Are You Adopting 21st Century Customer Service?

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The world of healthcare is changing at a fast pace.  The 21st century patient demands quality, compassionate care.  It’s a different world than it was 15 – 20 years ago and healthcare organizations must adopt to stay competitive.

As we work with different healthcare organizations across the country one thing we hear consistently are the questions and comments coming from physician leadership and administration:

“Why can’t we return telephone calls in a timely manner?”

 “I get complaints from patients about our staff being rude.”

“We can’t get our staff to understand the importance of good customer service?”

“Our patients won’t give us email addresses.”

When investigating these problems the reasons from the staff are likewise consistent.  “We’re too busy.”  “We’re understaffed.” “The patient’s are rude.” 

I’m going to be a little tough here.  These are not reasons; these are excuses.  Everyone is busy.  Sometimes there is too few staff.  Patients oftentimes don’t feel good and can be rude.  That is absolutely no reason to be rude back.  They are our customer.  Getting email addresses should be part of your regular demographic request.  Approximately 80% of the U.S. population accesses the internet and has an email address.

I’ll use Southwest Airlines as an example.  My experience at my local airport with Southwest is consistently good.  They are the busiest airline at my airport, yet they are always friendly, courteous and professional.  They oftentimes go out of their way to help. 

Once in Houston, TX, I was traveling with my family when my daughter, with almost no warning, feinted at the security gate.  A ticket agent from Southwest Airlines saw what happened and rushed in to help.  They had no way to know we were actually traveling on Southwest.  They called EMT’s and once they found we were traveling with Southwest encouraged us to spend the night.  They pulled our checked luggage off the plane, which had already been loaded, got us a hotel and transportation to, and back the next morning.  Now that’s customer service and a success story I have told many times. 

Why did we get such service?  Because Southwest Airlines’ vision and mission permeates throughout their organization.  The staff lives and breathes the values of the organization.

This doesn’t just happen.  It’s a top down, bottom up, sideways process.  Want to create this type of value in your organization?  Start with the leadership.  Leadership sets the pace.  Create a culture of excellence by establishing the vision, mission and values of the organization.  Always lead, but give staff the ability to engage in the process.  This creates ownership and an endorsement of the culture.

Communicate the vision, mission and values to the staff and to the patient.  This is not a one-time thing.  It is a consistent communication; it’s a process.  Provide side-to-side communication so that managers and team members can learn from one another.  They are the front-line; make sure they understand the importance of the first impression a patient receives.  Let the patient know you have a high expectation of your service and give them a means to provide feedback. 

Monitor, measure and manage the results to improve where needed, and exploit the things you do well.  This is a closed-loop process that provides consistency and insures positive results. Don’t measure to just look at your score.  Measure so you may manage to improve the results.

If you aren’t doing it, there is no time like now to start.  Ask yourself, ask your physician leadership, ask your staff… Are You Adopting 21st Century Customer Service?

—Marty Hudson

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