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Kendall Jenner and the public relations debacle

Kendall Jenner could not save the recent Pepsi and United Airlines public relations debacle that demonstrated the power of the people, especially when the people are angry. 

The escalation of these two events could have possibly been avoided if the aforementioned companies had been less disconnected and tone deaf when it comes to their customers’ needs and wants. 

Pepsi thought they could do no wrong with Kendall Jenner and a bunch of other cool millennials in their commercial doing something arbitrarily passionate. The video’s intent was to show a sense of togetherness using millennials from diverse backgrounds coming together to make peace in the world.

But this bubble gum ”I-will-save-the-world-one-Pepsi-at-a-time” strategy clearly did not ring well with the public. Instead, the video was criticized as self-promoting, disconnected and a trivialization of the societal movements of the time.

The controversial commercial has since been yanked by Pepsi, admitting they clearly “missed the mark.”

This can happen with virtually every profession, including our own

With the advent of social media and online review sites, many fall into the trap of trying too hard and end up delivering the wrong message.  It is good to have new machines and cool Insta’s but if your patients don’t connect with you in person, they are much less likely to return. 

Wowing patients with new technologies while failing to deliver an exceptional experience is a poor strategy and doesn’t do much to build customer loyalty.

So how do we consistently deliver an excellent customer experience, build lasting relationships and make patients feel our value is in order to drive loyalty to our office?

It is as simple as investing in our patients by elevating our in-person communication style. Below are some parallel lessons learned from the Kendall Jenner Pepsi commercial:

Hearing vs. Listening

We may ask our patients about their chief complaint but do we hear what they say or are we listening? Hearing is passive, but listening involves being present and paying attention. 

It’s important not to appear distracted, have your back to the patient while you type, make eye contact and repeat what they say so they know you were listening.  Express empathy both in your body language and what you say to them.

At the end of the exam, make a huge difference to the patient simply by asking, “Have I answered all your questions or concerns?”

Challenge yourself and your staff this way; before every patient interaction, repeat the mantra, “How can I listen to my patients better, such that I can gather information on how I can exceed their expectations?”

If you have a tough time answering that question, survey your patients. At my office, we ask our patients after the exam “how was your experience?” This is a great way to get feedback at point-of-service.

We also use a system that anonymously surveys patients to get feedback. However, with some of these surveys, you will get outliers (either the really happy patient responds or a patient who didn’t have a great experience tend to respond).

So we decided we wanted to go deeper. My office manager started calling patients randomly from the previous few weeks to get honest feedback.  

As much as I’d like to say we provide all “10” experiences exceptionally as indicated in our surveys, she learned some patients just had a “pretty good” experience but were willing to share what we could have done better.

This has proven vital in helping us develop strategies that positively impact the way we book exams, how their exam flows, and our patients’ perception of our practice. In order to exceed expectations, you must first listen.

Speak their language

Verbiage matters. Many issues with regards to patient communication can be avoided when we learn the language of our patients.

For example, vision plans list coverage of benefits as “Standard or Premium Fit” hence many of us brainlessly repeat that language during our encounter. 

But when a patient hears a “contact lens fit” fee, all they see is an extra charge that the system is trying to get from them. (How many times have we heard “but I know my fit, I’ve been wearing contacts for years”).  Realizing the confusion this one term causes, we need to eliminate the term “fit” from our vocabularies.

Observe and figure out patterns in your office where patients are often confused and focus on how you can clear up that confusion as succinctly as possible. Sometimes just changing one word or the sequence of which you conduct a procedure that makes the whole difference.

Through listening, we can change our language to more effectively communicate with our patients and improve the patient experience.

Communicate consciously

We have probably all heard the saying it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. Effective communication is largely dependent on tone and delivery.

No two patients are alike so it’s important to have our radar up and decide the right way to engage the individual. Having a good staff that can communicate to you the patient’s affect before you walk in the room can be vital in enabling you to plan and prepare to serve patients who may be more sensitive or difficult.  

Block off more time for patients who seem difficult or are anxious and may ask more questions.

Lastly, if you ever have to reach a point where you have to apologize to a patient, do so sincerely. “I’m sorry you feel that way…” doesn’t indicate you truly care about their concerns and appears to lay the blame on the patient.  

Acknowledging a customer’s feelings, ”owning” the situation and offering a solution that satisfies the patient is enough for a patient to feel they were “listened” to.

In our new competitive landscape, it matters in practice growth to connect and leave an impression with our patients. It is nice to have nice toys and technology to bring our patients in but what keeps them coming back is our ability to listen to their needs, communicate their medical information effectively and at the same time come across as a genuine and caring medical professional.

Our patients need to feel that their medical professionals are listening, not just impressing them with creative marketing for fancy medical “toys”.  It’s time to get back to communication basics.  

Hanh Vu
Midwest transplant, now practice owner at Herald Square Eyecare in New York, NY. Dedicated to practice building and providing exceptional patient experiences. When not seeing patients, Dr. Vu is usually eating.