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The Roles of the Chief Experience Officer

Anthony Cirillo Fast Forward Consulting 11 March 2014

Anthony Cirillo, US based healthcare consultant, argues that executive teams should have a Chief Experience Officer sitting at the top table


Back in 2007, I wrote an article entitled “The Chief Experience Officer (CXO).” The premise was simple. As a strategic marketing professional, I was exploring word of mouth marketing in all of its facets. I concluded that word of mouth marketing was fueled by the experiences people had with a brand. I innocently suggested that if experience was that crucial to the brand, then perhaps a hospital should have a Chief Experience Officer, a term I coined.

Following on from this, the marketing director for the Cleveland Clinic, whom I coincidentally met in Dubai, read the article, gave it to his CEO and it became one major impetus behind the Clinic hiring a Chief Experience Officer, one of the first to do so around late 2007. Today, there are a growing number of Chief Experience Officers helping to run hospitals in the US.

Every aspect of the organisation needs to be graded and rewarded based on delivering a great patient experience. Adding a Chief Experience Officer does not diminish this, but rather unifies it. Only with a Chief Experience Officer at the top of the organisation can you ensure that experience becomes and stays a top priority, and is consistent with how you promote and market your organisation. It has been shown that having a position at the top dedicated to patient experience improves performance in both patient engagement and patient feedback scores.

In speaking at the Cleveland Clinic’s patient experience conference, I outlined three roles for this position.

Chief Promise Keeper

Hospitals market something people do not want – going to hospital for treatment. We can’t issue a ‘Buy one stent get another free’ coupon! So what happens? We saturate the consumer with messages about the positive things they can expect from their healthcare provider. In the UK, promises about waiting times, patient choice and access to free specialist care are repeated in the media. Over time, expectations are set. So when the person becomes a patient and enters your hospital, the experience better match the promises. If not, your Family & Friends Test score will be worthless.

As Chief Promise Keeper, the CXO must ensure experiences are consistent across the organisation, even the marketing experience. Marketing, especially with social media, is about telling stories. And surfacing great patient stories is a haphazard event in most organisations. But when you have a position devoted to experience management you start setting a culture of storytelling.

Chief Healing Officer

In an earlier blog, I put forward the notion that healthcare workers are like firefighters – they experience trauma and are trying to save lives every day. But unlike firefighters, they do not have the community of the firehouse to grieve and celebrate before they can go home cleansed. Healthcare workers take it all home and that has consequences, which leads to quality issues.

As Chief Healing Officer, the CXO will ratchet up your Employee Assistance Program, institute policies like Code Lavender (where a support team is called to an emotional crisis, whether that involve a staff member, a patient or their family member) and assure that pastoral care is not on the chopping block as is so often the case.

The Point of Care Foundation’s recent report “Staff Care: How to Engage Staff in the NHS and Why It Matters” certainly brings home the need for the Chief Healing Officer and makes the case that we first must heal the healthcare worker before we can heal others.

Chief Context Setter

Despite the rhetoric, healthcare has not done a stellar job in improving experiences. Part of it is that we layer experience management on to someone’s role, and don’t permeate it into the culture. We spend more time charting than caring. Employees do not grasp their ultimate role as healers. We then try to map experiences and script people when we simply need to show them the way and let them figure it out.

As the Chief Context Setter, the CXO is an organisational leader who infuses patient experience into the culture. That manifests in the induction processes, orientation and elsewhere.
What’s next?

We must move from patient-centered to person-centered care. The place of care no longer matters most. It is about choice, dignity and respect in all settings. Across the entire patient pathway, experience must be consistently excellent and that include the non-clinical components.

Also lost in the shuffle is care for the caregiver.
Family caregivers who work full-time suffer from poorer physical health than their non-caregiving counterparts.

As care moves outside provider walls, so too should hospital leaders’ vision of what it means to offer truly person-centered care and experiences. It’s the human experience, after all, that we need to impact to make a difference.

Anthony Cirillo is President of Fast Forward Consulting, a healthcare consultancy based in the United States.