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Valuable Marketing Lessons Doctors Can Learn from Nordstrom

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

nordstrom store frontFor the sake of a convenient label, let’s call it the Nordstrom Syndrome. Doctors of various professional disciplines come to me, with some regularity, exhibiting symptoms of this (marketing) condition, and they want my business advice.

It’s the first of two valuable marketing lessons that doctors can learn from retail stalwart Nordstrom.

Lesson One…

Physicians will shape their questions in various ways, but what they want to know is how they can improve their case size and/or change their patient mix to produce more revenue. In short, they want be an “upscale” provider in healthcare, much as Nordstrom is a luxury retailer in the department store world.

By the way, questions of the “Nordstrom” sort are often—but not exclusively—from fee-for-service practices. In one form or another it comes to us from various disciplines and provider situations. Marketing for an upscale audience may or may not be the appropriate course for everyone, but generally there’s nothing wrong with higher-end objectives. It's not the goal, problem is what they say next.

Most of the time the doctor looking for marketing advice attaches an important caveat. They want to keep their current—and not-so-upscale—patient base. Their present mix of business doesn’t include the work they like to do, or it’s routine, or the reimbursement is sliding downhill…but, nevertheless, it’s what they do and they want to hold on tight. Or they want to continue do anything/everything for everyone. So the first lesson is about attitude and expectations:

If you want to be Nordstrom, you have to be OK with letting the Dollar Store shoppers go elsewhere.

Before there's a marketing solution, there's a matter of focus and risk-tolerance. Practitioners and health care practices that want an upscale clientele need to cater to the needs and interests of that audience group. Plus they need to recognize that “price-shopper” and “bargain bulletin” clientele will not be attracted, not hear your message, and/or will shop elsewhere.

As the old saying goes: “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” You can’t have it both ways. In business, physicians tend to be risk-adverse, and “losing sight of the shore” may mean stepping outside of your comfort zone in order to achieve larger rewards.

Lesson Two…

In the foregoing story, Nordstrom—the fashionable retailer—serves as an analogy for wanting to attract an upscale audience. But, as it happens, Nordstrom is more than a convenient comparison. The company is over 100 years old and one of the nation’s largest department store chains.

The fabled Nordstrom Employee Handbook has a lot to do with success. You may or may not have heard this tale, but it’s made the rounds in the retail business world. Filed under the Nordstrom name, there’s a valuable lesson for healthcare, marketing and patient satisfaction.

It seems that for many years, Nordstrom’s Employee Handbook was a single card with these 75 words:

Welcome to Nordstrom

We’re glad to have you with our Company.

Our number one goal is to provide

outstanding customer service.

Set both your personal and professional goals high.

We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them.

Nordstrom Rules:

Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations.

There will be no additional rules.

Please feel free to ask your department manager,

store manager, or division general manager

any question at any time.

“Rule #1” provides insight that transfers to delivering health care in ways that contribute to the patient experience and satisfaction.

  • The company “hires right;” employees are self-reliant and customer oriented;
  • Employees are motivated and empowered to apply good judgment;
  • Customers and delivering exceptional customer service are the center of the culture;
  • Employees are trusted to make decisions and handle “situations” with good judgment;
  • Employees are personally vested in finding a positive outcome, a memorable customer experience

No doubt many things contribute to employee training and the sustainability of a successful brand. Nevertheless, Nordstrom’s business success is due in large part to its culture of excellence in customer service.

For more on this topic, read:

Author: Stewart Gandolf, MBA

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