It Ain't Easy Being Awesome: Pursuing Excellence in Customer Service

Awesome Patient SatisfactionPatient Satisfaction is a real hot topic in the healthcare industry these days. For obvious reasons, keeping patients satisfied has always been a top priority for healthcare providers. However, in addition to the already known risks of earning a bad reputation or losing patients to competitors, there's now the added risk of hazards like reduced reimbursement rates. 

I’m piped into patient satisfaction because I oversee a call center operation that services the healthcare industry. I draw on customer service experiences from call center operations, vendor management (vendors hired for call center services), retail banking, client relationship management, and sales. I’ve had the benefit of seeing and learning how to do it right from a lot of great people and operations that executed doing it right. I also have the real benefit of problem solving patient satisfaction on an almost daily basis.

As most readers of this blog already know, there’s a whole spectrum of challenging elements that go into successful patient satisfaction – elements like a doctor’s bedside manner, appointment scheduling, and patient friendly billing all fall into the spectrum of patient satisfaction. The focus of this blog is on patient facing customer service (call center, administration, and support). Interestingly enough, there’s also a whole spectrum of challenging elements that go into successful patient facing customer service. However, there’s a short list of big ticket items that are “gotta haves” if you want to deliver awesome customer service. I wrote this blog to share a couple of “gotta haves”. 

If I was day one on the job and the job was delivering awesome customer service to patients, the following are some examples of where I’d start.    

Teach and expect the right use of tone and body language in patient facing communications

Google Dr. Albert Mehrabian and the 7%-38%-55% rule. The rule generally says that a communication is interpreted as follows: 7% of a communication is weighted by words, 38% by tone, and 55% by body language. Whether you agree with the rule or the weightings isn’t really the point. The point is it makes sense that it’s not just words that factor into a patient’s customer experience. Anyone reading this blog can probably relate to what it feels like to get serviced by someone who’s conveying a sense of being rushed, annoyed, disinterested, unsure, or confused. 

So what’s the point? The point is you can’t just teach patient facing people what to say, you’ve got to teach them how to say it. Things like eye contact, a smile, voice inflection, pace of words, and presence (focusing solely on the patient) are all critical elements in a successful service provider to patient exchange.  

How I set it up and manage it:

  • Clearly state expectations regarding tone and body language to patient facing representatives (what to do and what not to do)
  • Teach with real training dedicated to the subject of tone and body language
  • Reinforce the importance of tone and body language by incorporating tone and body language into ongoing critiques
  • Incorporate elements of tone and body language (pace of words, eye contact) into employee evaluations
  • Regularly acknowledge and recognize patient facing employees who effectively use tone and body language to deliver awesome customer service 

Develop systems to mitigate patient wait times 

Waiting is the worst. Healthcare Administrators know that there are lots of touch points in a typical patient experience (intake, meeting with a doctor, getting a bill, customer service, as examples). Healthcare Administrators also know it’s possible to do everything right and then blow an entire patient experience with one misstep. Allowing excessive wait times is one surefire way to create such a misstep. Conversely, quick turnaround, whether it’s answering phones or managing lines, is a great way to enhance patient satisfaction. 

Effectively managing wait times is a controllable activity that can go a long towards helping or hurting your patient experience.  

How I set it up and manage it:

  • Identify (with analytics) peak call/visit times
  • Shift staff schedules to best align with peak call/visit times
  • Establish and report out on goals and key performance indicators (average hold times and call abandonment rates as examples)
  • Utilize systems (like dialer platforms) to real time manage wait times
  • Tie employee incentives (contests, bonuses) to wait time performance 

Develop and maintain scripts

In a prior job life I was with a bank that fought very hard to establish and maintain a leading customer service reputation. One of the tactics the bank deployed was a corporate wide rollout of scripts to use when answering the phone. Corporate leaders universally rolled out scripts throughout the organization and made them a requirement for every employee of the bank --regardless of position. 

Scripts were easy and simply worked to make greetings standard throughout the bank. A typical script for answering phones included the following:

Scripts
  • A warm greeting
  • The name of my organization
  • The name of my department
  • My name
  • An invitation for my service (like “how can I help you?”) 

Look at what a simple script like this accomplishes:

  • It works to create a strong first impression (critical in any engagement and hard to recover)
  • It creates accountability for departments and individual employees (the employee has given his or her name and the name of his or her department to the caller)
  • It says to the caller that the employee is there to serve 

How I set it up and manage it:

  • Draft and publish scripts
  • Roll out scripts in a universal format (like town meetings)
  • Define the “why’ behind the need for scripts
  • Utilize mystery shoppers and other self assessment techniques to measure and manage compliance
  • Provide consistent and real time critiques to employees on their use of scripts 

Use warm transfers to move people within your organization

There may be one experience that’s worse than waiting: getting transferred and having to take your question/concern/complaint from the top. In my experience, utility and information companies are notorious for hearing consumers out and then saying “sorry, you need to speak with someone in the XYZ department” – the phone clicks and you’re talking to a new person like you’re talking to someone for the first time. As a consumer, I find this situation especially frustrating when what I’ve got to say is involved (think computer problems). Compounding the problem these days is the need to restate passwords and answer security questions every time a transfer takes place.  

As a service provider, the best way to mitigate this type of frustration for patients is to have reps stay on the line, or stay with patients until the recipient of the transfer has:

  • The patient’s information
  • An understanding of the patient’s need(s)
  • A commitment that he or she can address the patient’s need(s) (eliminates the need for another transfer) 

How I set it up and manage it:

  • Define the elements of a successful transfer (patient information, needs communicated, acknowledgement that the recipient of the transfer can address the patient’s needs)
  • Communicate “warm transfer” expectations to employees in multiple forums (town meetings, memorandums, management meetings)
  • Simplify systems to help patient facing representatives direct patients to the right department (web based FAQs as an example)
  • Ensure technical systems (like phone systems) easily support warm transfers
  • Solve root cause problems (like vague department names) that initiate the problem of misdirected calls or visits 
Happy Patient

 

Create and maintain a positive patient facing work environment

Patient facing representatives in my office are successful because they have strong interpersonal skills, they’re great problem solvers, and they feel great about what they do. The first two attributes come through training and the development of skills that employees bring to the table. The third attribute is an intangible that is driven primarily by the culture of my organization. In my organization, leadership places value (through recognition) on patient facing representatives who create positive patient experiences. Leadership in my organization also actively works to build systems and infrastructure that supports patient facing representatives in their efforts to execute positive patient experiences (employees have a strong sense that people care about what it is they’re doing, and they have a strong sense of support). 

How I set it up and manage it:

  • Publicly recognize all “the little things” patient facing representatives do to create positive patient experiences (like a brag wall filled with positive e-mails and letters from patients)
  • Create and maintain a terrific work environment (a beautiful office environment, music, contests)
  • Develop and enhance systems and tools that best support patient facing representatives in their efforts to deliver awesome customer service (provide patient facing representatives with the best tools to get the job done)
  • Act as an advocate for patient facing employees trying to solve problems (nothing is worse than forcing employees to work through broken systems, known issues, or non-responsive departments)
  • Recognize and celebrate successes tied to meeting and exceeding patient satisfaction key performance indicators 

Conclusion of this blog

Lots more can be done to deliver awesome customer service. Excelling at patient satisfaction is a full time gig that requires regular management involvement. It also requires a great deal of analysis, a lot of critical thinking, and highly engaged/well trained employees.  

Like what you read? Connect with the author for the latest updates in Patient Satisfaction and Healthcare Receivable Management.  

Connect with Ray Stein

Topics: patient satisfaction, vendor management, healthcare receivable management, healthcare, patients, customer service

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