As news breaks that the Duchess of Cambridge has gone in to early labour, the media furore that will ensure the world shares her joy (and pain) is already in full flow. With Our future King at her side, the Queen’s third great-grandchild will very shortly be with us.
There are few experiences that every human being can claim to have had a part of. Participating in the childbirth experience is one of them. We have all been there. Those of us who have had our own children remember the experience(s) only too well. It is unlikely that any of us remember our own experience of being born – we must be thankful for that!!
The news today inevitably will lead to parents all over the world recounting their own experiences of bringing little people in to the world. The experience is magical. It is an experience unlike any other – creating life is what life is all about. It is such an emotional experience that we remember everything about it. We remember what we were doing when we went into labour (I am using the royal we here – I am pleased it was Naomi and not I that had to do the hard bit!), the drive to the hospital, the smells and sounds………childbirth is the perfect reminder as to how experiences have an emotional component – the way experiences make us feel is something we do not forget.
Undoubtedly, Kate (if I may be so bold to call her that) will be having the exact experience stipulated in her birth plan. She will give birth in a room decorated to her requirements. She will have the midwife of her choice. The ambience, lighting, music, will all be to her satisfaction. Whilst she cannot guarantee how royal baby will behave on the way out, everything else will be planned to perfection. You can read about Kate’s delivery suite in the Sun newspaper (http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/royals/royalbaby/5007373/Kate-Middletons-10000-delivery-suite.html). Just because Kate is producing a royal baby, does not mean that her experience should be better than any other mother giving birth today anywhere else in the world.
However, like any ‘customer’ experience, the experience that parents have of childbirth is mixed and inconsistent. The experiences regrettably lead to memories of the wrong kind – even when we are talking about one of the greatest experiences of them all. I remember very clearly the moment that Naomi went in to labour with Ciara – our eldest child – ten years ago. I remember Naomi’s waters breaking just as the theme tune to Coronation Street started. I am not sure if we ever watched ‘the Street’ again! Naomi was a week overdue, and we were slightly anxious.
We were a combination of excited and nervous. It does not matter how many ante natal classes you have attended, when the actual day arrives, you do not quite know what to expect. Ciara was born in hospital – like the majority of babies in the UK. We were expecting kind, attentive caring throughout the experience. That is what you would expect as the minimum ‘level of service’ from the childbirth experience. Yet what we experienced was a long way from what we expected.
It is important to note at this point that this blog post is not intended to openly criticise the midwifery profession. Quite the contrary. As you will read a little later on, it is without doubt how wonderful midwives are in the job they do. You only need to watch ‘one born every minute’ on Channel 4 to know that. Yet what we experienced proved how hard it may sometimes to be to maintain and sustain a certain level of experience – something many businesses find hard to do as well. To cut a long story short, our experience was not great. Whilst it was a wonderful miracle to see Ciara come in to the world, we felt as though we were an inconvenience to all the hospital staff. Ciara arrived during a shift change – the midwife finishing her shift could not wait to depart. The midwife coming in had a very different style to the first one. Naomi was very tired and in pain – she just needed someone to listen to her and care.
Fortunately, we had decided to hire the services of a Doula – a birth partner. Jo was amazing. Jo was the consistent support that we knew we could rely on. We are so thankful that we did. Without Jo, I am not sure as the wobbly husband how well I would have been able to support Naomi in the absence of empathetic hospital staff. What the staff displayed to us was behaviour of people who were ‘just doing their job’. That was just not good enough. We were going through the most amazing experience of our lives, and we NEEDED the staff to acknowledge that. Sadly they did not.
Our experience was such, that once we had decided to go for baby number 2, we immediately agreed not to go near a hospital – if we could help it! If you use this as an analogy for corporate customer experiences, this particular company had lost our custom. Failing to meet customer expectation will likely lead to a lost customer. Creating negative emotion will lead to a customer who will also tell many others about it.
Caitie, child number 2, was born at home. The experience was so far removed from the first time that it is difficult to put in to words just how different. The knowledge that we would be in our own home with a midwife that we had met before had a very warming effect on Naomi. Unlike the first time, Naomi actually went in to labour in the middle of the night. Being the lovely lady that she is, I was not even told! I do remember feeling Naomi’s breath on my face throughout the night, but that is about all. Naomi was so relaxed, she managed to sleep through the early stages, getting up in the morning and having a bath. By the time the midwife arrived, it was lunchtime. As quick as a flash, Caitie had arrived in our front room in front of the telly. Maybe that explains why she likes watching TV so much! It was all very civilised. It was such a wonderful experience. The contrast with Ciara’s birth was huge.
The difference between the two experiences were clear. The environment was one factor – there is nothing like being in your own home. But it was the behaviour and attitude of the two midwives that made the difference. They were amazing. They were attentive, caring and most importantly of all, listened to Naomi. They listened to how she felt, what she wanted and did not want. They did not force her to do anything she was not comfortable with. It was as we expected childbirth to be, and our faith was restored.
Just to complete our childbirth stories, I’ll quickly tell you about Jack – child number 3. Jack was also born at home – having read what you just have, you may not be surprised by that fact! Jack was more than two weeks overdue. The hospital was very concerned. We on the other hand were not. Daily heart rate monitoring confirmed that everything was fine. The hospital agreed, but were still demanding that Naomi be induced. Naomi was getting very anxious again. Naomi was listening to the scans and her body – she knew everything was ok – she did not want to be induced. We were so concerned, that we started to doubt that the midwives sent by the hospital for the homebirth would be supportive. Some of the language used by the hospital and midwives caused us to have considerable concern. We felt that we had no choice but to take matters in to our own hands. On the 6th November 2007 we hired a private midwife. She had been recommended to us. In the early hours of the 7th November, our private midwife arrived – Naomi had gone in to Labour. Just knowing that we could rely on an expert midwife who could match her expertise with the compassion we needed had the effect of relaxing Naomi. The birth was wonderful. The calmest and most serene of them all. It was as though the midwife was not there. She was worth every penny. The look on Caitie and Ciara’s faces in the morning when they came into our bedroom to see jack in mummy’s arms will never be forgotten.
Anyone in business can learn a lot about customer experience by looking at experiences we have every day and throughout their lives. There are so many analogies that we can learn from. Whilst you can not lay the same significance on an online shopping experience as you can one of life or death, the principles are very similar. It all comes down to the emotional component of customer experience – what are you going to remember about your online shop – the fact that the product was great, or the fact that the delivery was late?
I hope that Kate and William have only wonderful memories of what will happen today or tomorrow. I hope that the media will allow them to enjoy the wonder of what they are about to achieve. I am very sure that everyone involved will be doing their utmost to ensure that is the case. I also hope that all other mums and dads around the world that are also bringing new life in to the world receive exactly the same level of care and attention. We all deserve it – whether we are royal or not!