Healthcare Marketing-Customer Satisfaction and Loyalty
Healthcare marketing is a relatively new concept in the healthcare industry. This field within the healthcare industry deals with the establishment of connections between physicians, patients and healthcare organizations, and thus forming mutual relationships. Marketing healthcare organizations and their services is akin to marketing any other profit or non-profit organization. This is because there are needs, an audience and a mission statement. Historically healthcare provision has been a business venture.
This is evidenced in today’s reimbursement and insurance environment where healthcare marketing is greatly needed to ensure continuous viability of American healthcare services in providing high quality healthcare to Americans on a local level to meet the ever rising demands that the citizens are putting on healthcare service providers. All this requires a clear strategy, analysis and communication. Healthcare organizations are now cognizant of the fact that healthcare marketing is a functional discipline that is applied in the management of healthcare organizations.
At the core of marketing healthcare organizations and their services lies the consumer focus. The focus of the marketing effort is based on trying to understand the needs of healthcare consumers and their preferences so as to tailor needs that can meet their needs, satisfactorily. Consumers of healthcare services in this case may range from individual patients, corporate organizations wishing to buy healthcare covers and services for their employees or insurance firms wishing to chose a healthcare organization from which contract healthcare service provision for its policy holders. This diverse clientele requires an extensive analysis so as to come up with an all inclusive marketing strategy. According to Berkowitz (2006), the main goal of establishing a marketing strategy is to develop customer loyalty, whether dealing with individuals or companies.
However, the main concern in establishing healthcare marketing campaigns lies in determining how to establish loyalty. Consumer loyalty constitutes the totality of attitudes and dealings that incline a consumer to make a re-purchase of a certain service, product or re-visit a certain healthcare organization. Customer loyalty is important to the enhancement of a business’s profitability. The attained profitability results from low consumer acquisition costs because clients are retained. The loyal consumers are also likely to bring in more clients; repeat treatment also makes physicians’ work easy. Customers may prefer a loyal status to healthcare organizations so as to establish familiarity of services, physicians and follow up because this creates convenience for them-they do not have to make new contacts or re-explain their medical history.
One of the recognized ways of establishing loyalty is through the creation of a positive customer experience, and this experience can only be achieved through ensuring that customer satisfaction is attained. Consumer satisfaction can be termed as a measure which estimates how a service meets or surpasses the needs of client that purchases the product or service. The basics of marketing aim at meeting the clients’ needs. Subsequently, effective marketing should focus on understanding how a client/patient makes choices when selecting a doctor, product, health organization or healthcare plan. Failure to meet a client’s need may lead to lack of future re-purchases, and thus; consumer satisfaction plays a great role in enhancing future procurement. The future purchases that come as a result of a positive customer experience establish customer loyalty (Thomas, 2007).
In order to understand the preferences of consumers within the healthcare industry, it would be prudent to consider the customer decision-making process which is a key determinant of serviceand organization selection. The decision-making process of a customer in the healthcare industry can be divided into six stages. The first stage is problem recognition. In this stage a consumer realizes that there are shortcomings in the services that s/he receives-a perceived sense of disparities between what s/he gets compared to the actual sense of what s/he can get. For example if a patient often has to wait for several days before securing an appointment with his or her doctor; the patient may feel that there should be a place where s/he can access prompt services.
Take note that the client’s needs have not been met comprehensively, there may be quality in the services offered, but the service delivery is not prompt thus, resulting to customer dissatisfaction. This is followed by the second stage which is referred to as the internal search stage, in which the client seeks a solution to the perceived problem. At this stage the customer seeks alternative sources that s/he can remember or may have heard about. Failure of getting an internally held or known solution leads to the next stage referred to as the external search stage. At this third stage the clients seeks solution from external sources such as assessment reports, friends, family, colleagues and the media. The two search stages finally yield comparative results consisting of many choices.
The existent of a variety of choices prompts the consumer to make a choice, and this leads to the next step-alternative evaluation. At this stage the consumer assess all alternatives whilst considering various evaluation criteria-both tangible (e.g. cost) and intangible (e.g. ambience of facility). After evaluation, a choice is made and a purchase done. Thereafter, the consumer does a post-purchase evaluation considering his/her experience. This experience is actually what constitutes consumer satisfaction or dissatisfaction, and as such; it determines whether a future purchase will be forthcoming or not. The future purchases that come as a result of a positive customer experience establish customer loyalty. Thus, consumer loyalty is a product of consumer satisfaction (Fortenberry, 2010), as such one depends on the other and one cannot exist without the other.
Therefore, any marketing campaign should focus on establishing customer satisfaction not only as a marketing element, but also because this is an obligation set forth ethics within the healthcare industry-the healthcare practitioners and facilities are bound by the heath ethical code to prioritize the needs of their patients. Customer loyalty is not only preferred by medical practitioners and institutions, but also by the clientele of the industry. Consumers prefer using one service provider because of the resultant familiarity, fondness and bond that they establish with their physicians (Siegel & Lotenberg, 2007).
This saves them from regular and hectic decision-making based on evaluation of alternatives. It also spares them the agony and time consuming reiteration of their medical condition to new physicians. At times loyalty is also established due to factors of convenience such as choices of health facilities based on proximity and ease of access. In such instances the quality of service is less considered, but the choice and decision-making is based on the natural value created by nearness and ease of access.
Consumers also know that it is easier for familiar physicians to follow up on their medical conditions because they have been able to monitor it through time as they interact from its initial stages to the present time. This makes treatment easier and convenience is created through repetitive treatments that occur as a result of loyalty. Therefore, loyalty can be said to be a preferred choice for both parties, however; with more wait in terms of preference lying with the healthcare organization and medical practitioners (Thomas, 2007). However, it is important to notice that customers place satisfaction before loyalty (Mohan, 2006). Customers would like to first obtain quality services that satisfy their needs, and thereafter; establish loyalty so as to obtain the benefits that accrue from being loyal to one healthcare provider or physician. There is no consumer that may prefer to remain loyal to any healthcare provider for the sake of loyalty benefits if the quality of services does not meet their needs.
Consumer satisfaction is a precursor for consumer loyalty. Consumers often seek for high quality services through comparative shopping so as to obtain the highest possible value for their needs and money. Failure to obtain quality from procured healthcare services offered by organizations or physicians leads to no future or further procurement of the same services from the same providers. However, if the quality of the services is satisfactory clients will prefer to make future purchases from the same provider of quality services that satisfy their needs. The establishment of subsequent purchases builds loyalty, which both the consumer and service providers strive to maintain because of the earlier mentioned benefits that accrue from the maintenance of loyalty.
Berkowitz, E.N. (2006). Essentials of health care marketing. Jones & Bartlett Learning Publishers.
Fortenberry, J.L. (2010). Cases in Health Care Marketing. Jones & Bartlett Learning Publishers.
Mohan, G.K. (2006). Health Care Marketing. Discovery Publishing House.
Siegel, M., and Lotenberg, L.D. (2007). Marketing public health: Strategies to promote social change. Jones & Bartlett Learning Publishers.
Thomas, R.K. (2007). Health Services Marketing: A Practitioner's Guide. John Wiley & Sons Publishers.