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A Tale of Two Cafes: Take-Away Service Lessons for Hospitals

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

"A Tale of Two Cafes by Chris Brogan" text above two identical animated cafes next to each otherEach week I look forward to Chris Brogan’s business advice email. You probably know his name; Chris is a respected author, consultant and speaker…and he knows marketing. His notes are insightful, conversational and they deliver solid, practical guidance. Without mentioning hospitals, medical practices or doctors, his recent note about a Tale of Two Local Cafes hits home with a powerful lesson for healthcare.

The contrast of two local businesses is an analogy-of-sorts for contemporary patient satisfaction in healthcare delivery. With Chris’ permission, here are some (slightly condensed) slices. He writes:

“The day before yesterday, Jacq and I walked into a local cafe in the Topanga Canyon to get a coffee before heading out to the beach. Let me bullet out for you how that went: 

There was a line. It’s okay. Small place, I think.

Everyone seemed to be waiting for their order. No one looked all that happy. (Less okay.)

Something smelled bad. Like a pickled old man or something. (Not okay.)

The young lady who ordered lemonade was shown a pre-filled cup about ¾ full and told: “This is all I have. Is this enough?”

The lady who appeared to own the cafe left in the midst of all this, even though the line was massive, putting the only remaining staff person (and all of us) in a bind. 

“So, we walked out. So much for local.

Just down the street, we pulled into the Cafe Mimosa. Oh. My. Gosh. Total opposite experience. There were people jovially talking over their food. It looked and smelled like a little French bakery.

“The owner, Claire Denis Cohn smiled like she was the Sun come to warm us. She told us about every pastry in her display. Each one had a story. And the coffee tasted so good that Jacq didn’t even sweeten hers (this has never happened in the last 2000 years).

She spoke to us, asked us questions, and invited us back again. It was a dream. We made plans in the driveway to go back again for coffee and maybe breakfast the next day (yesterday), and so we did!”

“Both Businesses Were Technically Identical”

You can probably see where I’m going with this. In the healthcare world, Chris Brogan’s story is hauntingly familiar. We’ve often written about good and bad patient experience—sometimes driving people into the arms of another hospital facility or competitive medical practice. In this illustration, both coffee shops were nearly the same, but...

“Place one smelled bad, couldn’t manage their lines, didn’t seem to be able to deliver the product on time or at all. The owner left in the middle of the rush.

“Place two was golden, decorated with whimsical and fun things, and smelled like a well cared for bakery or your grandmother’s kitchen. The owner was the heart and soul of the place.”

The really big, experiential difference was a matter of owner attitude.

“Inside the Cafe Mimosa, Claire focuses on one thing: serving the little community she nurtures," Chris writes: “Work on serving the people you can serve. Explore that. Make it better for them. Make it amazing for them. And deliver.

“Don’t worry about what you aren’t; worry about giving the best experience to your buyer. That’s where the money is. I promise.”

But—you protest—healthcare delivery isn’t serving coffee and cake…

Well...superficially that’s true. But this insightful analogy is about personal customer care. The alarming fact is that the healthcare industry has yet to emulate retail’s mastery of customer service excellence. Healthcare delivery systems seriously lag the retail, hospitality and service industries in treating prospects, patients—empowered consumers—as important, paying customers.

Patients are not an interruption. Patient satisfaction is linked to provider compensation. Patients judge providers by non-clinical considerations. And, significantly, patients are increasingly willing to change providers to find better service.

The imperative is to continue to close the service gap with retail.  From donuts to doctors, hospitals, medical groups and provider practices need to appreciate how customer experience drives business, revenue growth and brand loyalty.


A tip of our hat, and a kind Thank You, to Chris Brogan, strategist for modern business and CEO of Owner Media Group. Chris is a public speaker and New York Times bestselling author of nine books.

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