Customer Service Excellence in a Healthcare Setting
If anyone knows how to run a successful hospital, it’s Fred Lee. His curriculum vitae includes a stint as senior vice president at an Orlando hospital and as an employee at Disney World. On the surface, these two career bedfellows seem absurd—until Lee uses Disney’s client service model to outline his healthcare management philosophy.
“Patient Satisfaction is Fool’s Gold.”
A loyal patient is an advocate who offers valuable word-of-mouth advertising and more compliance with his care. The resultant reduction in marketing costs and increase in successful outcomes creates a snowball effect that keeps on growing. Disney World asks it's staff to see good as the enemy of best, but a negligible 1.5% of hospitals manage to sustain a 1% increase in patient satisfaction scores for three years.
Satisfaction rarely correlates with loyalty, and it’s the latter that matters most. Satisfaction is a feeling, whereas loyalty is an action that can only be earned through service excellence. “Excellence is fun,” says Lee, and it can be achieved by encouraging staff to do things for patients that fall outside the scope of their job descriptions. Loyalty cannot be earned by being ordinary.
Measuring client loyalty in a healthcare setting is challenging. Patients often perceive physicians as superiors rather than partners and tend to fear retaliation from their caregivers. Detailed surveys are thus critical to improving customer service in healthcare because they give patients an outlet that feels less intimidating. They're best drafted around the core predictors of patient loyalty with actionable information for maximizing that allegiance. You can evaluate quality of care according to facets such as:
- The personality, concern, and compassion of their physicians.
- Experience, knowledge, qualifications, and facility access.
- Sound medical philosophies.
- A comfortable healthcare environment.
- Comprehensive examinations.
- Timely feedback.
- Reasonable wait times.
The Harvard Business Review calls complaints ‘gifts’ for excellent reason, and the only way to exploit them is by fostering patients’ willingness to share their dissatisfaction through surveys. Far too often, though, questionnaires aren’t turned into actionable goals, so unhappy customers create a broken feedback loop when healthcare organizations fail to follow up by improving customer service in healthcare. Critics who are turned into fans are more likely to offer their loyalty because their healthcare facility has consciously formed a relationship with them.
Learning by Doing
U.S. Companies lose $41 billion a year due to bad customer service, and hospitals are no exception. Lee prefers simulation as a tool to prevent this degree of loss, although traditional business management practices use “mystery clients” to achieve the same end. Lee explains, “As in playing tennis, we learn how by doing. There is no other way.”
Front line caregivers are traditionally used to start a proactive feedback loop because they’re exposed to patients in settings that encourage one-on-one conversations. When they’re given survey results in real time, the power of this strategy grows exponentially. Workers find it easier to relate to recent experiences, so support staff and questionnaire results should be made available directly after patient encounters.
The Importance of Compassion
The most important way that customer service in healthcare differs from that in Disney World is how clients value empathy. In a consumerist world, respect and helpfulness are enough, but patients need far more kindness, which is why Lee suggests healthcare facilities shift from a service to an experience paradigm. Compassion is not only the hallmark of quality of care, but the ethical duty of healthcare providers. Finding ways to implement compassionate care is thus the obligation of all who work in the healthcare sector.