I recently had the opportunity to interview Bret Gallaway, SVP of Communications and Marketing at Trinity Health, on the relationship between the customer and employee experience. Before joining the healthcare industry, Bret worked at USAA. When he joined Trinity Health back in 2012, it was a $9 billion organization with 55,000 employees. Six years later, and it’s now an $18 billion company with 133,000 employees.

If there’s one thing that tells me, it’s that you definitely want Bret on your team.

Ok, so maybe there’s a bit more correlation there than causality! But certainly as CCO, he’s had the opportunity to use Communications programs to influence how the employees of the firm have ensured that Trinity Health’s both organic and strategic growth has been a win for their patients, customer and communities.

Here’s a look at our wide-ranging conversation:

Q: At Trinity Health, do you see a correlation between the customer’s experience and an employee’s experience?

Bret: In a word, yes. Our mission is to be a transforming and healing presence in the communities that we serve. Trying to help people in the hospital, clinic, at home or at a continuing care facility, but also helping people in the community to be healthier and happier. In many ways, the customer experience reflects how organizations engage with their colleagues. The experience we provide colleagues, how we communicate with and engage with them – all set the tone and expectation for the way colleagues interact with the people we serve. A colleague’s experience is almost like a mirror to the experience we want to provide customers, and communication reinforces that.

Q: When you think of employees, who falls into that? And as somebody looking out for communications in the organization, how do you intersect with them?

Bret: First of all, we are colleagues. We refer to one another as colleagues rather than employees. That’s where we generally start here at Trinity Health. When we look at colleagues, we look at helping people take care of the people we serve, take care of each other, and take care of themselves. From a communications standpoint, sometimes it’s complex, and sometimes it’s very simple, not easy, but simple in terms of communications. There are tangible goals we can target to a certain hospital, floor or patient room. We identify the core problem, people affected, and target them with very specific communications such as huddle notes, floor conversations or a whole hospital meeting.

Ethan: One thing to do is target by physical location, surely within a hospital there are known activities that happen in specific spaces. But the nature of the people you’re communicating with is different; therefore, they’re motivated differently.

Bret: There are very different people and very different approaches in communications. When I worked at USAA, the vast majority of people looked at computers every day, so the intranet was the most necessary source. While in a hospital, most of our colleagues aren’t sitting at a computer all day long. At least half are nurses and others who are on their feet all day. There may be kiosks near the rooms, but it’s hard to capture them in the moment.

The intranet has to be well organized so they can get to the information they need quickly. However, we rely heavily on leadership conversations, huddles, and interactions with other colleagues.

Another very important part of our communications and messaging relates to our mission and the importance of our mission. Many of our people say they work here and stay here because of our mission, and because of who we are. We feel our responsibility is creating healthier communities. We’re trying to find that same connection in the community and we’re using more digital means to do that, and that’s the same with our own colleagues.

Q: What is an example of where your communications team has been able to approach/influence a patient experience by shaping or contributing to the colleague experience?

Bret: We had a safety campaign for our colleagues to bring awareness to the issue of injuries related to lifting patients. Our regional communications teams did the bulk of the work. Together, we gave frontline teams a list of specific things they could do more carefully to prevent injury. After sharing this series of relatively simple tips, we improved our safety scores significantly. The great part is as we watched those scores improve, our colleagues were happier. We’re safer, we’re happier. Today, those techniques are just the quotidian way we operate around here. That’s a very specific example of a campaign we took a lot of pride in and that made a significantly better experience for both our colleagues and patients.

Ethan: That is a great example of how tightly bound employee communications is to the customer experience. Some people say values can be hokey, but I think what you just showed me is a place where you can operationalize those values in a high-impact way.

Q: What skills and/or tools do organizations need in order to excel at both customer and employee experience?

Bret: I’d say there are a few. One is listening. Find out what people care about and what excites them. It’s not just about individual listening in conversation that’s important. It’s also about listening and looking at the community. What are they looking at? What’re they not looking at? What’re the trends that are happening? What’re the trends you want to change?

The second would be inspiration. We have a purpose statement for our communications team: We lead innovative strategies that inspire our communities to connect with Trinity Health and advance our mission. When we put that statement together it wasn’t about “we explain,” it was “we inspire.” To me, inspire is right in the center of that mission statement. Our colleagues are literally saving lives every day, and there are not many industries that can say that. And that’s inspiring to people. You inspire people with emotion.

Ethan: Behaviors change for a lot of reasons, but a lasting change in someone’s behavior is going to be initiated through some kind of inspiration.

Bret: Every industry has inspiration. There’s one more skill I’d say is necessary to excel at both customer and employee experience, and that’s making it easy for people to share their stories.

Q: When dealing with employees and customers in multiple locations, how can you ensure the experience is above average across the board? How do you as the leader of a communications team instill an appetite to keep going even with all of the complexity?

Bret: That’s really the crux of our entire national model. Truly taking advantage of the scope and scale of our work system and establishing the Trinity Health experience that is consistently exceptional across the board, no matter where you are.

That, right there, is one of the hardest things about our job. Not just for me, but for our national team of 133,000. There always seems to be something that pulls us away – like the day-to-day communications we are trying to deal with (like executive changes, a crisis situation, or preparing for major events and presentations). It’s hard to find a way to carve out time to have storytelling sessions. At Trinity Health, we now have storytelling sessions dedicated to hearing individuals’ experiences. It’s still new, and we’re trying to get it out of first gear.

Q: How are you enabling people to safely share these incredible interactions between colleagues and patients?

Bret: One of our approaches is partnering with our compliance team. Rather than writing these stories and then sending it to the compliance team to get their thoughts, we brought them in early. We say we want to tell more stories and that we want to work together on how we can do this. They’re a part of the process, and they get excited about publishing the story. It’s ‘Collaboration 101,’ but it’s effective and it’s more fun.

Again, it’s everybody, not just Communications people. We’re in this business because we appreciate our mission, and the same goes for our compliance team.

Q: In your opinion, what is the biggest difference between a customer’s and an employee’s experience?

Bret: In health care, colleagues really want to be there and enjoy going to work to care for others. But, in many cases, the customer/the patient does not want to be in the hospital or the clinic. Or maybe they don’t want to take time for a visit at their home. Maybe they’re not excited about seeing the doctor or getting the operation. That is a big difference. The patient is excited about the result (you know, getting healthier), but actually taking the time and effort to go through that care experience is not something folks always look forward to.

So, knowing that, we look at what we can do to make the experience as simple, as easy, and as pleasant as possible for the patient and the families we serve. We are making improvements every day, and our colleagues are the key to achieving that experience.

Ethan McCarty is the CEO of Integral Communications Group, a consultancy that enables organizations large and small to engage, inspire and activate employees on behalf of their employers. Follow Ethan on Twitter at @ethanmcc and connect with the Integral team at integralcomms.com.

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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