What Can Hospitals Learn from a Hotel Company?

Medical professionals have years and years of training and often decades of experience. Their purpose is to restore patients to health and save lives. Their profession is learned and noble and can seem a little mismatched when paired with the hospitality industry. We can all agree that fluffing pillows and putting mints on beds is hardly the top priority in healthcare.

But what about making patients feel comfortable? Healthcare—as well as hospitality—must pay close attention to the needs of their patients/customers. Front line staff should have the skills and support to interact with patients/customers and with each other. Dr. Kamal Sawan, Chief at Oklahoma University Physicians Plastic Surgery, recently spoke with The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center and pinpointed three key business practices that he learned from The Ritz-Carlton that have impacted his medical practice.

Business Practice #1: Provide a Warm Welcome

Dr. Sawan: Most people’s blood pressure goes up the moment they walk into a physician’s office because of the stress of the unknown. When you walk through the door at The Ritz-Carlton, there’s a comfort zone and literally people feel at home. And they’re made to feel at home. For you to walk into somewhere you’ve never been before and for you to feel completely at ease—that’s a remarkable achievement. If patients can walk into a hospital or a physician’s office and immediately feel at ease, their care will be much, much better their satisfaction will be much, much better.

A lot of healthcare establishments hire people for the front desk and tell them that their job is to answer the phones. But there’s so much more to it than that. For me, the people at the front desk represent the clinic. They represent me. These people are the gatekeepers, and they set the tone for the patient experience. I let staff know what I expect from them beyond answering the phones, and I rely on my front line staff to create an atmosphere of comfort and responsiveness to patients.

Business Practice #2: Meet Expressed and Unexpressed Needs

Dr. Sawan: Twenty years ago, the approach to healthcare was patients first. Doctors were trained about bedside manner—how to approach and treat the patient was of primary importance. This focus on the patient has disappeared, and now the emphasis tends to be on scutwork and quotas. But with HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems), lots of people in the healthcare industry are zoning more toward how can we provide better service for the patient so they are satisfied. The Ritz-Carlton has a great reputation for providing excellent service and shows how to pick up tiny little clues and non-verbal communication.

After attending Legendary Service at The Ritz-Carlton and “Radar On-Antenna Up”: The Ritz-Carlton’s Fulfillment of Unexpressed Wishes and Needs in 2008, I initiated “Service with a Smile.” I meet with staff for 30 minutes every Friday to review customer care concepts. My staff is more engaged with patients, and now they remember details like birthdays. Patients often call and ask for staff assistants by name. More importantly, the staff knows their patients as more than just transactions, and we’re committed to providing more personalized service.

Business Practice #3: Cultivate Culture

Dr. Sawan: What we can learn from The Ritz-Carlton is how do they do it—how do they engage the customers and how do they engage their staff to provide that exceptional service that results in satisfied clients. I recently attended The Ritz-Carlton Executive Education Program, and I learned that changing a culture takes time. I’m a surgeon, and surgeons don’t have a lot of patience. We like to see results. But I’ve learned that if the whole culture is going to change, it does take a little time. Consistency is key, and change will happen. You have to look at the big picture and then downward to the details. But never forget the big picture. The big picture is always important.

The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center offers advisory services, courses and presentations to organizations that wish to benchmark the award-winning business practices of The Ritz-Carlton. Your organization can learn about The Ritz-Carlton methodology for customer service, employee engagement and leadership development. We also guide organizations through a multi-step process in order to achieve sustainable culture transformation.