Alvi Dental Hospital- Brand Valuation
‘I went to Alvi dental hospital along with a colleague. We went there because we heard Dr. Arif Alvi was one of the best dentists in the city. As such I was expecting a pleasant experience but I was definitely disappointed on that count’, narrates a senior research executive at one of the leading research firms of Pakistan.
‘In spite of the fact that we had an appointment, we were kept waiting for 45 minutes. Then Dr. Arif Alvi sauntered in, stayed for less than 5 minutes with us and then was gone just like that. During that brief five minutes, he refused to answer most of the questions, questions that are typical and a patient would expect to ask, especially from such a renowned specialist’.
‘I asked him about the gap between my teeth which was the purpose of my visit while my colleague was there for the scaling. Instead of focusing on that, he after a brief examination instructed both of us to get an X-ray to confirm whether we needed a scaling process. I again asked him about the gap, which he refused to answer. He said that would be explained afterwards.’
‘And then he was gone. The whole process took less than five minutes.’
‘We went for the X-ray which took about 20-25 minutes, came back to the doctor’s room and were again kept waiting for another 30 minutes before the esteemed doctor ambled into the room to announce his verdict.’
‘Our appointment was at 3.00 pm. We finally departed at 5.30 pm in spite of the fact that there were only a handful of patients.’
‘The bill – Rs.1,000 for the doctor’s precious minutes, and another Rs.1,000 for the X-Ray’.
‘I was expecting better treatment than this’, concluded the disillusioned executive.
What does this story tell us? The renowned doctor is too busy to give much time to each individual patient. In fact he doesn’t even have the time to perform many of the procedures on his patients.
Is that a bad thing? On the face of it, no. The same complaints have been heard from patients desirous of getting treated by Dr. Shah of the A.O Clinic fame. In fact, the more famous a doctor or any professional in the service industry gets, he’s going to face the same problem. You hire and train people as best as possible to reflect the same service as imparted by you.
Here’s a bit of a revelation from Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, rated as one of the Top 10 Marketing Books of all time by AdAge:
‘Believe it or not, the risk of being sued for malpractice has very little to do with how many mistakes a doctor makes. Analyses of malpractice lawsuits show that there are highly skilled doctors who get sued a lot and doctors who make lots of mistakes and never get sued. At the same time, the overwhelming number of people who suffer an injury due to negligence of a doctor never file a malpractice suit at all. In other words, patients don’t file lawsuits because they’ve been harmed by shoddy medical care. Patients file lawsuits because they’ve been harmed by shoddy medical care and something else happens to them.
What is that something else? It’s how they were treated, on a personal level, by their doctor. What comes up again and again in malpractice cases is that patients say they were rushed or ignored or treated poorly. ‘People just don’t sue doctors they like,” is how Alice Burkin, a leading medical malpractice lawyer, puts it. “In all the years I’ve been in this business, I’ve never had a potential client walk in and say, ‘I really like this doctor, and I feel terrible about doing it, but I want to sue him.’ We’ve had people come in saying they want to sue some specialist, and we’ll say, ‘We don’t think that doctor was negligent. We think it’s your primary care doctor who was at fault.’ And the client will say, ‘I don’t care what she did. I love her, and I’m not suing her.’
Burkin once had a client who had a breast tumor that wasn’t spotted until it had metastasized, and she wanted to sue her internist for the delayed diagnosis. In fact, it was her radiologist who was potentially at fault. But the client was adamant. She wanted to sue the internist. “In our first meeting, she told me she hated this doctor because she never took the time to talk to her and never asked about her other symptoms,” Burkin said. “ ‘She never looked at me as a whole person,’ the patient told us…. When a patient has a bad medical result, the doctor has to take the time to explain what happened, and to answer the patient’s questions – to treat him like a human being. The doctors who don’t are the ones who get sued.”
Recently the medical researcher Wendy Levinson recorded hundreds of conversations between a group of physicians and their patients. Roughly half of the doctors had never been sued. The other half had been sued at least twice, and Levinson found that just on the basis of those conversations, she could find clear differences between the two groups. The surgeons who had never been sued spent more than three minutes longer with each patient than those who had been sued did (18.3 minutes versus 15 minutes).’
Now this tells us that the day lawsuits become the trend in this part of the world, the service industry professionals here, especially the doctors are going to have a huge dent in their bank account.
So what could Dr. Arif Alvi have done to make the experience better for these two patients? One option is that he could have avoided seeing these two people altogether, the premise being, if he didn’t interact with them, they wouldn’t have a story to tell about him now, isn’t it?
The other option is, he ought to have given more time to them, answering their queries as best as possible. This simple gesture would have made all the difference in the world.
In this case, the difference would have been that these two people would have gone ahead and got the scaling done at Alvi Dental Hospital in spite of the fact that the rates charged- Rs. 5,000(scaling)+Rs.1,000 (consultant fees)Rs. 1,000(X-ray)= Rs.7,000 is way above the market rate of Rs.2,000-3,000. Consumers usually ignore the premium pricing if they perceive the service they are getting to be up to the mark.
It’s really as simple as that. And this applies to not only these two patients but any patient who spends his time and money to visit the learned doctor.
But would the testimonial of these two customers snowball into a terribly negative publicity hurting the business? Very unlikely. Competent people in our part of the world are rarely affected adversely if they are not good at people skills. Their counterparts in the Western World are not so fortunate.
Although the chances of such a thing happening are pretty slim, it does show you that you don’t need the thrills and frills of branding to differentiate your offering. All you need to do is stay competent just enough and overly nice. The being nice part is going to be the differentiating factor since this is the one thing seriously lacking in our service industry. Stick to just these two basics, and over a period of time, you would have carved out a niche brand for yourself backed by word-of-mouth. Remember you don’t need to be the best in your field or the president of your industry’s association to attain this position.
So if at any point in time Dr. Arif Alvi finds his customer base shrinking, all he needs to do is turn on a disarming smile, spend more than his quota of five minutes actively listening to his patients and answering their queries, and the rest will be taken care of by a positive word-of-mouth by the charmed patients who may just happen to become his lifelong customers, thereby increasing the CLV (Customer Lifetime Value).
But does Dr. Alvi encompass the entire brand equity of Alvi Dental Hospital? While that’s not possible, but he being a renowned specialist does provide the crux of the brand power to this hospital. Even these two disgruntled patients were motivated to visit the hospital because of him as opposed to any brand distinction of the hospital itself. So yes, he does personify the brand essence of the hospital to a large degree and anything he does or doesn’t do has a large bearing on the brand image.
I thank you for all the effort of analysing our shortcomings. The complaint and analysis, though it came to our attention only recently, is a learning experience and tells us to stay on our toes always as good reputations are not built in a day but can be destroyed quickly. I wish such an input was more frequent. We do have a complaint form which gets hidden and some people are reluctant to fill that, but I think it could be made more accessible, allowing for incognito inputs even through our website.
Listening is half of the healing, and I should remind myself regularly. We must make patients wait less. will try to do better. At present we are trying to establish ISO routines for quality control. But nothing beats a sympathetic doctor.
Thanks a lot, and apologies to the two patients we disappointed. I wish I could say that to all others in life, but such opportunities are scarce indeed.
Dr Arif Alvi