When I was 16 years old, I got a Summer job working as a pool boy at a popular South Beach hotel. We had our share of regulars that always came to visit, but one guest in particular will always be memorable—Wes.
Wes was vacationing from New York for the week, and I found out that he owned a real popular dive bar over there. He decided that as a way to show his appreciation for his staff, he’d close the bar for a week and pay for them all to come down to vacation with him on South Beach. I remember being shocked when I heard this. Could you imagine going on vacation with your boss? For a week? I couldn’t believe how excited everyone was and how much fun everyone was having. Their energy all week long was electric.
One morning about midway through his vacation, Wes came to me with a very uncomfortable look on his face. His employees watched in the distance, semi-comically with a look of despair as he embarrassingly pointed to his bathing suit and showed me how it had ripped down the seam at the crotch. “We’re about to take a day trip to go snorkeling. We’ve got to be at the boat in 30 minutes and the stores aren’t open yet. This is my only bathing suit and the tear is too big for the small little safety pins the hotel offers in their sewing kit. Can you do anything?” he asked. Feeling terrible, I darted through the hotel looking for ideas. Time was running out and nothing was working. I randomly came across an ex-employee’s nametag in the locker room. It was the kind that attached with a safety pin and I remember thinking “This is so crazy, it just might work.”
A burst of laughter erupted from the group as Wes walked out of the bathroom wearing his repaired bathing suit. The gash was gone and in its place was a nametag that read “Manny – Engineering.” Wes was ecstatic and they left for their trip. From that point forward everyone called him “Manny.” On the last day, they told me how they’d never forget their trip. They had so many great memories and were forever grateful for my hospitality. That was the moment I realized that I love making people happy.
I know what you’re thinking: That’s all great, but what does this have to do with Healthcare?
When we first started Voalté, we talked with thought leaders at a number of hospitals and asked them all the same question: “What vendor that you work with should we model ourselves after? If you thought about all the vendors that you deal with, who would you say ‘gets it right?’” Over and Over the response was a blank stare and the occasional “What do you mean?” (expressed in a tone of “you mean there’s an alternative?”) or the usual “They all suck.” The most telling response came from an IT director who told us that he deals with over 600 vendors and not a single one stands out above the rest. This came as a shock to us. For me personally, it was especially disappointing that there was no healthcare equivalent to the “Starbucks experience,” so to speak.
In the last few years, the industry has witnessed an increased focus on the patient experience—what I’ve heard some people refer to as “healing hospitality.” Books like “If Disney Ran your Hospital,” by Fred Lee have helped shape this trend and some hospitals, such as Henry Ford of West Bloomingfield, have brought in CEO’s with impressive luxury hotel backgrounds. Even some of the large for-profit organizations such as HCA, I recently found out, have regional people who’s job it is to think about the patient experience.
The first time we went out to Pasadena prior to installing at Huntington Memorial Hospital, I noticed that the Telemetry Unit we were going-live in didn’t fit the “mold” I had created in my head for the typical hospital floor. I remember being captivated by the design and specifically noticing that there were no whiteboards with patient names anywhere. The Charge Nurse overheard me and told me how proud she was of this fact. “We don’t want anything visible that reminds our visitors that they are in a hospital,” she said. “We want them to feel like they are in a resort.” Then she paused for a moment before adding “A five star resort.”
Yet despite this trend, healthcare vendors still seem to ignore the value of the customer experience. For Voalté, the customer experience (and by that, I mean “user experience.”) is what we think about every single day. Studies have shown that nurses are 4-5 times more dissatisfied with their jobs than the average American worker. Think about what that means:
The kid at McDonald’s serving you your Value Meal is happier with his job than the nurse that's about to insert that foley catheter into you.
Whether it’s or our willingness to visit the hospital simply to solicit comments and suggestions on Voalté, our impromptu Starbucks gift cards to staff on stressful days, special holiday surprises (we brought in Valentine’s cards and candy for Valentine’s Day), or just the cheerful sight of seeing our team walk onto the floor in hot pink scrub pants (our signature “uniform”), our goal is to create a compelling customer experience.
From day one, our solution was been built on the advice and feedback of our end-users. We even built in a feedback function that makes it fast and simple to talk to us directly from the device. This means that every single caregiver using Voalté has access to direct communication with every single Voalté employee, including our President.
Being able to talk to any user at any time (I’ve actually woken up at 3 AM several times to personally respond to a user’s question.) gives us an incredibly powerful advantage. The real advantage, however, lies less in the technology that makes this possible and more in our ability to build a personal friendship with every single user. Every user knows us by name, and we know every user by name. That’s the kind of stuff you can’t outsource.
As Voalté's Chief Experience Officer (I like to say that I'm the "CEO that cares), this is something that I am personally obsessed with, and to date, this approach has been welcomed with overwhelming praise. To the old guard, I realize how foolish this may sound. For many companies, it’s something I expect it’s something they’ll laugh off as another crazy gimmick. We, on the other hand, believe this to be the cornerstone to our success.
All I know is this: When my mom gets sick I want her to go to a Voalté hospital. At least there I’ll know that we can make the nurses happy. Happy nurses make happy patients, and if I need to do something absolutely ridiculous to ensure this, like lend them a nametag to rig a tear in their pants closed, I will.
It wouldn’t be the first time.