Or when it comes to aesthetic health, like with plastic surgery or even LASIK, which is not going to save our lives, it’s just going to benefit us somehow in a different way.

Do you think that maybe that’s where it is? I’m still trying to figure this idea out as we’re speaking. If there’s this belief that we’re already giving you the gift of life, then don’t complain about how we’re doing it. Do you think that that possibly could explain why the experience has been so broken for so long?

Shareef Mahdavi: Yes. I think you’re hitting right on the head, right on the money. That’s kind of the legacy behavior, if you will. But when you step back and think about everything that happens outside of the clinical care, right? Whether we are learning about the practice on the website, speaking to the practice on the telephone, arriving at the practice and being greeted, exiting from the practice, okay?

All of those things, they aren’t part of the clinical piece, of the lifesaving piece. But they’re important. And they’re increasingly important because of this notion of choice. Now you talked about elective where I’ve really specialized, but the book, I wrote to appeal to every doctor. Why?

Because the stuff that used to not matter now matters, and it matters for a variety of reasons. Let’s go through them. One is the rise of the customer. Just the rise of the customer and their needs. It really shifted from the vendor-manufacturer being the one that held all the cards to now the customer, making and having choices throughout all of society.

Secondly, the cost of healthcare is so astronomical now that consumers are starting to ask questions. Why is it that expensive? Right? Because we’re paying more in the form of higher premiums, greater deductibles, more responsibility in terms of copay. So even in the reimbursed sector, which is 90% plus, of this whole equation, people are starting to ask questions and they’re saying, well, if I’m going to pay this much anyway, I want to get some value for my money. I want to be treated well.

 So what was maybe excusable in the past, “Hey, we’re saving your life. Give us a break” no longer flies. And the technology and the tools are all there. If I can order an automobile, which I did a Tesla for my wife on a phone and I put a hundred dollar deposit, and it took me three minutes to choose the exact car.

Why can’t I use that same phone to do a lot of things relative to my appointment? In fact, those apps are now becoming prevalent. We have Promptly.com, one I’m familiar with, Luma Health, there are a lot of companies out there providing the tools and the resources, but it requires a doctor and their key administrators to realize, and for the light bulb go on, “Oh, we ought to think about things differently.”

“Service is what we do. Experience is how we do what we do”

Going back to Pine and Gilmore and Experience Economy for a second, they define this. If service describes what we do, an activity on behalf of another, which is 85% of us in the country are in the service economy, providing services on behalf of another individual, not making a good, right? Not out on the farm, tilling the soil, we are in the service business.

Service is what we do. Experience is how we do what we do. And the room for improvement is how we deliver that service. In an exam room it’s, is the doctor looking at the patient the way that you and I are looking at each other through the computer screen and the miracle of technology, right?

Are they doing that? Or is their back turned? And they’re dialing into a computer, which is just rude. We don’t turn our back on – if someone is in our home, we don’t turn our back on them. And I talk about this. Don’t invite people to your practice, don’t advertise your practice until you know the house is clean, right?

Just like your office. Just like, you don’t have people over for dinner until the house is picked up. Same basic principle. Right? And to me, I just want to break down that wall that says somehow healthcare is different, because you know what? A consumer’s brain does not fire differently when they walk into a healthcare environment,. Maybe doctors and administrators would like to think it does, but it doesn’t.

Our expectations have gone up in every aspect of our lives about how we want to be treated. I mean, even at the post office the other day, right? The post office, the DMV, these places where you think you’re treated poorly, they’re trying to up their game!

I sent out a book to a consultant in the industry. It was sent back and I said, do I have to pay again? Cause now we got his address, right? Yeah, but I’ll take care of it for you. She gave me a little secret service. I was like thrilled. I’m now bragging about the manager at the Pleasant End Post Office for 94566. Thank you! Right? That’s the stuff we remember, these special little moments.

And what I want to do is help doctors understand what’s true for the post office is true for them, right? In terms of how people think about them. And the reason it’s so important is the personal referral. People trust their friends. People trust people they know, Hey, who should I go see? They trust that far more than they trust an advertisement.


Mary Drumond: Oh, I would never go to a physician or any sort of healthcare provider that hasn’t been a direct recommendation from someone that I know. Never, I have never in my life just opened up the insurance book and picked out a provider and been like eh, I like this physician’s name. Never have I done that.

It’s always been direct recommendation.

Shareef Mahdavi: That’s right. And the way to stimulate more of that, is that for your current patients, make them feel special. This notion that like, oh, we have a VIP patient coming in today. I get that. We want to give them extra care. But in reality, that should be for every patient.

Eliminating excuses for bad service

How do we make everyone walking through our door, whether they’re paying for an elective procedure or not, feel special. And all these things I’ve heard in the past? Well, it’s worth waiting for this doctor, or “they’re older”, they don’t mind waiting. I think that’s crap.

My dad has an iPhone. He’s 89. He’s on an iPhone, and he’s, God bless, he’s in great health. But the notion that people don’t want to wait, or here’s another one I used to hear, “Well, you know, they’re not good with technology, not good with all these apps and tools”. You know what, that senior senior citizen may not be, but their adult child certainly is, who’s in their forties, fifties, or sixties. So I think that goes away.

I just want to eliminate excuses for bad service because it does not need to be in healthcare. There’s no inherent reason and there’s no law that says, oh, healthcare service will be bad. It isn’t. It is because of historical things. And we had this thing called a waiting room.

Which in one of my insights I say, it’s time to blow that up. Right? And the sliding glass window, you walk in and someone slides a window? Or remember, you might remember you would call and they would answer the phone “Doctor’s office. Please hold,” before you could say anything, and put you on hold. These are things that were once tolerated, no more, no mas.

The Peak-End Rule

Mary Drumond: Absolutely. As you’re speaking, it reminds me of two really famous cases of research on human behavior and behavioral economics. And one of them is the famous research by Kahneman and Tsipursky about colonoscopies, which I’ve told before on this podcast. I don’t know if you’ve heard this story, that measures the peak-end rule, the thesis that they use to prove the peak-end rule was in colonoscopies.

Time and time again, healthcare has been used for empirical research on how humans behave when under stress or in a situation where they’re anxious or afraid because our health is, we feel so vulnerable when we’re coming into any sort of healthcare.

Another example that I think of is Dan Arielly. In his book, he talks about how the one thing that encouraged him to pursue his academic career in psychology was that – also I’ve told the story on this podcast – is he suffered an accident and burned, I don’t know, maybe 80% of his body if I remember correctly. And he spent months in the intensive care unit. Every day, his wounds had to be treated and his scabs had to be scraped, because that’s what happens when you have burns, right?

The wound has to heal from the inside out. So they have to scrape off the scabs every day and dress those wounds. The nurses that would perform this every day. They tried the band-aid approach where I’m just going to rush through this as quickly as possible to try to get it over with, right?

And Dan Arielly dedicated his life to proving that no pulling off the bandaid quicker is not better. In fact, taking a lot longer to perform it with less intensity causes less trauma in a patient. If there’s so much research and all of these concepts that have been applied to economics and to consumer behavior started off with medicine, how did that get switched around? And now we’re having to apply consumer concepts to medicine.

Concierge Medicine

Shareef Mahdavi: Well, first of all, it’s a great story and it’s really a great analogy, whether it’s that or go slow to go fast, or just slow it down. You remind me of a whole industry within healthcare which has emerged, which is concierge medicine.

And there’ve been companies out there like MD VIP, and now there’s many, many of them that for a fee, a patient can have direct access to their doctor, usually their cell phone, see you in the same day. It’s better for the patient, but you know what, it’s also better for the doctor. And the doctors who do this tend to then limit the number of patients they have in the practice.

Because what’s the big complaint? I don’t have time. I’m under so much pressure. I’ve got to do it like a factory or a mill. So they can now spend more time with the patient. They might have one staff member with them. They do a lot more themselves, and it’s just better! And it used to be well, that’s just for the really wealthy no, but some of these plans now are actually not very expensive on a monthly subscription.

And that created a win-win, that created an alternative. The fact that those things exist and have thrived, and the fact that you can have these, in some of the drug stores, now you can go in and for a hundred bucks, get seen for someone to not have to go to the emergency room. These cottage industries are springing up.

It’s just evidence of how broken things are. And what happened to Arielly, this inspiration that he got is really, I think, just informative for how doctors maybe need to just take a step back and re-examine how they do what they do.

Shareef Mahdavi’s book: A love letter to doctors

This book was four years in the making, and some would say 20 or 30 years in the making. My wife would say, “You’ve been wanting to write this book for 20 years”. She’s right. She’s right. And it finally came out, I started focusing on it. I had some great help from some people, some friends encouraging me and we got it, we got it out there. I had to think about, you know, what is this really about?

To me, it’s a love letter to doctors and it really is meant to encourage them. In the same way that Dan Arielly was encouraged to encourage them to think about this whole concept of how they interact and how their teams interact with patients differently.

Now, some people have said to me, well I read the book and there wasn’t a lot of nuts and bolts in there. And I go precisely that was by design because if I were to tell doctors what to do, that, first of all, wouldn’t have been a book. It would have been my version of encyclopedia Britannica with 25 volumes.

So that would have been too much. Secondly, I think, I really believe in working with thousands of doctors over the years. Doctors know what to do, and they know what they want to do. They’ve just never had someone give them a kick in the backside to say, Hey, here’s why that’s so important. Right. And I’m focused on the why, because we all we’ve heard that.

Right. Unless you use, Hey, what’s your why? Right. And I’m focused on the why and the why of this book is very simple. Treat your patients as if they are also customers. Realize that you, doctor, you’re a customer too. Everywhere in your world, you’re a customer too. And you expect to be treated a certain way and your patients are no different, no matter what you think.

A surgeon told me years ago, he said, could you imagine walking into a nice clothing store, Nordstrom, or maybe a place that does custom tailored suits, and you’re saying I’m interested in buying a tailored suit. Custom suit. And the person says to you, that’s great, have a seat over there and I’ll get to you in about 45 minutes. Okay. You just walk out. No doctor, none of us who have the means would tolerate that. We just leave. And he said to me, the doctor said, but you know what, Shareef, it’s interesting. That’s what we expect of our patients.

We expect them to wait. And it’s stories like that over the years, and meeting with people and going in and trying different approaches that were really the ideas that got kind of then reduced down to the best ideas and I call them insights. And each one’s just a few pages and I do want, I mean, I’d like the doctor – I ideally think they have this by their bed.

They read one or two a night and they put it down and then it gets into their subconscious. Right. They get a copy for their administrator. They start talking about it over coffee and it just – I wanted to light a fire. I wanted to light a fire, and then I need the staff. I need all the practice consultants out there.

They’re fanning the flame. Right. I’m just trying to start a little revolution here that we call the PX movement or the patient experience movement, because you know what, I want to do a followup with you where I have a feeling we’re going to be talking more and more over the years, but wouldn’t it be cool if we got together a few years from now. And you know what Mary, isn’t it neat?

Going to the doctor just sucks a whole lot less. It’s just, you know, it was never about the clinical. It was about everything, making the appointment, doing the check in and check out. It’s just a whole lot better. Right. And you go, yeah. There’s a lot less complaining, and the vitriol on the Yelp reviews is a lot less because everything rose up.

Industries coming to terms with how they were failing customers

Mary Drumond: It’s not impossible though. If you think about it a couple of years ago, we were all so frustrated on how taxis were just the absolute worst. And okay, it’s not like Uber and Lyft are this like amazing beacon of hope and light, but it definitely has made individuals up their game and realize that, Hey, whomever is providing the best experience and actually fulfilling people’s expectations is going to take the money. So it was a really good wake up call for that industry. The same thing happened with hospitality with Airbnb. It really shook up that industry and said, Hey, you guys have to start – stop exporting your guests. Right? So like you said, so many industries have had this reckoning where they’ve had to come to terms with how they were failing customers.

I absolutely believe that the same can happen to healthcare. Now, is it a little bit more tricky because it’s so highly regulated. There’s so much red tape. Yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Look at how the banking industry was revolutionized with electronic services with PayPal’s and Venmo’s et cetera, et cetera.

When maybe a couple decades ago, people thought that was impossible because banking was so highly regulated. The same thing with stock, you know, nowadays you’ve got Robin Hood, you’ve got freaking cryptocurrencies, you know, it’s been, so de-centralized at this point. You know, that I really, really do believe that in general, the industry is failing people at their most vulnerable moment. There are a lot of institutions that are trying to get it right. We know this, we read about it. We read about the Cleveland Clinics of the world and how these places are truly pioneering, just treating patients like people.

And it’s such a basic concept. And what I like about what you’re doing Shareef is that you’re bringing this, angle of empathy directly to physicians, not to hospital administration or to the business angle of healthcare, but to the doctors themselves to say, Hey, you’re a person too. At some point in your life, you’re going to be a patient too.

And if you change even just one doctor at a time, eventually those ripples are going to take, I believe so.

Shareef Mahdavi: It is a passion of mine, no doubt. And you know, I didn’t- I think if I kind of look back over the arc of my career so far, it makes sense everything that’s happened in my life kind of led me to this moment, this book, the title of this book.

Right. Which was like, you know, we know what bedside manner means, right. We just all know. You don’t have to be in medicine. It just means you’re nice to people. Right. And in fact, think about it Bedside Manner. That was the first customer survey ever. That was the original customer survey because people knew, yeah, the doctor had great bedside manner and oh, the nurse did not. Right. That’s been going on for decades. Now though with, you know, increasing complexity in the world, we got to go beyond. So being nice is still important, but going beyond means having the culture, the philosophy, the systems, and just doing one thing at a time, you don’t have to do it all in one day.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and change won’t be. That’s why there’s different ideas and I’m hoping, you know, the doctor who resonates with insight 13, maybe different than the doctor resonates with insight 42 in the book, right. There’s something in there for everybody. And you know, the other reason I didn’t want to do a big “what to do” – because I believe doctors are smart and I think they kind of know inherently is that what really works in Dr. Smith’s practice? Well, not necessarily work in Dr. Jones’s practice. And that is a problem with a lot of people who get up on the podiums, they just do this. It doesn’t work in the context of their environment. You have to put enough into play. So they have a variety of ideas. And let them choose, let them prioritize.

And it’s been really fun. Now, the book just came out a few months ago, already doing a few workshops and seeing the energy in the room and the energy and conversation with doctors – you know what one doctor said to me the other day, we burned down that waiting room and we’re going to turn that space into something that generates revenue.

And I said, amen, keep going. Right. It’s really cool. It’s really cool working at the point of service, right. Which is the doctor, the patient and their immediate team. That’s something that hopefully I can help influence, but hospitals, big systems, you know, that’s the next book, right? Maybe the next lifetime.

I don’t know yet. We’ll see where this all goes. The thought of helping doctors do better, just be better at what they do, really that motivates me right. And better isn’t doing a better surgical procedure, right? Better is in how they do it. And I think that’s where I can help.

I think that’s where some gifts are. And to be able to speak in a language that you used, the word empathy, that they can relate to. I’ve been doing this now, I’ve been working with doctors my whole career. So I kind of understand the mindset. I understand what they face. And hopefully in the book or speaking to them, and that’s the feedback I’m getting in a way that, that resonates right, by something that can be on the nightstand.

It’s not too hard. And you know, we have examples, Mary, this is happening. This is not just a dream. This is reality. And I focused on doctors and this version of Greg Parker in San Antonio has an incredible practice. Mary Lupo on the back cover, she’s a dermatologist. Brad Calobrace, well-known plastic surgeon.

Dick Lindstrom, I call Dick the Pope of ophthalmology. He’s so influential. So I’m grateful to have their kind of imprimatur and endorsement, but there’s a name on here, Chip Conley, who you mentioned Airbnb, he’s the strategic advisor to Airbnb and he had set up – he was probably the best boutique hotel your west of the Mississippi, and then sold that business. Chip’s an amazing guy that through experience economy, I got to meet and interact with him and do some stuff on the podium with him. But we can learn so much from the Airbnbs, the Ubers, all the different industries out there and bring it into healthcare.

You know, John DiJulius is another one I interviewed recently, customer service guru, and it’s just like, you know, what he talks about is equally applicable to the restaurant he works with as it is the health care practice that I work with. And it’s interesting, one of his recent clients, the Charlotte North Carolina Police Department. Okay. We don’t think of police as being something that could up their game and customer service. And, you know, I’ve seen the stuff that’s been on mainstream media.

I interviewed John, and I said, John, how’d you get connected with them. And in fact, it was the chief of the police that said, if Chick-fil-A can do this. Right. Why can’t we, if they have 19 and 20 year olds in there nicely greeting people when they walk into a Chick-fil-A and it’s very consistent, we can do it too.

That was the spark. And when he had his first conversation with Johnny, like he asked a question. And he’s like John do you have any background work in police? He goes, absolutely not. I’m probably your wrong guy. He goes, no, no, you’re the right guy because you’re not biased by this. Right. And that same thinking now in healthcare, I encourage doctors when they’re looking to hire new employees, particularly in those customer facing roles, which is counseling, educating, front desk.

Don’t just promote someone who’s been with you for 20 years and came from your specialty. Look outside, hire that great server you met at the restaurant or the manager you saw at the front desk of the hotel or the concierge in a hotel in your town. Right. Those are the kinds of people we need to be looking for because they will infuse the practice.

What you and I know as business people. They’ll bring that mindset into the practice on a daily, daily basis. And the more people like that are in there. Hey, you’re just hiring for attitude. You can train just about any skill in a medical practice. That’s at least- that’s what I think at least.

Operationalizing empathy

Mary Drumond: Yeah, well you know, it all sounds very much like one of my favorite terms that I’ve picked up in recent times, which was used, it was coined by, you know, again, Cleveland Clinic.

And it’s the idea of, operationalizing empathy and truly building it into all of the structures of your operation. You know? So how can we not only train our personnel and our staff and our physicians and our healthcare providers to take care of people with that empathetic side of them, but how can we build it into our processes?

So that as an organization, We are fully empathetic and hiring that empathetic profile is really interesting that you just said, you know, you don’t, if you’re able to train someone to work the front desk and why not pull someone who’s able to communicate that empathy. Who’s able to treat another individual like a human being and to understand what people are going through in that moment.

You know, LASIK is scary. I’ve been using contact lenses for 10 years because I’m terrified of doing LASIK, you know? So imagine how anxious patients feel when they are in that quote on quote waiting room, waiting for their operation, you know. Or even plastic surgery, this is something that has to do directly with people’s image and how the world perceives them.

There’s so much going on there that needs to be taken into consideration when we’re receiving those people at our practice, right?

Shareef Mahdavi: Absolutely. It is about empathy. It is about emotional intelligence. There are plenty of tools and tests that you can give that help identify this before you hire people.

I like the Kolbe, Kolbe testing used to be pretty good to make sure you got green reds and blues and yellows. You got a good distribution. There’s the disc profile. There’s a lot of these tools out there that with a little guidance, practices they’re not using should be using. The- you know, I’ll tell you a quote.

I had a conversation with one of my dear friends and mentors, Vance Thompson. He’s a very well-regarded eye surgeon who has Vance Thompson Vision. That’s now in the upper Midwest, like Sioux Falls is their home base. They embraced patient experience in a big, big way and, you know, realize they weren’t competing just to be the best medical practice they were competing with anywhere else people could spend their time or money. Under Vance’s guidance and Matt Jensen, the CEO, they’ve done an amazing job. And I was fortunate enough to have worked with them early, but Vance at a recent meeting, met with a couple other surgeons I work with and they’re kind of asked like Vance, like, how did you, how do you do this?

Vance said, it all starts with love. It all starts with love. And that was really an impactful moment in this conversation. The four of us were having, it stems from love. Vance has his family, but he also has his work family. And he personally interviews every one of the employees and they were 25 when I started with them. There are 280 people now. It starts with love and Vance is a co-owner of a winery in Napa Valley.

The same principles that apply in a medical practice apply in his winery and they are best tasting room experience at Jessup Cellars & Handwritten. And look, you want to know competitive, Napa Valley, there’s 900 different places that pour fermented grape juice into a glass. How do you distinguish yours from the others? He’s mastered this and he’s always learning and doing better. So this notion of empathy, of love, of caring, which are traits that, you know, you cannot train that into people. That’s why hiring from outside.

When you meet someone who gives you a great service and you’re left feeling good, you should be thinking, maybe I hire this person in my practice and make it attractive to them to join. Okay. That’s the thought here. And you talked about empathy. I practice what I preach. I recently in the last year and a half took on a role inside a practice and it’s not full-time because I got a book and I consult, but I’ve spent a lot of my time at the Laser Eye Center of Silicon Valley, I’m the Chief Experience Officer. And basically the surgeon, the owner, Craig and I, and he just wanted me to help use his practice as a laboratory for my book.

So I am practicing what I preach. I am improving my game and my empathy for what doctors go through and what the team members go through because I’m in the middle of it now. He didn’t want a consult. He wanted a member of the team. So I’m living up to that and I’m learning every day. And it has absolutely rocked my internal world about how I view this. So everything in the book remain vaild. But making the changes. It’s tough. Change is tough. And Mary, at the end of the book, I don’t know if you got to the end of the book, but in part three, I talk about the formula for change. Where, and I’ll just repeat it here because it was taught to me by my mentor, Kathie Dannemiller when I was at Michigan, but it’s (D)(V)(F) > R.

Here’s how change happens. D is dissatisfaction. You gotta be unhappy with what’s going on. V is a vision of how we get there. F the first step. You don’t have to have the whole plan, but you gotta at least have the first steps. All of those need to be in place to overcome, to be greater than R, the resistance that we have to change as human beings.

It’s natural. It’s innate, we don’t want to change. It takes a lot to put on those running, to buy the running shoes, put them on and get on the treadmill. That takes effort, right? Change takes effort. Now, if there’s not, if there’s no dissatisfaction, no vision, no first steps. That is zero and in a math equation of multiplication, zero times anything is zero. If you don’t have all three in place, you won’t change. So you gotta have dissatisfaction, something’s gotta be wrong. You got to have a vision of where you’re going. You’ve got to have the first steps of how you got to get there. You need those three in place. And that’s true for any of us as individuals in our lives, as organizations, as businesses, as large corporations all the way through it matters.

And I don’t know. That’s I would just tell you that’s, that was important to me. And it was an important thing to close the book because doctors often want to do it. They get fired up. They hear a talk like this, they hear me speak on the podium. They’re fired up. I’ve gotten fired up. They go back and it’s like, ah, same old, same old.

We need to overcome that. And that’s why I recommend that, if someone gets a book, get two. Get one for the doctor, get one for their key administrator, their right hand, because doctors in the exam room are in surgery, right. They’re not typically out there where the action is where a lot of this experiential stuff can be done.

And I’ve seen it, I’ve seen the results. I know it works, you know it can work, I don’t believe it’s just elective; I believe this can happen with internists, pediatricians, you know, surgery centers, hospitals, it’s all throughout. And again, you know, we want the experience to suck less. Maybe that’s not the official motto, but let’s kind of remove the negatives.

Let’s get rid of some of the negative cues and then start making things better. And I can tell you patients notice. Patients pick this up. Right. And you think about it from our perspective, we walk in there, we’re nervous, whatever we’re going in for, we’re nervous. Cause it’s us. It’s our bodies, right? It’s our first time, right?

It may be the doctor’s 20th consultation that day 10000th of this procedure they’ve recommended and performed. 8000th person the receptionist has greeted. But the receptionist, is not just a receptionist. Receptionist is your director of first impressions. Right? How do we make it fresh? How do we make it feel good?

Well, I think the book is a key to getting there. And I do think that doctors will enjoy what they do better. I think the teams are more engaged. We know the patient’s going to benefit, and I think the practice gets better. It gets better emotionally. I think it gets better financially. Right? Why? Because more patients have a better experience.

They can’t help, but tell their friends, right? Because experiences are internal. They happen inside us. Something Jim Gilmore taught me long ago. Surfaces are outside us, experiences are inside us. Right. We can’t help talking about them. Right. And if it’s a poor experience, boy, that’s the easiest thing to do.

Poor service. We’re going to talk about that quicker. So let’s reduce the number of times that happens. Right. And we’re starting to get in the game.

How to get in touch with Shareef Mahdavi

Mary Drumond: Thank you so much for sharing your vision and your concept and your book with us. How can our viewers and listeners get a copy. What can they do?

Shareef Mahdavi: Certainly, two things they can do, go to BeyondBedsideManner.com. I mean you can go to Amazon, you get the paperback on Amazon, but for the same cost, our publisher will give you a hard cover and the hard cover is nicer. Hardcovers are good. Okay. That’s one thing.

And you know, if someone just wants to learn more about this, we have a companion website. PX, for patient experience, PXMovement.com. And on there, we have lots of resources and they’re free, including signing up for a daily. You get a daily two minutes of me going through each of the 57 insights. So it’s like, you know, we don’t send it on the weekend, so it’s like a, whatever it is 12, 13 weeks, but you know, people like them. I had one doctor tell me, that I met by a zoom. For the very first time I said, I feel like I know you because I get your video every day. And that’s just meant to- you know, that’s all part of what I do, just to help people understand this.

Iit’s great. And yeah, it’s fun to get the book, but what I like are the stories back. So I like people to send me an email of stuff they tried that worked. Of stuff they tried that failed. Right? Cause not everything’s going to work and that’s okay. But those are two easy ways to get in touch with us and be part of this and join the movement.

And, Hey, let’s do better. Right? Our patients deserve better. They deserve better. And, they shouldn’t need to have to wait or be treated rudely. Let’s make it memorable, make it a little light, little fun, even though it can be hard subjects. Some of medicine is really hard. Let’s do what we can to make that better for our patients. Mary, you with me?

Mary Drumond: Absolutely, 100% behind this message. To our viewers and listeners, thank you so much for joining us and we’ll see you next time. Thanks Shareef.

Shareef Mahdavi: Thank you Mary, thanks everybody for watching.

Mary Drumond: That’s our show. Thanks for joining us. We hope we’ve brought you one step closer to leading through empathy.

It’s our way of making the world a better place. One business at a time. Don’t forget to subscribe and hit the bell, if you want know as soon as we publish a new episode. Voices of CX is brought to you by Worthix. I’m Mary Drummond, this podcast is hosted and produced by me, edited and co-produced by Steve Berry.

See you next week!

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Mary Drumond

Mary Drumond

Mary Drumond is Chief Marketing Officer at Worthix, the world's first cognitive dialogue technology, and host of the Voices of Customer Experience Podcast. Originally a passion project, the podcast runs weekly and features some of the most influential CX thought-leaders, practitioners and academia on challenges, development and the evolution of CX.



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