NHS Marketing communications - Becoming customer focused?

Consultancy

Understanding an organisation such as the NHS is a complex business. Many reviews have focused on trying to identify and articulate what the NHS is and what it stands for. The problem is with the number of stakeholders and the historical baggage of the organisation.

The NHS is the largest consumer of UK GDP revenues and is growing year on year. Whilst the organisation is deemed to be essential to many individuals within the UK community (if not synonymous with the British culture), it is also coming under severe scrutiny, with its long-term sustainability being called into question. Even before the current economic crisis, it was well recognised that the investment and proportionate growth of UK resources consumed by the NHS was, in the long-term, unsustainable. There are many who would call for a radical reform of the NHS and the next few years will undoubtedly see a more austere outlook for the organisation. The long-term plan, and the strategic thinking which defines what and how the NHS will be run in the future, remains unanswered. A recent article, which we re-tweeted through Twitter, suggested a new focus for the NHS communications team, providing a more ‘customer’ focused message.

The issue of defining exactly what this means is as complex as determining what the NHS itself is. The customer is wide ranging, but if for the purposes of this article we determine this to be the patient or the service user, we can create more focus and identify potential threats and distinct opportunities that the NHS and local PCT can take advantage of. It is clear that local PCT will need to radically rethink the way they deliver their services to what is essentially, an ever-changing community. Local communities tend to be more dynamic now than at any time in our history and coupled with the changing trends and expectations in consumer behaviour, we have a complex and dynamic issue for large organisations such as the NHS to confront.

Although there will be no single ‘silver bullet’ to this problem, understanding the dynamics of the consumer and how they interact with an organisational brand is becoming increasingly important in determining how the NHS will deliver its services in the future. The use of integrated technologies and the continuing underlying trend of convergence means that businesses are getting closer (through data capture, profiling and insight) to their customer base than ever before. The successful companies of today are joining up their corporate strategies with customer insight and accurately predicting future trends, behaviours and customer expectations. Those companies and organisations that can adapt and embrace these challenges prosper, even in the most difficult of times. Those organisations that do not or cannot develop this kind of strategic thinking become increasingly irrelevant. I believe that the NHS and local PCTs can take advantage of the new technologies that are emerging, in order for them to enhance the customer experience whilst reducing administrative and managerial costs, preserving front line capability and providing more resources to the customer.

Through understanding the way consumer behaviours are changing, we can apply our commercial thinking to providing a better experience for the NHS customer.  Just as no single local community is exactly the same, nor will the problems/potential opportunities be the same for each of the UK’s many PCTs, through enhanced strategic partnering with commercial companies, there lies the potential to provide innovation and reform at an affordable price. This article was written to encourage and engage debate, we welcome your views and comments.

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