The nuances of the John Lewis customer experience

bdailyIt was refreshing to read about the partnership between John Lewis and CCG Devon in a recent BBC release.

The key objective, which is to focus on excelling in customer care, is something at which John Lewis is particularly good – in fact you could say it is their trade mark. Now whilst CCG is not technically part of the NHS, pretty much all of their staff will have been trained and employed by Primary Care Trusts before transferring across. The private sector makes a big play about supporting the NHS; and there are of course many organisations whose business model is based on positioning themselves as a natural extension of the health service. The concept is that private sector expertise and methodologies can make the difference to get the NHS to work more efficiently. As a result patients get a better experience, and the private sector provider makes a profit – an ideal situation all around. The Partnership model is of course not new to healthcare. Circle Partnership has been built on that foundation and whilst it is probably too early to say how successful it has been, it has created a stir in the market and has certainly been embraced by members of the consultant community.

In the world of private sector domiciliary care, working on behalf of local authorities is a concept that has appeal; where margins are tight and employee retention and service quality are two of the major challenges faced, a partnership model might well be the answer. The fundamental difference between the two organisations is that the John Lewis Partnership is very much centered around a partnership model where employees share in the success of the organisation. This creates high partner engagement and those partners interfacing directly with customers believe in the importance of every interaction – happy employees creating a pleasant shopping experience leading to greater sales. Can this be applied though to the public sector health service?  In my experience they are both quite unique employers – the NHS has its own hard coded processes which are difficult to break. There are many thousands of outstanding individuals going to work in the NHS every day determined to do the very best they can for patients, often driven by to the vocational nature of the work they undertake. But even so, they can be overwhelmed by the organisation. It is after all one of the 5 largest employers in the world and to say it is a complex beast is a massive understatement.

Do NHS employees truly understand customer service? I am afraid there are too many reports of uncomfortable, dehydrated and desperately unhappy patients  for there not to be significant room for improvement.  I have recruited for John Lewis and know its style. It’s an organisation where decisions are made by committee, and subtle influencing of colleagues in corridors and canteens is the way to get things done. They are rarely first to market with new concepts (think how long it was before they accepted debit cards after the rest of the market) but when they do press the button, they invariably get it right. The impact of decisions on their partners and customers is thought through at every step.

Three years ago they still had 900 people working in the Personnel function and were starting to implement a shared service centre to support the business thereby taking away for the stores some of the back office functions. The competition had done this many years previously and, invariably, although saving money, would have made mistakes and upset employees along the way. John Lewis took the view that it wanted to minimise disruption wherever possible. In summary, is this a no lose scenario? As alluded to in the article there are perhaps more similarities between the organisations than is immediately apparent, and there is no doubt that John Lewis is a sensible place to get a best practice solution. However, do even John Lewis employees assisting the NHS have the patience to work through the shift in behavioural change that will be required to make an impact?

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