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The Zappos approach to patient experience

October 5th, 2011

by Anthony Cirillo

I had the privilege of hearing Tony Hsieh, CEO of online shoe retailer Zappos speak at the American Health Care Association (AHCA) annual conference in Las Vegas last month. It is no wonder he is a billionaire.

Zappos is noted for their incredible culture. It is not only an organization that hires for fit but also one that delivers superior customer service because of it. In terms of the former, stories abound. But there is one test that every employee has to master--the van driver test. You see, the hiring manager circles back with the shuttle driver after a candidate has left and asked how the candidate treated the driver. A bad review from the driver means you are not hired.


Then there is the legendary customer service. As a joke one night, Tony had friends call Zappos and see if they could order a pizza. Well, after being initially dumb-founded, the associate sent the caller a list of pizza places in their area that were open.

And I, so excited by his speech, reached out to him on Twitter (we each follow the other, go figure). Instant response. No robots. Personalized email to me. Impressive.

So as Tony went on with his story, he basically said that Zappos rethought its vision and mission. While it sells shoes and clothing, what it does is "Create Happiness." And that is its new vision.

He believes that corporate culture and values inspire purpose and passion in employees. Starting with the right employees and with a vision of creating happiness, how could it not?

I would go one better--that the passion and purpose of employees fuel the corporate culture and values, which further fuel organizational passion and purpose.

Which brings me to Transformation Before Training, our Zappos equivalent applied to patient experience. Right before the AHCA conference, my colleague Tom put me through an enlightening two days, the first of which was used to create my passion and purpose statement. When you walk through your whole life, evaluate your attributes, remember peak experiences, and then craft these statements, it is pretty powerful. (Pictures here!)

My Passion Statement--simply--Healthy People.

From writing to performing to speaking to consulting, everything I do is consistent in helping others be healthy in mind, body, spirit, finances, etc. All of it.

My Purpose Statement--Through creativity, passion, and caring, I inspire myself and others by creating meaningful experiences that challenge us to thoughtfully design a life worth living and help others do the same.

Wow, deep Anthony, you are thinking. But you know what, it is and it's powerful. I spent the last month grounding myself to make sure that I was staying true to my passion and purpose. Let's face it, if you can take any nugget of what I write (or speak about or consult about) and put it to use for you or your patients, I have followed my passion and purpose. Creating an atmosphere in which the way I present the information (meaningful experiences) leads you to think and maybe even change your behavior helps you pursue a life worth living (a life of health in all stages of your being). And hopefully that inspires you to want to help others.

So I then asked myself, how could a nurse or any healthcare worker craft this statement and not come to work with a renewed vigor in his/her life and a renewed passion for the patient? Employees can shape, as well as become part of the culture, and it starts with the individual.

A recent Health Affairs survey of 800 recently hospitalized patients and 510 physicians found broad agreement that compassionate care is "very important" to successful medical treatment. However, only 53 percent of patients and 58 percent of physicians said that the healthcare system generally provides compassionate care.

Personal passion and purpose must be reignited to inspire company values and culture, and fuel company passion and purpose. That should lead to the compassion part. And if we have that nailed, we are probably providing a great experience to our patients and one another.

From one Tony (Cirillo--but call me Anthony) to another Tony (Hsieh), thanks for validating the importance of purpose and passion.

Anthony Cirillo, FACHE, ABC, is president of Fast Forward Consulting, which specializes in experience management and strategic marketing for healthcare facilities. He is also the expert guide in Assisted Living for


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