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Controlling the Customer Experience is a Marketing Function

By Tim Sunderland, Gonzo Marketers.

This story is a part of a series of stories by members  of the American Marketing Association – Inland Empire.  For more information about AMA-IE, view their site.

You can market effectively with less money and more ingenuity—and make it impressive.

Last year, my youngest son broke his right leg.  It was not the worst break in the world, but he couldn’t drive, and walking was only possible with crutches. He had just gotten laid off his job and he had no health insurance.   The local emergency room put him in a soft cast and directed us to County Hospital—Arrowhead Regional Medical Center.  My wife and I drew straws and I got the short one.  Long lines, crowded waiting rooms and soulless county workers.  I was not excited.

But someone at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center has done their marketing homework.

The first experience was the crowded parking lot.  We found a space across the hospital campus—it was going to be a long walk.  I should have dropped the invalid off at the door, but I didn’t know which door.  My son said he could manage with his crutches.

I was no sooner out of the car when a cheerful security guard in a golf cart was there, offering us a ride.  He helped my son into the seat next to him and I hopped in back.  Minutes later he dropped us off at the entrance and gave us accurate directions to Orthopedics.  I was not yet in the hospital, and I was in a good mood.

Inside it was packed with people, but my cheerfulness persisted.  About the time it might have started to wear off, I met the waiting room concierge at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center.

This was not just any concierge either. This lady was right out of Central Casting—fortyish, Hispanic, with the nicest voice, the sweetest disposition and enough compassion for Mother Theresa and her twin.  It was impossible to get mad at her.

She came out on a regular basis to answer questions. When she talked to individual people she called them “honey” or “dear,” and she spoke as if you were the only one that mattered.  Later, she reappeared with water, juice and crackers.  She asked my son if he wanted her to pull a table over to elevate his foot.  He declined, but she did it anyway.  She offered him a blanket to rest his foot. Again he declined, and she said, in that sweet voice with those doe-eyes, “I’ll get one for you anyway, honey.”  If he had asked, I think she would have read him a story.

I wanted to plug in my laptop so I could get some work done.   “Absolutely, you can do that, dear.  Let’s find an outlet.”

My point is that Arrowhead Regional Medical Center realizes its true marketing challenge.  It’s not getting people in the front door.  The challenge lies in controlling the patient experience.  By making a few inexpensive personnel assignments, they took what I was expecting to be a torturous ordeal and turned it into a joy.

Often the most important marketing decision you can make for your business is selecting the person who answers the phone with a cheery voice and the ability to find you regardless of where you are hiding, or the shipping clerk who takes the

time to help a customer re-route an order.  These people are like gold.  You can have the snappiest advertising campaign in the world.  You can win awards for it.  But if the customer experience is not mind-blowing, the ads are wasted money.

These experiences also generate a great by-product—word of mouth.  I have told scores of people about my experience at Arrowhead.  I even came across someone who, when I described the concierge, knew exactly who I was talking about.  She had the same experience when she took her mother to Arrowhead a few months earlier.

After three hours, they decided to leave my son in the soft cast for a few days until they could get a lower extremities specialist to look at him.  Even with the knowledge that I had to come back, I wasn’t upset.  I enjoy nothing more than watching fine marketers at work.

Tim Sunderland is president of Gonzo Marketers, a strategic marketing firm in Upland.  He is a past board president of the American Marketing Association – Inland Empire and has held other roles with the chapter. Reach him at 909-920-4537, or email him at For more information about AMA-IE, please visit

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