Do You Call Your Clients Customers, Guests or Patients?

Words are more than just representation of how we think. They also shape how we think.

I was delivering training last week and one of the managers noticed that I used the word “guest” when describing one of their customers. He asked me why I used that distinction.

Many years ago I read a book called “If Disney Ran Your Hospital” and it’s been a resource I’ve drawn on since. Disney also insists that the words it uses matter. Disney consciously calls its staff “cast members,” thus assigning even janitors or fast-food servers a “role” in the show. Visitors are “guests,” not customers.

Disney’s customer service ethos boils down to one key concept: Exceed guests’ expectations. There’s a reason that Disney is known as The Happiest Place On Earth and we would do well to take a leaf out of their book by dazzling and delighting customers in every way possible.

Making the customer feel happy

Other Disney tips include making sure that each member of staff knows what is expected of them and is accountable – one negative encounter could ruin the customer’s experience, no matter how many other positive interactions they had that day.

There is also a lot of emphasis put on listening to the customer and only helping them after you have listened to what they have to say

Walt Disney’s core belief was that by making his guests happy and providing a quality service, the money would come naturally. Money was therefore never the main aim in the Disney experience but rather that the customers always come first with the trust that if they have a quality experience, it would be rewarded later.

The patient/customer title debate in healthcare has been raging for years. Many people have historically seen those that health care services serve as patients. As healthcare has become more commercialised, managers have introduced the term “customer” into the healthcare lexicon.

And it isn’t just managers that have championed the use of the term.

Patients too, as they have become more informed and begin seeing healthcare in the same light they might see any business that services customers, have taken the label on as a means to getting the kind of treatment they might expect from commercial enterprises – especially in private healthcare.

While I don’t always use it, I like Disney’s term the best.

People in customer service positions often have very different views about how to treat customers, but most people know instinctively how they’d treat a new guest in their home.

If we could extend the same level of hospitality to our customers as we do for guests visiting us at home, we may find it may not only change the way they respond to us, but also how we feel about hosting them.