Satisfaction vs Experience

In our quests to improve how patients experience their time with us, it’s important to illustrate experience more - one way we can do this is by contrasting patient experience and patient satisfaction. To do this, we might consider real-world relatable fast-casual dining.

Recently, I happened to get a lunch break from work - I thought I’d rush home and enjoy it with my wife. But when I called her, she shared she was out running errands and happened to be in the area of my work. We agreed to meet at Panera. Upon arrival, we ordered and while waiting for our food, we found one of the available tables, but it was visibly dirty. I mentioned it to a host and she explained that they were quite busy, but she would get someone over to clean it… It did take some time; while waiting, the thought occurred to me “this would never happen at Chik-fil-A.” After some time, the table was wiped down, and we commenced to enjoying our poppyseed salad.

On another occasion, we ventured over to the Panera nearer to our home - the weather was amazing, so we opted to eat outside. After ordering salads, we received one of those vibration notifiers and found an available table outside. We sat and talked for a while, and finally it occurred to us that our food must be ready, although our device hadn’t given us a signal. Sure enough, there were two salads at the counter; one Southwest salad, and one poppyseed, just as we had ordered.

You might wonder why we go to Panera, given these nuisances. I mean who amongst us doesn’t expect to eat at a clean table in a reasonable amount of time? Haha, really if you think about it, Panera is kinda chaotic from the standpoint of waiting to receive your food, whether you’re eating there or taking it to go… But on the other hand, the attendants are always friendly, the food is good, and my wife and I do get to share some private moments in either the booths or at one of those cafe tables they have set up there. In other words, Panera falls short of our expectations on some important aspects of food delivery, leaving us dissatisfied about those specific points, but we keep going back, because we are indeed satisfied in other areas of getting food there and eating it. Overall, we walk away, having had a decent experience, as enough of our needs are met by way of our exchanges there. And we generally have a favorable opinion of Panera.

Even our kids like Panera. One of our daughters convinced us it would be a good idea to subscribe to Panera’s free coffee program - for $9 monthly, you can get coffee everyday and several times daily, if there’s one in your area. So we followed her lead, given it DOES seem like a good deal! As it turns out, we seem to benefit by going on weekends, given we already have a coffee routine, which works during weekdays. But during our most recent morning trip for coffee, the canisters for mild regular AND dark roasted were entirely empty. We stepped aside and mentioned it to the host and she very nicely responded that she would get more coffee brewing. While waiting there, we chuckled at the small stream of people, who came to get coffee from those empty canisters. Some would try the dark roast first, before shifting to the other empty container hoping for light roast, while others seemed to try the light roast first. “Misery loves company,” you’re probably thinking - it was amusing to see how different people responded incredulously to the nothingness, as they pulled on the toggles. Again, I shook my head, looking to Kalpana saying “this would never happen at Chik-fil-A.”

But again, Panera has nice choices, the attendants are nice, the coffee is adequate, the food is good, and one can easily dip in for intimate time with friends & family.

You’ll notice from our descriptions above, that whether or not we were satisfied has greatly to do with our expectations. And satisfaction generally refers to a particular, singular, one-dimensional aspect of a service or product. We made a deal with Panera to pay for subscription, anticipating & expecting to have all this wonderful coffee available.

Consumer experience, however has to do with consumer satisfaction. If Panera didn’t offer delightful dishes in a friendly atmosphere or a place to enjoy one another’s company, we probably wouldn’t enjoy the overall experience and would not want to return. And experience is certainly more all-encompassing and refers to deeper emotional human needs, as compared to the superficial variables around which we form expectations and whether or not we are satisfied about them.

So as we go about improving patient experience and developing programs around it, it makes sense to start addressing those critical areas around which patients have intense expectations and then aim to meet - and then outpace them. We must address the time it takes for patients to be seen by a professional and receive usable information about concerns chiefest to them. Furthermore, we must meet the challenge provided by each patient to understand, not only each patient’s concern, but also how she perceives its impact on her life, as we go about developing diagnostic and care plans.

And finally, as we go about making enhancements, we will need to design our surveys and patient satisfaction feedback mechanisms (formal & informal) around the areas in which patients place great stake.
A great patient experience happens most commonly by way of addressing patient satisfaction, and then by addressing deeper emotional needs, some common and others unique to each individual.