Healthcare Customer Service the Panera Way?

When I’m out of town for work, I spend a fair amount of time at Panera. They are consistent across the country, have some healthy food options, convenient locations and the ever-coveted free wifi connection. This morning, as I spent time between client staff trainings on improving the patient experience, I overheard a Panera employee “practicing what I preach” each day–she delivered a personal experience to her customers. This particular employee was great to use the names of the customers she was working with; even in the very short transactional time, she said each of their names at least twice, asked them how they were doing and told them to enjoy the day. I also witnessed this employee get out from behind the counter to check on the customers she had serviced to ensure their meals were up to their standards and even brought one customer a bagel cut in a different manner simply because she overheard this customer tell her husband in passing that she wished she’d ask for the bagel cut into pieces instead of in half.

Now, you say, I’m not comparing apples to apples; Panera is in the FOOD SERVICE business, healthcare is very different. True, it is very different. It’s much more PERSONAL than food service. Yet, many organizations and staff forget that each patient deserves a personal experience, not to simply be made to feel like a social security number or chart that must be processed through the office. Physicians, staff and administrators get busy working through the functionality of their jobs, but fail to deliver service to the person who’s chart they hold in their hand. The function part of the job in healthcare is certainly important, we must help our patients get well and stay well, but in an industry that is very personal, we forget that patients want to be treated the way “they” want to be treated–recognized for their emotions and needs far behind their chief complaint for the appointment.

Why is that our patients are receiving a more personal experience at their local Panera than they are receiving in our office? If you don’t like your answer to that question, it may be time to look at the experience your organization provides and think about ways to infusion more opportunities for personal interactions within your patient experience.

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