5 hospitals who ‘play up’ customer service in social marketing strategies

Nowadays participation is considered marketing. Conversations are now part of health care marketing strategy. Experiences are marketing AND strategy. Customer service is now marketing and strategy. The topic of empowering your patients so they become an extension of your marketing isn’t new. We all want our patients, employees and community members to be our best brand ambassadors–it’s a dream of any service organization. However, the difference today is how a hospital can transform its marketing strategy efforts to be perceived by your target market as not marketing or advertising but just good ’ol fashioned customer service.

Is customer service the new marketing and are online communities mainly an opportunity to engage customer service? I researched five well-known, vertically-integrated hospitals that create marketing strategies around customer service to help change the perception of health care marketing.

Scripps Health • California

Scripps Health focuses on customer service best practices in its social media marketing efforts. Marc Needham, director of web technology for Scripps Health, said social media is a “tough nut to crack” because it blurs the lines between public relations, customer service, marketing and risk management. “It seems to make sense that you always lead with your customer service hat on but have the other three disciplines in your back pocket.”

He also says in Ed Bennett’s blog, Found in Cache, that his hospital spends its social media marketing time on customer service efforts.

Scripps found so much value in its customer service and social media marketing strategy that they created a new position–electronic customer service representative.

“I’m sure everyone reading this knows that there simply aren’t the hours in the day to do everything you want to with social media; as such it always feels like we’re falling short of the real potential,” said Needham. “It’s important to have someone on staff dedicated to reaching out to angry and confused patients through social media, responding to negative (and positive) online reviews and appropriately handling the slew comments online.”

How does this fall into the marketing umbrella? Perhaps customer service and/or customer relations should be more closely connected, working side-by-side.

St. Luke’s Cedar Rapids • Iowa

We all have heard about the live Twitter surgery and its magnitude of buzz online but do we understand how this type of strategy can serve as an excellent customer service tool? At St. Luke’s Cedar Rapids, one family was able to enjoy an incredible level of customer service, as their 70-year-old mother underwent a hysterectomy and uterine prolapse surgery. Nearly 700 people followed along with the surgery. Laura Rainey, St. Luke’s Cedar Rapids’ hospital spokesperson pointed out that live-tweeting is a “more gentle” way to inform patients and consumers, allowing them to follow what’s going. The family appreciated the opportunity, pointing out that it made the time go by faster and they enjoyed having real-time information and staying informed while in the waiting room.

Oakwood Healthcare System • Michigan

“Between 15 percent and 50 percent of emergency room patients become inpatients at most hospitals,” says Stevan Bosanac, director of marketing for EMPATH, a health care consulting firm in Richmond, California. “It just makes sense to concentrate on customer service in the emergency room.”

I think many of us can agree with Stevan’s comments. If you have a well-working ED, you should boost up your marketing strategy starting in this area. But only if it’s a well-oiled machine.

Health care marketers have long known that ED marketing can help raise slumping hospital volumes. But nationally speaking, that strategy is falling apart because many EDs are becoming overwhelmed with patients and service problems.

Although minor care programs for less serious illnesses are ordinary, Oakwood Healthcare System highlighted the service during flu season. They developed a system that offers same-day or next-business-day appointments with primary care physicians through its ambulatory network. The program has proved highly popular with local residents.

Children’s Hospital Boston • Massachusetts

I personally was impressed with Children’s Hospital of Boston’s Facebook page–having over 691,000 likes/fans. Their landing page includes content that I really do want to read. But they wouldn’t share the content with me until I was a fan. I think that type of interaction works well to convert online users to brand fans.

Through its photos of the week, Children’s Hospital Boston highlights families and patients, who in turn spread the word to their friends and family on Facebook, bringing fans and patients to its Facebook page to interact. Who needs a traditional marketing campaign when you have a social strategy that is paving the way for you?

Magellan Health Services • Arizona

Every company talks about the importance of great customer service. Magellan Health Services took customer service to a new level when they implemented a new internal marketing campaign/strategy and created its STARS campaign. Not many implore employees to provide good service to each other, successfully.

Christine Barnhart, senior communications generalist for Magellan said in a recent Ragan.com article that because they rely on cross-functional work teams and internal collaboration with HR and marketing to operate efficiently and effectively, it is critical that employees recognize the importance of extending the same level of customer service excellence through their working relationships with internal colleagues.

In short, the STARS campaign (Support, Thank, Assist, Respond and Smile) was designed as a call-to-action to Magellan’s 5,000-plus employees: Treat each other with respect.

Magellan’s communications department also keeps the campaign’s key messages top of mind throughout the year by incorporating that same idea in its marketing and public relations campaigns and it doesn’t change.

A formal post-campaign survey after the first year of the campaign revealed that 71 percent of employees believed the STARS program provided useful information that demonstrated how good internal customer service impacts organizational and professional success. Additionally, more than half of respondents said the campaign encouraged them to provide better service to their Magellan colleagues, developing their best brand ambassadors.

What ways have you capitalized on customer service in your marketing strategies? Share below and join the conversation.

Feel free to connect with me on my Facebook page at Trish Skram “PR Gal” or on LinkedIn.

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