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Core Exchange: The Intersection of Brand, Culture, and Patient Experience

The importance of health systems living the brand promise

In this episode of the Core Exchange, Kris Baird, president and CEO of Baird Group, joins Core Health’s Senior Healthcare Strategist, Laila Waggoner, to talk about the intersection of brand, culture and patient experience. They discuss what’s changed during the pandemic, and what hasn’t, as it relates to how health systems are living the brand both inside and outside the organization, and how that affects consumer experiences. Kris and Laila explore how healthcare marketers can best work together with internal HR and operations teams to engage leadership and ensure the brand promise is being delivered day in, and day out.


  • Core Exchange | Kris Baird

You can listen to the podcast episode using the player embedded below, or you can read a full transcript below. Be sure to subscribe to Core Exchange on Apple Podcasts.


Episode Transcript:

Laila Waggoner:

Welcome to the Core Exchange, a podcast for healthcare marketers. I'm Laila Waggoner, senior healthcare strategist with Core Health, Core Creative's specialized healthcare marketing practice. We are so pleased to continue our conversation with Kris Baird, president and CEO of Baird Group today. Kris, welcome back to the Core Exchange.

Kris Baird:

I'm glad to be here.

Laila Waggoner:

Kris, for those who aren't familiar with you and your organization, I've heard you say that you think of Baird Group, or they should think of Baird Group as a magnifying glass, a mirror, and a map. Tell us how you help healthcare teams.

Kris Baird:

The magnifying glass, mirror, and a map, it really depicts what we do. So the magnifying glass, we look deeply into the culture of the organization and we do that in a couple of ways. Mystery shopping is one key way we do that, both inpatient outpatient by phone, online, mystery shopping, so that's a magnifying glass. We do culture assessments. So again, magnifying glass looking deeply into beliefs and attitudes that are often keeping an organization stuck. So from there we hold up the mirror. Once we do the magnifying glass, we hold up the mirror and say, this is what you really truly look like, sound like, feel like, to these stakeholders internally and externally, and then help them create a roadmap to get them from where they are right now to where they want to be.

Laila Waggoner:

And that's really important work, and I imagine with the last two years and all of the changes that have happened in healthcare, this is a really valuable examination, I think, for healthcare systems to really stop and take a moment and really consider how they being perceived, how they're behaving, how they're actually living, what we would say, living the brand. And so I know in the previous episode where you and Ward Alles, our president, had a discussion about that importance of living the brand and at core health, we like to say our brand philosophy is say it, live it, right? So it's not enough to just say that you're going to put a brand promise out into the marketplace. You actually have to live it, and I imagine that's just never been more important for healthcare than now.

Kris Baird:

Oh, it really is. And the thing is that healthcare is so strained right now. There is no doubt about it. The staffing, the demands, the bed shortage. It is a stressful time for anybody working in healthcare. But we have to keep in mind something else. And that is the consumer expectations haven't fallen, they haven't lowered. They still have high expectations for healthcare delivery. And so what I'm seeing right now is there's been kind of a pent up demand as people navigated the first year and a half or so of COVID. Now they're starting to say, I guess this is the reality we're going to live in for a while. We better get a finger on the pulse of what people are thinking about our services, right?

Kris Baird:

What's it like? What can we do to make it different, and live the brand promise? Nobody's putting up a billboard that says we put the patient at the center of everything we do, with a little asterisk saying, see footnote. And the footnote says, except for when we're short staffed, we have a bed shortage, nobody is promising with exceptions. There's no fine print. There're no disclaimers. And so it's really a challenge to be living your brand promise when you're going through all these things that I just mentioned.

Laila Waggoner:

And we have so much empathy for our colleagues who are in those health systems and really trying to manage all of the different challenges. And I'm curious, what kind of advice you're giving those teams about where do they start? Especially if maybe this is work that they had always intended to do, but kind of hadn't necessarily gotten around to really thinking about culture. How do they manage this at this moment? What's your best advice?

Kris Baird:

Empathy is always a wonderful starting place. And so to really get into the trenches and see what people are living and finding out what would be most helpful right now to support the team? You can't, be as effective with patients if the internal structure, the people, are not being supported. And what I'm really seeing is when people ask me, how has COVID affected culture? And all I can say is more. Whatever you were before this pandemic, you're seeing more of it. If you were dysfunctional, it's more dysfunctional than ever right now. If you were a positive culture where people really felt valued and cared for, you are still seeing that. Yes, there are the strains and the stresses, but the reality is any type of crisis brings out more of who you really are at the core.

Kris Baird:

So if you're an organization that's living your core values, you are living your brand. At every moment, every touch point, every single day, every person. If you're not, then your brand promises, if I could summarize it in three words, it's blah, blah, blah.

Laila Waggoner:

A lot of noise.

Kris Baird:

Yeah, a lot of noise. There's no substance, but what I love about your tagline is say it, live it, that's what I would wish for every organization. When it comes to promoting their brand. Don't just say it, live it. And there's often such a disconnect between marketing and operations, and-

Laila Waggoner:

Say more about that. Yeah. That's always a challenge.

Kris Baird:

It makes me crazy. A good friend of mine, who I've co-presented with in the past, was the head of marketing and strategy for a large system, and he used to make me laugh. He would say, operations is where marketing goes to die. And it's like, you have this brilliant strategy of this great marketing plan, and if marketing is not hand in glove with operations, if people don't say it, and live it, it is where the marketing efforts go to die. And so it really goes back to an organization like yours, working with the senior executives making sure, is this substantive? Is there substance to what we're rolling out? And if not, if there's a disconnect between... And you should have lofty aspirations for where you want that organization to be. So when you start working that, then you have to ask from an operational perspective, people, process, and place. How are those three things going to stack up to make sure that you're living that brand promise every step of the way.

Laila Waggoner:

We often, as we're working with clients thinking about how to frame their brand promise, we really want to help them think about those steps, like you said. It's not just, what are we going to say, but really bringing the right people to the table so that we're all thinking about, what will it mean to actually execute on this? What do we need to do to get our house in order, if you will, before we go sending the invitation out to proclaim that we're going to be delivering this fabulous brand promise, if we aren't prepared as an organization to actually train people, hire for it even.

Laila Waggoner:

You talk a lot about hiring for culture and to me, culture and brand our hand in hand. It's really different words for the same core message. And so everything from hiring to orientation to not just saying it once and hoping that everybody remembers, but really integrating it into the day to day, things like in your huddles, or in your rounding. How is that really becoming part of the day to day of how you operate, and not just something you talk about and don't actually live.

Kris Baird:

So one of the reasons that we started doing mystery shopping was because oftentimes what people think they know about the patient experience is not really the patient experience. And so let me just give you an example. Everybody does patient satisfaction surveys. And those surveys are measuring the experience of people who have already come in contact with the providers. So they've had, most of the time, a face to face experience. But what if marketing is incredibly effective and gets the word out there, gets that phone to ring and the phones aren't answered. And when they are answered, over 50% of the people can't get appointments in a reasonable amount of time. So now we are able to measure the ones that got away. So marketing's working really hard to get the phone to ring and you get a thousand phone calls, 180 of them aren't even answered.

Kris Baird:

And over 500 can't get appointments. So at that first phone call, we're able to measure how many are likely to call back, how many are likely to give you a second chance. So part of the reason why we started mystery shopping is because I felt like the leaders had blinders on to what patients were really experiencing. And there are so many people that come in contact with an organization besides patients. So for every patient, there's possibly a family member, a neighbor, a driver, so for every one person who may get a survey, who may or may not answer it, there's probably at least one other person who is forming an opinion of that organization walking in the hallways. Trying to find their way. So way finding, are we as consumer oriented as we pretend to be, or say we are?

Laila Waggoner:

Right. And I think your point about patient satisfaction is so interesting because those surveys, a lot of organizations have sort of lived and died by them. It's something that get measured, it's something that gets talked about at leadership meetings. Everybody's very focused on it, but you're so right, that it's only a fraction of the actual experience that people are having with the organization, whether they're patients or family members or whatever that is. And it also is sort of an after the fact sort of a measure as opposed to a in the moment kind of a measure. And so I love that about the mystery shopping, because it really does shine a light or hold a magnifying glass, if you will, up to what are people actually experiencing and what are we going to do about it?

Kris Baird:

Exactly. So let's go back to the surveys. They are very important. We need to have that quantitative data. We need it for a number of reasons, not the least of which is benchmarking, to know how do we compare? And to look at what are the domains that are going to be consistent across the country. So there's that piece. We do need it. Now, the biggest gap that I see is the why behind the score. So at the end of the day, when you survey, number one, you're assuming you're asking the right questions, but what's important to me might not be the same thing that's important to you. And so now we've got a survey and we can tell how many people ranked us a certain way. What we're missing is why. So you've got a likert scale, a five point likert scale. Why did you rate it a five, and I gave it a four? So with mystery shopping, we're able to get behind the why. So we're measuring the facts and the feelings.

Laila Waggoner:

That's a great way to put it.

Kris Baird:

We're saying, okay, when I approached the desk, it was 2:10 in the afternoon. I had a 2:30 appointment. There was a woman behind the desk. She didn't look up at me. She kept her eyes down and she put her hand out and said, insurance. And so the person going through that can say, I felt she was rude. This is what she did, and this is how it made me feel. I felt unimportant. So we just had that experience with somebody. As we were collecting data, this is an actual example of something that happened. And are you measuring what happened when you walked in the door? Chances are not. They lump, if it's a medical practice, you pretty much lump all the office staff together.

Laila Waggoner:

And I think what's so interesting about that approach is that it really gives you very concrete, meaningful ways to improve. It really opens the door to say, we need to do better training. We need to have people understand their role in delivering on the brand promise and why it matters how they interact, how they do their job, day in and day out. And really, that's just an opportunity to connect back, I know you use this term a lot and we do too, is connect back to purpose. Why are we doing this to begin with?

Kris Baird:

Exactly. And just to be clear, mystery shopping isn't an I gotcha'. It is about understanding the real experience. And one of the thing is I love about it is we're able to identify the rock stars. Who are the people that are really living the brand promise and how can we get more of that?

Laila Waggoner:

And that's really important also, because I think it has to, for that sort of behavior to be adopted and to sort of spread in a positive way throughout the organization, it can't just be top down. It really does need to be modeled and shared and engaging the team in really being part of saying, oh, I can do that just like so and so does, or that's a great example of how this should work, as opposed to just being told here's your checklist. It's not about a checklist. It's about internalizing that and really making it part of why do I go to work every day and how do I go to work every day? That's good.

Kris Baird:

And it reveals a lot about broken processes, broken systems, that oftentimes can really make it difficult for employees, is that you've got somebody preaching, oh, let's have a great experience, but the equipment they're using doesn't help them. Or the process is broken. So we just finished a study for a large system and they had one of the highest numbers for lack of appointments we've seen, in the study. And that could have been changed instantly if the people going to set up an appointment could see on one screen that even though their medical practice doesn't have an opening, these people over here have an opening, and then you're keeping them in the system.

Laila Waggoner:

Absolutely. Yeah.

Kris Baird:

It's the process, it's the equipment, it's getting past kind of the selfish attitude of, if somebody calls my clinic, don't you dare send them elsewhere. You see some of that, too.

Laila Waggoner:

And that's really interesting too, I think, as hospitals and hospital systems have grown through either merger, acquisition, just alliances, this idea of operating each one independently versus thinking about that systemness and that ability to really have an expectation when you go to any one of their facilities that there will be a certain level of treatment, of a consumer experience. That's what the big consumer brands have figured out really well. And it's something I think that healthcare is a little bit slower to learn and to understand. And they pride, I think, themselves on their unique kind of attributes, but thinking like a system means delivering a consistent consumer experience. And that's really an opportunity.

Kris Baird:

Exactly. And I'm not confusing the logo with a real brand, but as these acquisitions and mergers are happening, they're slapping up that logo. So the visual image of, oh, this brand is all the same. So if I have a lousy experience at one of these newly acquired two provider practices, then I'm going to infer that to the whole brand. Like, no, I'm done with this brand. I'm finding somebody else. And so the bandaid is to change all the signage and the stationary and the logo on the name tags. And that's the bandaid. Now we have that image, but boy, if I'm putting my name on something, you better believe I want to maintain the same level of quality that I expect at point A to point B.

Laila Waggoner:

So, Kris, I feel like we could talk forever about these topics, and I know every time we get together, we do have these great conversations about it. I'm curious for our listeners who may be thinking about really tackling this from an experience standpoint, from a culture standpoint. A few questions, I guess, I'd love your perspective on. Where do you recommend that they begin that journey? How do they get executive leadership support and commitment? And I guess, kind of the bigger question, who need to get involved and who needs to be informed and how do they tackle this?

Kris Baird:

Well, when we help people tackle that, it's usually that magnifying glass first, so spending time at the senior level, getting them to articulate what is their vision for the culture of the future? So normally people say, oh yeah, we've got it. We know what that is. And it's very arbitrary. They haven't articulated it, and if you haven't articulated it, you're not going to share it real clearly. So helping them to articulate it is the first step in the roadmap, because if you don't know where you're going, any road's going to get you there. So it's saying, this is where we want to be. Let's put the marker there. That's our goal post. Where are we today? So that's the culture assessment today. What are the beliefs and attitudes right now?

Kris Baird:

What are the processes and systems right now, that are either going to help us or hinder us in getting to that goal post? So really getting crystal clear about that, and in order to do that, you've got to of drill down into the hearts and minds of the people in the trenches and look at the processes and systems and say, okay, here are the beliefs and attitudes. Here are the processes and systems, and here are the gaps between where you want to be and where you are today. And once you identify those gaps, that's the first step in saying, all right, we have these six crucial gaps. What are our most important steps in closing gap one, gap two, gap three and so on? So that's really the starting point is articulating the vision for the culture of the future. And it goes hand and glove with the brand.

Kris Baird:

How do we want to be known? How do we want to be known by the community, by our patients, by our providers, by our employees? What's in that vision? And then, who do we have to be as leaders? That's the key thing is that once they articulate that and they say, okay, there's the goal post, the next question is who do you have to be as leaders to move the needle? And the truth is, some of the leadership practices have been languishing. And we have to get real about what are the core competencies, that when you're striving to move the needle on the brand, that middle manager is so crucial, but they're following after the senior leaders.

Laila Waggoner:

They're taking their cues, that's right.

Kris Baird:

They're taking their cues, and then they're giving the cues to the frontline. And we look at culture as how we really do things around here. You might have a lofty mission, vision, values. It's in a nice plaque in a bronze frame, on the wall.

Laila Waggoner:

In every elevator.

Kris Baird:

And, again, let me repeat, blah, blah, blah.

Laila Waggoner:

Show me.

Kris Baird:

Exactly.

Laila Waggoner:

Exactly. Well, this has been such a good conversation and I know that we'll likely want to continue it at some other point as well, but is there anything else at this exact moment on your mind that you'd like to share with our listeners today?

Kris Baird:

Just that, don't give up. We've got a lot of bright marketers out there that are doing such great work. Just remember to reach across the aisle, if you will, to connect to operations. Make sure that when you're working on that strategy, that marketing plan, that brand strategy, that you're engaging the people at the grassroots level. What does this brand mean to me as the receptionist? What does it mean to me as the housekeeper? What does it mean, and how am I going to live that in my role? And that gets back to connection to purpose. So don't lose sight of that. Keep pushing forward. You have these brilliant ideas. Don't give up, just make sure that you reach across the aisle and make sure you're bringing up the grassroots.

Laila Waggoner:

Well, that's great advice, Kris. And we so appreciate, again, your time today. Thank you for joining us. We always enjoy these conversations.

Kris Baird:

As do I. Thank you.

Laila Waggoner:

So for our listeners, you can find more information about Kris and about Baird Group at baird-group.com. That's B-A-I-R-D-group.com and a reminder to our listeners to subscribe to Core Exchange on apple podcasts and sign up for our newsletter at corecreative.health.

author

Laila Waggoner serves as Vice President, Strategic Partnerships for Core Health, Core Creative’s specialized healthcare marketing practice. Laila brings more than 30 years of experience working with regional health systems, community hospitals, academic medical centers, hospices, managed care organizations and B2B healthcare brands in markets across the country. She’s held in-house health system and agency leadership roles, and provides unique insight into how clients can best leverage the strategic branding, marketing and creative resources of an agency partner.

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