Marie Olesen of La Jolla Cosmetic: “Educate your team about how to deliver great experiences”

Educate your team about how to deliver great experiences. We do this in a number of ways. I share our ratings and reviews and call out people who have made our patients happy. We include them on our website and in our marketing and social media. I share reviews with everyone in our practice, including […]

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Educate your team about how to deliver great experiences. We do this in a number of ways. I share our ratings and reviews and call out people who have made our patients happy. We include them on our website and in our marketing and social media. I share reviews with everyone in our practice, including the anesthesiologists in the operating suite. The more everyone is exposed to feedback, the better they understand what makes patients happy and then they can use that information going forward. As we onboard new staff, we always emphasize great patient experiences as an important priority for our practice.


As part of our series about the five things a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marie Olesen, CEO of La Jolla Cosmetic.

Marie has been applying consumer satisfaction principles in medicine for over 40 years. She was recently recognized at one of the Top 100 Healthcare Visionaries at the IFAH Worldwide Conference. Most of her work relates to the use of systems and technology to improve patient experiences and patient satisfaction. She created two technology companies and earned a US Patent for her innovative processes. She and her husband, R. Merrel Olesen, MD co-authored Cosmetic Surgery For Dummies to help educate cosmetic surgery patients.


Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

My interest in great customer experiences is almost genetic. I submitted my first customer complaint to Disneyland at the age of 12. Imagine my child’s handwriting at the time. But Disneyland took me seriously. I still have the letter from the manager of the Disney Hotel. He responded, apologized, said they recognized the problem and were trying to fix it. Then he asked me to let him know when I would be back! Of course, with that response, I’ve been a Disneyland fan for life! That serious response to a child’s complaint framed my lifelong interest in building teams to create great patient experiences.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I’m so glad you asked this question. It’s really very important question for entrepreneurs.

Looking back, I knew at a young age that I wanted to help good doctors take better care of patients. I’m very visual so I’ve always made sure that my home environment has beauty and order. As an employee, we generally don’t influence the environment where we work or understand how that contributes to our personal achievement and overall business success. We also may not understand how much a stable and motivated team increases quality.

So, we really need a mentor to show us the way…and prove through his/her success that these powerful business principles really work.

For me, that person was my brother-in-law, Paul Ellingsen and my years working for him at his skilled nursing facility, The Cloisters of La Jolla. In an industry where poor care and high staff turnover is the norm, he was known for quality and innovation. His facilities provided superior care and wonderful experiences for the patients. His emphasis on facility decor and maintenance was legendary and also set his facilities apart. The medical quality and beautiful environment reassured the families, who often felt a great deal of guilt about having to move their loved ones from their homes into residential facilities.

The Cloisters of La Jolla was so superior that I remember one of the doctors saying, “This place is like a hot house, everyone flourishes here…” Paul was a really good boss, kind but firm. He had very high standards and he expected us to deliver on those standards. He valued his staff and helped us understand our part in the very important mission of caring for defenseless patients. His people stayed with him for years, loving being part of something important. I treasure my years working for him.

Fast forward to the founding of La Jolla Cosmetic in 1988. Looking at our unique place in the San Diego cosmetic surgery environment, I realize that the foundation of our success comes from sharing his values. We proved their transferability to another part of medicine and carry them forward to this day.

Our surgeons and staff function as a work family with a shared mission to create great patient experiences. We know this is best accomplished by having a happy, stable team and beautiful facilities. We look for “wow” moments as our team cares for our patients and then we share and celebrate those moments. We’re fanatic about cleanliness and have strong on-going maintenance programs.

What’s most amazing about this discussion is what Paul proved in the mid 70’s and which we’ve carried on for another 34 years is still not understood by so many entrepreneurs. So here we are 50 years later, still urging business leaders to value their teams and let them help make sure patients and customers have great experiences in an optimal physical environment.

Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business?

Well, at its most basic, happy people return and write good reviews! If you make people unhappy, not only do they leave, but they might post a negative review. So now you not only have to work harder to replace that lost customer you disappointed, but you also have to find new customers who are not put off by negative reviews!

Another point is that you want to keep the same team and have fun taking great care of your customers. It’s not fun to work at a place that doesn’t want to make its customers happy. My guess is that if they don’t know they should take care of their customers, then they probably also don’t know how important it is to have a happy, stable staff.

Again, look at Disney and other 5-star brands to know how much you enjoy being their customer and how impressive their people and processes are…

We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?

I’m always stunned by businesses that don’t focus on creating great customer experiences. Instead, they spend time and money attracting more customers….to replace the ones they are losing through poor service.

I don’t understand what they are thinking. Think about what we know about happy customers…. They make larger purchases and purchase more frequently. They refer their friends and family. They write great reviews. They compliment your staff! They’re fun and happy. They don’t just like doing business with you, they love your organization.

Do you think that more competition helps force companies to improve the customer experience they offer? Are there other external pressures that can force a company to improve the customer experience?

The best thing about ratings and reviews is that it’s forcing more companies to get their act together. Great customer service is delivered by a dedicated team, each member of which must understand their contribution to the entire customer experience. If the company doesn’t understand that, then how can the team? Back to Disneyland, they defined several hundred “moments of truth” in a single visit and if any one of those was not to standard, it undermined the hundreds of others that were wonderful. Your team needs to know their individual “moments of truth” really matter and give each one their best. This is another aspect of ratings and reviews, I share patient feedback with our entire team and people love being noticed by the patients and honored by the team.

Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?

We have a policy in our practice that every patient must receive a written quote of costs prior to service. Obviously, this happens for surgery, but we had to learn to make it happen when we started providing medical spa services. So, early on, a lady did not receive a quote and received services beyond her expectations and budget. She asked to see me and when I realized what had happened, I apologized and waived her fees. She responded, “Oh I knew you would do that because your brand couldn’t do any less…”

Did that Wow! experience have any long-term ripple effects? Can you share the story?

That story thrilled me, not because we wasted money, but because we had created the kind of trust she exhibited. It was an expensive lesson but also great affirmation that our patients trust us to do the right thing. We’re much more careful now about getting those fee estimates signed in advance and that makes everything better for everyone…

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience. Please share a story or an example for each.

1 . It starts at the top. Leaders must care deeply about customer service. It can’t be 
“Do as I Say” rather than “Do as I Do”… The leader must lead, i.e., behave in the way she wants the team to behave.

Let me share a quote from John Quincy Adams, “If your actions inspire people to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” So, it’s very important that I, as the leader, or any leader, demonstrate that I am so committed to delivering great customer experiences that I ensure that our team has the training and resources to fulfill this commitment.

2. Continuously and proactively ask your patients or customers for feedback. It’s amazing how much we can learn from our customers. I LOVE their feedback. Most is positive, but we learn a lot from the occasional negative feedback. Who better to drive change in your business? When the change in direction comes directly from the customer, then everyone is easily aligned to accept it as the truth and that something must be done, not a whim of management…. Mostly, the reviews affirm our patient-centered quality. Here are some reviews from our surgical practice.

  • From beginning to end I loved Dr. Saltz and her nurse Ruth!!! They made she I chose the perfect size and prepares me for what it would feel like and look like through the process! And my results are on fire!!!
  • Dr. Brahme & Christina are so excellent at their jobs, so truly caring. Usually, a grandmother takes her granddaughter to a park, I took mine to La Jolla Cosmetic (she is an adult). We both had different procedures. We both think Dr. Brahme & Christina walk on water.
  • The staff was friendly, attentive, and reassuring. Dr. Smoot was very caring and helpful, and I felt very comfortable with him.
  • Dr. Salazar listened to all my concerns and the outcome was exactly like we discussed! My recovery period was virtually painless. He is an amazing surgeon.
  • Dr Swistun is very knowledgeable. He explained everything that I had to know about my surgery. I highly recommend him.
  • “I had a beyond amazing first experience. He took extra time and detail with me and my treatment and exceeded my expectation! I will be back soon, extremely satisfied customer”
  • In one word FANTASTIC! As a man, I was somewhat reluctant to have cosmetic surgery. Through the entire process I was reassured and eventually pulled the trigger. Importantly, the “customer service” of this office was beyond expectations. I highly recommend!! I also forgot to mention that I’m a physician which makes us a particularly hard group to keep happy. Great work!!!”

3. Educate your team about how to deliver great experiences. At La Jolla Cosmetic, we do this in a number of ways. I share our ratings and reviews and call out people who have made our patients happy. We include them on our website and in our marketing and social media. I share reviews with everyone in our practice, including the anesthesiologists in the operating suite. The more everyone is exposed to feedback, the better they understand what makes patients happy and then they can use that information going forward. As we onboard new staff, we always emphasize great patient experiences as an important priority for our practice. Here are some reviews from our medical spa.

  • Lauren always does a great job. She enhances your natural features and gets rid of insecurities. I am so much more confident and enjoy my Zoom meetings a little more now.
  • Julia was welcoming & put me at ease. She answered all of my questions. She is an artist with filler!
  • Brittany was amazing! From the consultation to getting treatment, she was polite, professional, warm, and knowledgeable. I felt like I could trust her to take care of me.
  • Kara was conscientious of any discomfort, talked me through what she was doing, and the results are exactly what I wanted.
  • Best of the best! Extremely knowledgeable, and their work is fantastic. I’ve seen Khanh and Cameron, and I cannot recommend them highly enough. (I mean, if you’re looking for quality facials / skin advice, take it from someone who looks as incredibly youthful as Cameron does!) Love their beautiful office space as well.

4. Share feedback from disappointed patients. It’s hard to share comments from disappointed patients in this public setting, but I can tell that we often learn more from a disappointed patient than from dozens of happy patients. Where possible, I try not to share which providers and staff were involved so we can focus on the specific incident and try to prevent it from happening again. We always follow up with reviews where the patient expresses dissatisfaction. We ask the patient to return and allow us to “fix” the problem and improve their satisfaction. Most allow this, but sometimes, in our medical spa, the patient says they don’t need follow up and will discuss with their provider on their next visit.

5. Celebrate great patient experiences. In addition to ratings and reviews, your team can share moments where they witness great patient experiences. Then the entire team can celebrate. We have a program of “Wow” moments whereby anyone on our team can nominate someone else for a great customer experience or to recognize some extra effort that helped team. We give some gifts and prizes for the recipients of these nominations.

  • KL nominated by CP — K switched roles to step and help us train some new Mas. She was a huge help and had a great attitude and also made sure her own PC role was covered by having everyone help call patients that were emailing her so they wouldn’t wait for a response. Thank you, K.
  • MR nominated by BM: This SUPERSTAR’s work often goes unnoticed but she made sure our patients didn’t forget about their LJC GLAMfam during the pandemic. We were still able to educate during Webinars and she aided by the skincare team, helped so many patients take better care of their skin while confined at home.
  • KT nominated by RM: Always goes above and beyond to assist patients for her co-workers. She is the first one to always offer assistance with incoming calls. She is the best.

Are there a few things that can be done so that when a customer or client has a Wow! experience, they inspire others to reach out to you as well?

What we do is very visual, so we have given our patients their before and after pictures since we were founded in 1988. It’s surprising how often they can’t remember their “before” and then are even more delighted with their “after” or new look. Patients share many elements of their experience with photos and comments both on social media and among their friends and family.

When patients are in for post-surgery visits or as they leave our medical spa, they frequently express their happiness, and we give them a review card with a link to leave reviews on Google or other sites.

We share our ratings and reviews across social media and both our patients and people considering our practice see those. We think seeing these prompts other people to share similarly.

My particular expertise is in retail, so I’d like to ask a question about that. Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?

It’s hard for me to give advice for product-based companies because my experience is in personal services. If I think to my own loyalty of products or services that I purchase, it is to businesses that communicate well, honor recurring purchases, are helpful when there’s a problem. And I like companies to be responsible in the community. You can tell on the phone or even my email that there is a customer-friendly culture. I want to reward such businesses by being their customer.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I believe in the power of what’s called servant leadership. A leader does not use power and position to get things done but demonstrates the desire to serve and uses personal and organizational resources to improve the team’s well-being and honor its contribution to overall success. In other words, the leader and the organization help create an environment where the team can thrive and take great care of patients or customers as the case may be.

La Jolla Cosmetic has hundreds of patient interactions every day. As the “boss”, I am not present for the vast majority of those interactions or as Disney calls them, moments of truth. Therefore, it’s my job to be sure the team knows the organization’s values and feel empowered to do what’s right for the patients.

I wish more people realized that throughout their entire life at work and at home, if they come from a place of gratitude and have courage, they can send love, kindness and compassion to others. The more of us that do that every day in every way, the happier we will all be.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/la-jolla-cosmetic/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LaJollaCosmetic/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ljcsc/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ljcsc

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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