Experience Design Study: Pump It Up Birthday Party

At MJM, we are strong believers in studying experience design across diverse industries to better our own work. All industries — health care, sports, music, kids, restaurant, hotel, retail — can learn from looking at ideas outside their own competitive space. The MJM blog is one place you are invited to intersect with new ideas and experiences.


This weekend, my son and I participated in a birthday party for my son’s classmate, who is turning 5 years old. The party was hosted by Pump It Up, a full-service party company for kids, featuring two rooms of inflatable gym toys and a party room for eating/presents. Here are some of the highs and lows of the experience, along with a brief discussion of what we can learn from each element.

High: Theme It

Pump It Up is the perfect venue to host a party for 20 5-year-olds. The environment is safe, engaging, and effective in allowing the kids space for controlled chaos, a variety of diversions, and opportunities for alone and group play. After 35 minutes in one room, the kids are sent to the next room. This ensures that nobody gets bored. After about 70 minutes of playtime, the kids are gathered and sent in to the party room for pizza, cake, and presents. From start to finish, the theme is controlled fun, and nothing detracts from that experience.

What You Can Learn

What is your theme? Does everything that happens in your interactions with your customer build on that theme? What do you need to cut away? What should you add?

High: Handle the Tough Logistics

The most appealing part of a Pump It Up Birthday party for parents is the full-service logistical management before and during the party by the on-site staff. Before the party, you can order your pizza, fruit plates, cake, ice cream, and decorations, which are delivered to the site and set up for you. As kids arrive, staff members collect presents, cards, and parent safety waivers. Kids are show where to find the bathrooms. Staff shuttle shoes and coats between rooms as the kids move. Before eating, kids and parents are offered hand sanitizer. A group photo is staged and taken by the staff. The staff team corral the kids and serve them juice boxes, pizza, fruit, and cake in a surprisingly orderly fashion. Plates, forks, cups, napkins, tablecloths – all provided. During present opening, staff members select the next present to open, throw away the wrapping paper, record who the gift was from, and load the opened presents on a rolling cart for easy transport to a car after the party. Parents literally need to do nothing on the day of the party.

Look at that list again. Truly, Pump It Up’s experience is not “fun birthday party.” Their experience is “logistics management.” And they are very, very effective.

What You Can Learn

Look at your product or service. Where are the most difficult, frustrating logistical moments for your customers? What can you do to make those moments as simple as possible? How can you change your industry by solving a logistical annoyance for your customer?

High: The “Throne”

The opening of presents is obviously the highlight of the party for the birthday child. At Pump It Up, the birthday child gets to sit on a large, inflatable throne, while all the kids sit at their feet to watch. Having talked to numerous parents, the “birthday throne” is the major reason kids want to have their party at Pump It Up.

What You Can Learn

The Birthday Throne is the signature moment of a Pump It Up party. What is your signature moment? How do people remember their experience of your product or service? If you don’t have a signature moment, what do you need to do to create one?

Low: The Treasure Chest

The overall theme of a Pump It Up party is perfect for the target audience. For this party, the parents and staff layered a second theme on top – a “Pirate Party.” Throughout the party, the staff tried unsuccessfully to gather all the kids to use a treasure map to find a lost key. As a parent who was trying to follow the story, I was totally lost. After cake was served, the staff brought out a treasure chest and the hidden key. This could have been good, because kids love lost keys and treasure chests. The chest was opened, and the prize for the kids was… a cheap eye patch and a flimsy plastic coin. About 90% of the kids already had eye patches, and the plastic coins were not even believable enough for imaginative 5-year-olds. It was an unfortunate let-down to a well-developed theme.

What You Can Learn

If you build an experience and have a signature moment, a prize, or anything else that raises the expectations of the customer, you need to meet or exceed those expectations. You need to deliver. If you fail to deliver, you lose the impact of your experience. So… are you delivering on your promise?

Your Patients and Customers Want Empathy

You might even say they need it.

I recently finished reading A General Theory of Love, which paints a poetic image of the science of love and human emotion. It’s a title I’d recommend anyone in the health care industry spend some time with. It was originally published in 2000, but its message is as pertinent as ever.

The authors hooked me when they recognized that the hard sciences are intricately woven together with the social sciences and humanities. They promised to take an artful look at the science of emotion through the lens of love, and delivered. It’s a somewhat radical notion coming from three M.D.s, but their call for empathy is well founded and offers insight into enhancing the patient/customer experience as well.

One of the most significant takeaways is just how vital human interaction and empathy are throughout the course of a human life. As infants, we thrive in close proximity to a motherly figure, and continue to depend upon emotional connections to those arounds us as we age. Without the proper limbic connections, the door opens for a whole host of developmental and health issues. And it’s devastating to find empathy faltering in the industry that has arisen to care for those issues and more: health care.

What’s more astounding is that so many studies have found that empathetic relationships are powerful healing agents in themselves and yet this often seems ignored. The authors share an anecdote that painfully highlights this:

A 1994 proposal in The Lancet, Europe’s most respected medical journal, advocated teaching acting techniques to medical students… providing physicians with the means to feign concern for patients, since their incapacity to care is too embarrassingly evident…

Here our finest doctors endeavor, without irony or shame, to pass off a good relationship as a kind of performance art.

We can all recall the empty feeling of dealing with a health care practitioner, or a customer service representative, who was only interested in the problem and not the person experiencing it. Thankfully many of us have also had the pleasure of a meaningful interaction in these situations, and how fulfilling that experience can be. If you are looking to enhance the experiences you provide for your patients/customers, empathy is a wonderful place to start.

Despite the focus on health care, I found a great amount to think about in my role as a designer. I’m committing to keep empathy at the forefront of my design decisions – to consider how I can help develop meaningful and genuine interactions. Won’t you?

Weeping for Wine

Maybe it was the setting. Or perhaps the time of year. We’ve always loved the autumn. But somehow this trip to the Napa Valley of California was markedly different than others before it. It was three years earlier that our first trip had occurred  and so so so much had changed in that time. We’d gone from a family of three to a family of five, finished Residency, held a prestigious position running a health care facility and launched an ad agency model that kept my creative mind its sharpest. We weren’t seeing the world as an oyster. It was already a pearl. and we were traveling to celebrate some momentous achievements. All the while question whether or not all of the effort, time, and treasure expelled on arriving where were had would be worth the while and the work. Work life balance was a real question we found ourselves discussing along our way through our visit.

At Elan Vineyards the offering was never the wine, although the wine is excellent. It is deeper.

We had visited Elan Vineyards at the recommendation of all of our friends at Jessup Cellars. And it was a rewarding visit. Upon arrival we were immediately overwhelmed by the scent of lavender in the air. It grew wild their all over the hill side beneath the winery. To match the Olfactory overload we were met with a view of an amazing Tuscan style villa built perfectly on the edge of a steep mountainous pinnacle that overlooked the entirety of the valley. We were met at the front door by the wine-making couple who quickly poured a glass of their most recent release as they offered a tour of their home all while encouraging their children to finish their homework and practice their instruments. Soon after, Patrick whisked away to the subterranean wine barrel area. As he walked us from barrel to barrel in various stages of their aging he had us pull wine from each using a wine thief and tasting each along the way. From grapes, to crush, to racking and re-racking, he educated us in a very tactile fashion.

After this we stood in their kitchen, petted their dog, laughed with their children, and truly enjoyed each others company. As their reward and to extend the relationship we, of course, signed up for their wine club. And now every quarter, my wife opens a box of black bottles shipped from Elan. But that’s not all that’s inside. She also finds a note from the family and a linen satchel full of lavender seeds. The very moment the box is opened my wife is whisked away back to the valley. Away from the rat race, where busy families are balanced with artisan aspiration. She breathes in the scent and is nearly brought to tears. because she didn’t receive bottles of wine in that box, or even lavender. She purchased validation. She bought that being busy is normal and that craziness can happen right in your living room or kitchen while you graciously receive a guest.

At Elan Vineyards the offering was never the wine, although the wine is excellent. It is deeper. The offering is the Sight, the Smell, the Taste, the Touch, the Hearing and the familial appeal throughout the entire exchange.

So what are you selling? When people remember their interaction are they nearly brought to tears by your hospitality? Let’s be a little more real shall we?

The Power of a Name

In healthcare, we have access to more information about a person than almost any other industry. Yet, something as simple as a person’s name may be the most powerful piece of information we have to improve the experience we provide. Learning a person’s name, and using it well, is a powerful thing.

Have you ever received a mailing that looks like it was created just for you, then turns out to be a mass mailing with your name thrown on top? For one moment, you feel special and chosen. Then you realize it’s just another piece of junk mail, and you throw it away.  But more than that — for a moment, you feel something valuable has been mistreated. Your name has been mistreated, tricked, and you lose trust in whoever sent the mailing.

Consider, on the other hand, the true wonder when someone from your past sees you at the mall and remembers your name. “Dave, is that you?” It feels wonderful to be recognized, to be known, to feel that someone remembers you, knows you, and can relate to you. This builds and reaffirms trust. Don’t underestimate the power of a name.

Building trust is key in healthcare. Consider some of these practical ideas you can implement today:

  1. Know (and use) every patient’s preferred name. I once followed a cataract consult where, in the course of 45 minutes, three different people asked the patient for his preferred name three different times. He was learning to distrust us each time someone had to ask the question again. Having this information placed prominently on the chart can avoid situations like this.
  2. Have front desk people look ahead at who’s coming in, and be prepared to greet patients by name whenever possible. For many clinics, it’s possible to create pretty accurate guesses about names simply based on age and appointment time. Other clinics we’ve worked with have photo capabilities to pair with their management software. Whatever the tool, imagine the trust that’s built when a front desk staff member can greet the patient by name!
  3. The waiting room “cattle call” is one of the most inhumane moments of our work. We can do better. Instead, have techs approach a person in the waiting room, lay a hand on their shoulder, and say “Sue, we‘re ready for you,” rather than stand near the front of the waiting room and cattle call “Sue!”

Matt Jensen Marketing has created multiple systems with clinics where it is possible to do this regularly, with little to no extra time from staff, and it makes a world of difference to the patient.

Marketing Solutions for a New Economy

Traditional marketing is simple: create demand, make the phone ring, and close the sale. Demand is typically measured by new leads, consultations, and surgeries. The tools with which we have created demand have been print, radio, television, and the web. The current economic climate, however, has sent many centers into a tailspin, and physicians and their staffs are wondering if their external efforts are worth the results. People are not calling like they once did, and if they do, they are not scheduling surgery quite as easily. Future success is tied directly to a practice’s ability to create a fabulous experience for patients within its four walls. To that end, before spending dollars on external advertising, it is important to look inside your practice to see what your patients are seeing.

The Reluctant Customer

Consumers do not want to be targeted, and they are more skeptical than in the past. Satellite radio, digital video recording, and social media are being adopted, in part, in order to avoid the interruptive messages created by the advertiser. Additionally, in today‘s world where people are working harder for less money, when a consumer decides to make a purchase, his or her expectations for value tend to be higher.

This economy has created a vicious circle where patients’ heightened expectations are met with even lower than normal customer experiences.

Meanwhile, many practices have dealt with the current economy by reducing their support staff and amenities; both can be detrimental to the experience of patients and their overall perceptions of value. In such cases, word-of-mouth referrals drop in frequency. Some surgery centers may respond with a more desperate style of advertising that can turn off potential patients.

When desperate advertising measures meet the growing expectations and the new skepticism of the consumer, a vicious circle begins. This is why it is vital to create experiences at the practice level that are actually worth the price of the procedure: “People have become relatively immune to messages targeted at them. The way to reach your customers is to create an experience within them.”1

Track Your Effort and Results

The most effective way to position your practice for future growth and stability is by enhancing the patient’s experience at each stage of the process. Waiting times, educational explanations, and the inclusion of their family members and loved ones in the conversation are far more important than they were just a few months ago. There appears to be little effort, however, to track current customers’ information that is useful for creating growth. In Market Scope’s second quarter analysis2, nearly half of all respondents stated they are not tracking new inquiries, inquiries to consultations, and consultations to surgery within their center. Metrics tracking is a basic business function that ensures the processes in place are functional and successful. How bad must the economy become before ophthalmic practices begin performing this task?

Even under the constraints of today’s market, few centers are tracking basic indicators of their practice’s health.

Utilize Customer Relationships to Increase Revenue

Inquiries that have not become scheduled consultations, and consultations that have yet to become scheduled surgery, represent easy marks for re-engagement. Instead, many surgery centers focus solely on new leads from external advertising. By utilizing a robust CRM (customer relationship management) software, practices can become relevant to potential customers who have already expressed interest in vision correction.

CRM technology not only lets you track conversions, but it also forecasts potential revenue within the surgical pipeline.

One difficult component to using practice management software, however, is learning to deal efficiently with all of the data created throughout the customer’s experience. A unique advantage to most CRM software is its ability to synchronize with practice management software. The former allows data collected during the patient’s experience to be used to create customized messages afterward. Each patient’s interaction is synchronized. As the practice schedules a patient from a consultation to surgery, the CRM gets updated as well, removing that patient from the consultation “bucket.” When the time comes to send a message to all potential patients who have not yet scheduled surgery, the practice need not worry whether or not the database is pure. In addition, practices have the ability to see how many opportunities exist within each status group.


Many opportunities are being overlooked at the practice level that can only be capitalized upon if simple tracking methodologies are put in place. The best first step to creating engaging and profitable experiences for customers is to pay attention to the most basic of operational standards. Look inside your practice and take advantage of the opportunities that already exist there.


This article originally appeared in Cataract & Refractive Surgery Today. Click here to download a PDF version.

1. Gilmore J, Pine B J. The Experience Is the Marketing. Louisville, KY: Brown Heron Publishing; 2002.

2. Market Scope’s Second Quarter Survey Report: Q2-2009. Manchester, MO: Market Scope LLC; 2009.

Premium IOLs: It’s All About Timing

Many baby boomers have spent the last few years denying that their gradual loss of vision is impairing their ability to enjoy daily activities. By the time these individuals muster up the nerve to respond to the advice of their primary eye care provider, friends, or family to do something to improve their vision, the last thing on their mind is surgical upgrades. Although patients once simply responded to their doctor’s orders, they are now presented with lifestyle lenses, out-of-pocket procedures, and a resulting multitude of decisions to make. In the mind of the consumer, refractive and cataract surgery are complex. Ophthalmologists therefore must use finesse when communicating information to patients about how to reduce their dependence on glasses and/or contact lenses.

Education and Communication

Communicating the technological merits of a procedure or a particular IOL in your advertising or marketing campaign may be far too much information for patients who are just beginning to consider their options. Conversely, if the vital components of a choice premium IOL are not broached until the time of the doctor/patient discussion, the patient is less likely to understand his options for advanced lens technology. The patient simply has not had enough time to process the information. Timing is critical.


In his book, Physician Success Secrets: How the Best Get Better, Greg Korneluk states that 50% to 80% of the information provided by clinicians is instantly forgotten by patients1 and only 50% of their recall is correct. If patients accurately remember only 25% of what you tell them in general, imagine how that percentage decreases when the information conveyed has little to do with what they expected to hear. It is no wonder that patients’ adoption of refractive IOLs is slower than the demand perceived by industry.

For patients to participate in the decision to restore their vision, the clinical and educational aspects of the process must be memorable or experiential. Like the dynamic structure (Figure 1) of a play, the conversation about a patient’s surgical options should be broken into stages. Not all information should be communicated during the initial exposition.

Exposition: The Cataract Call

A new cataract patient calls your office and says, “My doctor mentioned that I have cataracts and that I need to see an ophthalmologist.” In most cases, he will be scheduled for a cataract consultation with you or the optometrist, and he may be informed about paperwork or that his pupils will be dilated. Unless he receives an inkling of the important decisions awaiting him, his dramatic storyline has not begun. He will be far less likely to embrace the idea of advanced IOL technology at the point of service.

What if, as an alternative opening act, when the new patient calls, the staff offers him a cataract consultation but stresses that cataract surgery is a big decision because of the available range of visual options? What would happen if an employee also stressed to the patient the importance of his researching his surgical options before the consultation by visiting the practice’s Web site? What if the employee also mentioned that the patient would receive a packet of information on the decision-making process? In my opinion, these steps increase patients’ ability to participate meaningfully in their surgical care. Communicating too much information over the phone, however, could overwhelm the patient.


The decision to undergo vision-correcting surgery is a big one for patients. The range of technology available can confuse and frustrate them. By staging patients’ education like a theatrical production in which their initial interaction with your staff represents the exposition, you and your team can help patients make a quality decision on their care.


This article originally appeared in Cataract & Refractive Surgery Today. Click here to download a PDF version.

1. Korneluk G. Physician Success Secrets: How the Best Get Better. Boca Raton, FL: International Council for Quality Care; 2004.

How to Create an Exceptional Experience for Patients

Adopting great customer service as an overall philosophy is key to your practice’s longevity in the LASIK market. Simply selling the red carpet treatment to your patients is not enough. It is essential for you to deliver excellent care consistently. This article addresses the gap between your practice’s image and reality, and it offers advice for optimizing every patient/doctor encounter.

Establish an Image

Decide how you want the public to view your practice (eg, technology-driven or one with a highly skilled physician). Then, make sure that image is present in everything you are marketing and advertising to your potential patients. Ensure that your practice’s services reflect your image and that every staff member upholds it. For example, if you promise patients personal care and one-on-one communication, then warmly greet every patient when he walks through the door.

Evaluate, Educate, and Empower

Today’s counselors must follow the lead of each patient rather than a standard protocol. Tailoring your message to individuals will maximize their experience at your practice. For instance, young, Internet-savvy patients may have conducted extensive research on their own. They may want a few specific answers from you before scheduling surgery. Other patients may look to you for step-by-step education. They will probably have more time to invest and will expect you to do the same.

Points of Contact

Your patients’ experiences boil down to how you make them feel throughout the process of vision correction. You should strive to impress patients from the point of contact and with every detail thereafter. From a caller’s time on hold to a handshake and a smile at the end of a visit, each of your interactions is an opportunity for you to acquire a new patient.

First Impressions

Your initial phone call with a potential patient is crucial. This first impression can either mean a new patient (and word-of-mouth referrals) or a missed opportunity. Hire positive, informative, sincere intake personnel. Train them to be proactive when addressing issues like technology, safety, and what makes your practice superior to the competition. By addressing LASIK fees early and offering competitive financing options, such as CareCredit’s no-interest payment plans, you can help ease prospective patients’ concerns about price and earn their trust.

The Consultation as an Interview

Try asking prospective patients a simple question such as, Why now? Give them the opportunity to tell their story and to share their motivations and concerns. By asking open-ended questions, you may get all the answers you need and allow patients to sell themselves on refractive surgery.

Be upfront about potential complications and carefully consider your words when discussing the procedure. At the John-Kenyon American Eye Institute in Louisville, KY, Manager of Refractive Services Markey Ratliff relies on scripted material (with a personal touch) to ensure the message is consistent with her practice’s image and the physician’s style. Words can allay fears. For example, you might say measurements instead of tests, procedure instead of surgery, and creating the flap instead of cutting the flap.

Deliver a Stress-Free Procedure

Your patients will look forward to surgery but also may feel anxious about it. Turn any negative feelings into positive ones with words and gestures of reassurance. For example, at Ms. Ratliff’s practice, she and her colleagues strive to deliver a soothing, spa-like experience with little extras such as blankets, movies, and music. If patients seem nervous, Ms. Ratliff offers to sit with them and hold their hand during treatment. After the procedure, she and her colleagues make sure to thank patients for choosing their facility and send handwritten thank-you cards.


Assess your marketing and advertising materials and compare them with those of other local practices. If several LASIK centers in your market push general features, such as personal care or technology, get specific about how your technology is superior and how you personalize each patient’s experience.

Spend half a day observing your practice from your patients’ point of view. What makes them smile? When do they seem frustrated? Is the atmosphere too clinical to put nervous patients at ease? Ask patients for their input on ways to improve everything from décor to waiting times.


Phil Jackson, the Director of Refractive Service at Associated Eye Care in Stillwater, MN, and his colleagues refer to the waiting room as the lounge. It has soft, relaxing chairs and is stocked with educational books instead of outdated magazines. A greeting system welcomes patients and keeps them informed of waiting times. Mr. Jackson has found that they really appreciate the extra effort.


Follow-up care is part of the total patient experience. Use questionnaires, focus groups, and testimonials to find out where your practice really excels and, more importantly, where it needs improvement. Then, follow through on making the appropriate changes.


This article originally appeared in Cataract & Refractive Surgery Today. Click here to download a PDF version.

How To Market Your Refractive Practice

Are your marketing efforts producing healthy call volumes and a strong conversion rate? If the quantity of incoming, positive telephone calls could improve, then read on for suggestions on how to increase your refractive volumes with strategic marketing maneuvers starting at the practice level.

Start with What You Have

In terms of marketing dollars, it is far less expensive to attempt to convert a current caller into a potential patient rather than to motivate a new person to pick up the phone and contact your practice. It is also more cost effective to market additional procedures or continuing eye care to your existing patient database than to try to lure new patients to make an appointment at your facility. You can start, simply, by focusing your marketing efforts on enhancing your practice’s image and by establishing clear and memorable communications.

Identify Targets

Implement your marketing strategy, which should be based upon current research, such as market factors approximating consumers’ spending patterns and levels of discretionary income. Invest in the collection and evaluation of professional data and conduct training sessions to educate your staff about the minds of consumers.

Stay in touch with your patients by consistently requesting their feedback in order to be knowledgeable about their needs and to recognize areas in which your practice or team can improve. By understanding what your patients want, you not only can better meet their expectations for vision correction, but you can stimulate them to call in the first place.

Stage Memorable Experiences

Focus on exceptional experiences for your patients. Come up with ways to improve a patient’s experience before concentrating on expensive media advertising. Involve staff members in the strategic brainstorming process as characters in the production. Your employees who are truly invested in new ideas are more likely to contribute their thoughts and opinions for implementing and maintaining important protocols.

Start Marketing from First Contact

Take the “inside-out” approach by putting yourself in your patient’s shoes. Make sure, first, that phone calls correspond with your marketing messages. Imagine your disappointment if you received an impressive, high-quality brochure advertising a positive personalized experience, in addition to a knowledgeable, friendly staff, but instead you were greeted by a grumpy intake person who was reluctant to answer your questions.

The staffers in charge of initial, potential patients’ phone calls should have a warm and friendly personality, and they should be informative, persuasive, and confident. The training, support, and evaluation of these types of personnel are crucial to your practice’s growth. Consider using scripted material when training intake workers. Information that these employees should communicate includes countering cost barriers, promoting the surgeon’s experience, and discussing the values and benefits of surgery. Compensate these staff members well as they strive to grow your conversion rates.

Market During Head-to-Head Consultations

Face-to-face consultations should be a continuation of your marketing efforts. Think of the encounter with a potential patient as an interview or audition: prospective patients are looking to you for important information on a procedure and deciding whether to choose your practice instead of your local competitors.’ This visit is a golden opportunity for you to listen to and address specific obstacles to the patient’s committing to surgery and to provide highly personalized feedback and recommendations.

Address a Patient’s Fear Early

During calls and consultations, your staff must be able to anticipate and address patients’ fears before discussing prices or procedures and treatment. Your staff should emphasize your surgical skill level and bedside manner. They should get patients excited about the possibility of clear vision by asking them what they hope to accomplish with the procedure. Staffers should ask them to share specific concerns and then address each with positive answers that are well thought out.

It is an excellent time to elicit and address each candidate’s apprehensiveness and to discuss long-term benefits. Emphasize value; a procedure takes little time, but improved vision lasts for years.

Counter Cost with Financing

In our experience, the earlier we address patients’ concerns about cost, the less likely they are to sever the relationship during the consultation stage. Use patient financing as a marketing tool. Regularly evaluate your fees and financing plans. Talk to patients and record their feedback. If you are not currently offering a wide variety of payment plans with true benefits, search for different financing options that will assist patients with comfortably fitting vision correction into their budgets.

Marketing as a Collaboration

Your internal marketing plan must reflect a cohesive image for your practice. The philosophy behind your practice should be apparent in all aspects of your marketing and advertising efforts. Never underestimate the power of first impressions.


This article originally appeared in Cataract & Refractive Surgery Today. Click here to download a PDF version.