5 Extreme Customer Experience Lessons Every Parent Can Relate To

I can’t believe the world is over-populated considering how hard it is to bring a human into this world. Or at least as I limped out of the hospital on that bright September day this was the thought that kept going through my mind. Even with advances in modern medicine, labor is no picnic. Despite the agonizing pain of labor, I had one of the best customer experiences I’ve ever had over my three night hospital stay at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley. I’ve written in that past that industries that are tough require more from the companies that operate within them. Working with women in labor is tough.

My birth story was like many others — it was fraught with unexpected complications. It was more painful than I could have ever anticipated.

The only prior experience I’d had with labor was what I saw on feel good romantic comedies. The woman is stuck in a taxi heaving as she and her husband/romantic interest/single best friend frantically make their way in traffic to the hospital — yelling at the cab driver all the way. In reality most labors don’t happen like this.

I found myself in extreme pain with pre-labor contractions so bad I couldn’t take it any more. I beckoned my husband from the other room where he was working, left my mom home with our dogs and drove to the hospital hoping I wouldn’t be sent home. The worst thing for an overdue pregnant woman is to go to the hospital and have the doctor send you home because there aren’t enough signs labor will ensue shortly. I arrived at the hospital unnerved. Every ten minutes I was having painful contractions that would stop be in my tracks. My whole body felt like it was being struck by lightening. Little did I know it would be a long journey to bring little Naomi into the world.

The first nurse I met at the hospital was an upbeat, can-do and compassionate Norwegian nurse with designer glasses and a short blond haircut. I could tell she was no rookie. In the first few minutes I knew I was in highly capable hands. That and she clearly cared about what I was going through. The first on-call doctor who came in to evaluate me was the same. She was earthy, approachable and warm. She reminded me of a friend’s mom. With the terror of being sent home in the back of my mind–she allayed my fears by giving me options. I never thought I would have options! I asked her if she was in my shoes decision she would make — and she gave me her advice. I was relieved it seemed to be the one that would be the least painful and least arduous for me. My husband and I were nervous but ready. We were taken to a birth room that would be ours and we were shocked because it was huge — like an apartment. It had its own bathroom and shower. It had a mini fridge, a tv and a couch where my husband could sleep next to me. We unpacked and prepared for the next chapter in this process — the one we had been preparing for over a period of ten months. The first nurse who led us to our room, ran tests and debriefed us on the labor process. She gave me “mom to mom” advice about labor. I was happy to talk to another person who had been through what I was about to go through. In fact all of the nurses that I would work with over the next three nights and four days were women — they knew what I was going through, most of them having already gone through it themselves.

Let me preface this story by first encouraging you to call your mom and thank her because what she went through was hell. No matter if she annoys you, or didn’t do a perfect job of raising you — say thank you. Her experience was painful. It was hard. It was scary. And despite all that she got you here.

While I consider myself someone who has a high pain threshold — none of the experiences I’ve had, including running a full marathon on San Francisco’s hills, was as hard as this one. That said, my experience at Alta Bates Medical Center in Berkeley was so positive that I felt nostalgic when it was over. I never thought I would be sad to leave the hospital. In fact before I went into labor I was already trying to find ways to not have to stay overnight even one night in the hospital. As if that were ever an option.

But even after four days I missed the comfort of the nurses–of having essentially an entire building of people who take care of you as if you were their daughter. My customer experience had nothing to do with fancy medical technology or the most beautiful and pristine hospital room. It certainly wasn’t the hospital food. In fact the experience was far from perfect. There were mistakes made by the staff. But any mistake was erased from my memory because of the many positive experiences I had.

Before my labor I had never stayed in a hospital overnight. I had never been hospitalized at all. Health is such a personal thing. I have never felt so physically vulnerable in my entire life. I have never incurred that much pain in my life. The night I gave birth I couldn’t walk. I was wheeled to see my baby in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) in a wheelchair. If there was ever a compassionate army of employees that cared for their patients it was at Alta Bates Berkeley. The things the nursing staff will do for you after your labor are things you would never want to ask another human being to do for you — but you have no choice. You are a mess.

So after the elation and trauma of birth started to wear off, I opened my eyes and looked more closely at the hospital. I thought about what made the customer experience so powerful, even at what was the hardest thing in my life–giving birth. That said here’s a close look at the customer experience offered by the labor department at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center and what we can learn from them. In the comments section I would love to hear your own birth story, and how you were treated by the healthcare staff where you gave birth.

Five Customer Experience Lessons From My Birth And Labor Experience At Alta Bates Berkeley

1. Culture Of Continuous Improvement

My experience wasn’t perfect. It was very overall good — but there were problems just like in any experience where there’s a chance for human error. Most problems that arise in customer experience stem from communication problems, and that’s exactly what happened with my labor team. In fact I asked for one nurse that I thought was very negative to be removed. And she was. That said after I had given birth and I was walking around the post-labor floor a man approached me and introduced himself. He was the Labor Department Manager of Alta Bates. He said he’d heard there was a problem with my experience and could I provide feedback about what had happened. I was surprised that my experience was communicated back to administration that quickly. He seemed genuinely concerned. He told me he was looking to place the nurse I had issue with in another role rather than labor, and I wasn’t the first person to raise a red flag about her. He was very professional and he seemed genuinely concerned about my experience. I was glad to provide feedback and also happy I had the chance to give glowing reviews about other high performing staff. This included the main nurse who was helping me through my four-hour labor. I joked to the manager that this nurse would eventually be running the entire department — I said she should get a promotion. We parted ways but before the manager gave me his card and encouraged me to send him more feedback. It made me feel special that he wanted to hear my experience.

This culture of excellence and improvement is everywhere. It’s not just clear from the communication style of staff, it’s literally the writing on the wall at the hospital. In the NICU (the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) the walls are covered with scorecards and internal metrics used to improve the hospital efficiency and operations. I was surprised to see everything transparent for any passerby to see. The wall had a large monthly scorecard focused on the following: service (compassionate care to all customers), people (hire and retain the best people), quality (continuous pursuit of quality), finance (optimizing reimbursement of services and improving operational efficiency), growth (achieve in service volumes and market share) and community (we serve diverse populations within our communities each with varying needs and concerns). Their areas of focuses are: people development, strategy deployment, daily engagement system, value stream management and lean transformation infrastructure. Everything is described on the wall to explain the scores, the daily status of the activity they’re trying to do, barriers that prevent the completion of daily tasks and more. The service levels are posted on the wall as well. Another scorecard details the nurse communication in the NICU. There’s a place on the wall for improvement suggestions from customers and from staff. Any patient or customer can easily see. This is a culture of continuous improvement, one that’s not arrogant but rather humble.

2. Employees Are Empowered To Make Decisions

Breaks for hospital staff are important, particularly for nursing staff working 12-hour shifts. I had one particularly memorable nurse who was working with me. When I met her I remember thinking “wow she is so young. I hope she knows what she’s doing.” She coached me through many hours of labor. She had the most positive attitude I had witnessed. My labor went for four hours and the baby was stuck. Her heart rate had shot up to 190 and I had a fever above 102. I was having trouble because I had a pinched nerve in my back. Every time I had to lift my shoulders and neck I was in excruciating pain. The nurse helped come up with alternatives. 3 hours in this particular nurse was scheduled to go on her dinner break. But I was vulnerable and scared and I had bonded with the nurse who was helping me. I looked at her with teary eyes and said, “where are you going? Please don’t leave!” If healthcare employees don’t take breaks the hospital I assume can get in trouble — because of labor laws. But at that moment she made a decision out of compassion to stay with me and skip her dinner. She ended up staying with me from 3:30pm until after 8:30pm when my baby was born.

3. Expectations Are Set Early

When I got home from the hospital I emptied my suitcases and my many bags of goodies. Within these bags I found a packet given to me from the hospital. In the packet was a paper outlining expectations. The document outlined the expectations of the patient and that of the hospital. When values and rules are written down and expressed to the customer, there’s less room for breakdowns in communication. It’s better to over-communicate than not communicate at all. Another example is in very room whether it was my labor room, the post-labor room or my baby’s room in the NICU had a white board on it with the date, my name, my room phone number, the name of my nurse, the nurse manager, the phone numbers my pain level, any medications, and goals or plans for the day and additional discharge date. You can call a nurse anytime and they help you with absolutely anything. It’s the culture of “we will gladly help you any day or time with anything, no matter how embarrassing.” The lack of shame from the hospital staff about helping through labor with absolutely anything helps the women who are in labor deal with their own embarrassment about their body. This is the expectation set when you go into the hospital. They are there to help you manage what will most likely be an incredibly painful experience. There’s no hiding it.

4. Things Are Made Easier For The Customer

A few days before I was due the hospital called and gave me the option to pay via phone. I was delighted. Of course who would want to deal with a financial transaction during such a time? Not me! I gave them the $290 dollars on my credit card — and confirmed my insurance provider’s information. I was relieved to have this over with — only having to worry about the actual labor process while in the hospital’s care. Another example of making things easy for the customer is the way the hospital approaches security of your baby. They are very careful about who is allowed into the places where they keep babies for observation. Even if you are on staff at the hospital you have to wear a special badge to go into the NICU. With so many stories in the past of crazy people stealing babies from hospitals I was relieved that they had so many checks and balances to keep the baby you just worked so hard to create, safe. In fact when you leave the hospital a nurse on staff must walk the baby out with you to your car. Baby safety is no joke, and this makes it easier for the patient — taking any worry out of the equation.

5. Extra Personal Touch Is Part of Everyone’s Job

The Norwegian nurse I mentioned at the beginning of this story–the first healthcare staff person I interacted with during my stay–I won’t ever forget. She was competent and caring and nurturing–all the things you want from someone who is tending to you when you are scared out of your mind. She gave my husband and me some extra advice, at the risk of oversharing. She said she recommended that we did not have parents in the room for the labor. While I already had decided I only wanted my husband in the room with me, I was touched that she risked me taking her advice the wrong way to deliver information that would ultimately make my labor less stressful. I believe variation like this–when staff tell you things that are not written in any hospital pamphlet–I believe it’s an example of how staff like their employer. I believe it’s an example of how everyone seems to take ownership over their role, and the customer experience provided. You can’t force this type of ownership. It comes from staff feeling comfortable, happy and valued at work. It makes sense. When I’m personally in a good mood and I feel rested and all my needs are met, I have much energy to spend on people. It’s up to the employer to create a culture that takes care of employees so they have this energy. The more the company takes care of its employees, the more likely it is that those employees will take care of their customers.

So how can a painful, harrowing experience like labor be one of the best experiences I’ve had in my life?

The industries that serve the customers that are in the most need have the opportunity to create the most memorable customer experiences. Every day the people who work in hospitals show up to work not knowing if they will have a life or death situation on their hands.

While I was waiting for my husband to take our suitcases to the car a nurse shared her own tragedy with me. At this time she wasn’t a nurse yet. Many years ago she gave birth to a stillborn. Back in those days hospitals weren’t as patient focused. They gave this nurse one hour to say goodbye to her baby in a stuffy room full of staff who stared at her. She had no privacy — she had no time to grieve. There was no humanity in her experience. In contrast today her employer Alta Bates brings absolute professionalism to all of the patient experience. Today we’re smarter about how to care for people who are in vulnerable states.

In conclusion today we’re facing problems in the healthcare industry — but this customer experience for me was a reminder that no matter what’s happening at the top ranks of these companies — with Obama care or EpiPen or anything else–important stuff is happening within hospital walls. It’s the human element that matters more than any regulation or technology. Every day I think about the hospital staff at Alta Bates, and I wish I could give every one of them a hug. I’ve never felt that way about any customer experience ever. What if every experience were as memorable as the one I’ve described? What would that mean for your business?

For more customer experience content, sign up for Blake Morgan’s weekly newsletter.