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Monday, July 30, 2012

Customer Service in Healthcare

I've given you some tools to help you provide excellent customer service, but let's review a little bit about the basic concepts of why customer service has a place in healthcare.  Earlier in my career, there were debates in the professional literature about whether "patients" were really "customers".  That always seemed strange to me.  Except those patients who are severely ill or injured, patients exercise choice.  Therefore, they enter into a customer supplier relationship with healthcare providers.  There should be no doubt in anyones mind now that payors are beginning to reimburse providers based upon those customer satisfaction ratings.  We care what customers think and must understand that their perceptions of quality differ from our perceptions of quality.  More importantly, healthcare providers have to learn and understand that perception equals reality for the customer.  Your employee may not think he or she is rude, but if the customers think that, the employee has something to work on.

Perception = Reality

To help employees appreciate how others perceive the services they receive, it is important that they see the data that is collected.  Posted trend charts of satisfaction surveys should be readily available.  The data should be discussed in staff meetings.  It is good for employees to have some education on what customers expect.  They want the same things that the employees want when they are customers:
  • to have some control
  • respect and dignity
  • fair treatment
  • friendly, warm, caring service
  • to feel safe and secure
  • honesty
Employees who help develop strategies for superior customer service are more likely to follow through with those strategies:
  • exceed customer expectations
  • demonstrate empathy
  • fully discuss alternatives
  • follow through
  • keep promises (promise low, deliver high)
When a customer complains they have needs as well:
  • to be taken seriously
  • immediate action or reaction
  • someone to be punished (customers are rarely gratified on this one)
  • to be listened to
  • acknowlegement of their feelings
  • followup
Data shows that customers who have filed complaints and recovery was handled well are more likely to return for more business than those who never filed a complaint.  However, their are pitfalls to handling complaints:

  • defensiveness
  • citing policies
  • poor listening
  • passing the buck (we are busy)
  • over reaction
  • siding against the organization
There are many strategies to improve customer satisfaction, but if you were the Ritz-Carlton, that would be setting the bar too low.  What you really want to do is to build LOYALTY.  You want customers who will always return to you for service.  The equation to do that sounds simple.  You need to build relationships and deliver zero defects.

When I think about my own customer experiences, the fact is, I have chosen places where defects are at a minimum.  I get very consistent technical service.  So relationships count very high.  You think along with me:

  1. I have been seeing the same dentist for years mainly because he is on my insurance plan and both he and his hygienist are friendly to me.
  2. I go to a dry cleaner that does not have a drive thru window (inconvenient), but every employee calls me by my name.
  3. I go to the same Mexican restaurant because every server knows to bring me both cheese dip and guacamole dip.
  4. My neurologist always brags on my headache log and reminds me to call her if I need anything.
Organizations can nail the quality side, but without relationships they still will not be able to build customer loyalty.  I cannot emphasize too much that having satisfied customers does not mean you will be building your customer base for repeat business.  With healthcare facing a shrinking dollar, LOYALTY will be the phrase of the future.  Organizations will be looking for ways to separate themselves from the competition.

Ritz Carlton Credo

The Ritz Carlton Hotel has a simple concept for it's employees to follow:  "We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen."  Within that short sentence is embodied the concepts of respect for the customer, service, and respect for it's own employees.  It is a formula that works setting the Ritz-Carlton apart as a service leader.

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