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Service Excellence as a Foundation

As a veteran of healthcare leadership, quality and safety, I often have a keen sense of awareness when it comes to "gaps" in the delivery of care or in the quality of services. Sharing these gaps or opportunities provides readers the ability to reflect upon their own services, and offers a time to stop, check and adjust for improvement. Similarly, consumers of healthcare are essentially doing the same thing, reflecting upon the service they have received, rating your services and sharing feedback with their friends and family members, most often via social media.

It takes me very little time to recognize a crack in the foundation of service excellence; I can literally spend less than 10 seconds on the phone and less than half an hour in an organization to recognize signs and symptoms of poor customer service. Sometimes, this occurs during an elevator ride, or when I walk in the door of an organization where I am met with a smile or I may be quickly dismissed. It resonates loudly with me because I practice and promote engagement and look for ways to exceed service expectations. Although service excellence makes perfect sense to me, I do have to remind myself that the value of providing service excellence may fall on deaf ears, where individuals are not equipped or have fallen into a false sense of reality, fully unaware of the opportunity.

This proved to be true yesterday when I called an ambulatory care clinic to obtain an urgent appointment for my spouse. I shared that he had been in alot of pain and needed to be seen as soon as possible, adding that I did not want to have to take him to an emergency room, especially during Flu Season when I knew ER's would be grossly overcrowded. I described his condition using my medical voice, and shared that I was in the medical profession, stressing the urgency of the situation.

The young lady who answered my call was extremely efficient, she quickly took his information (insurance and demographics). When I asked about how long it might take to get his appointment, she interrupted me to finish taking his vital information. She was really good at validating his insurance and noted the exact plan that popped up on her screen. I had to wait about 5 minutes for her to finish adding the information to her computer program and then asked again about an earliest appointment date. Once again, I was quickly interrupted by insurance and demographic details. I almost hung up twice and called another providers office, but reluctantly, I took the earliest appointment 3 weeks later, with the aim of finding something sooner, even if it meant paying out of pocket.

I am sure this office receptionist felt she was being very efficient, and probably did a great job of making sure all vital information was documented accurately, but she totally missed the opportunity to connect heart to purpose and positively impact this new patient/provider trust relationship. She failed to listen, see me as a person, and to validate that she heard my concerns. Clearly, her priority was not on customer service or customer focused, but rather on efficiency; focusing on her own needs rather than the customers needs.

Service excellence really speaks to culture and each person providing that service, while taking ownership in the outcomes, and having an understanding of the inherent value of the service each provides. I wonder if the leadership in this organization demonstrates to their employees the value of the patient/provider relationship, and shares feedback regularly regarding its significance on the business? Efficiency is important but if you lose your customer, does it really matter how efficient you are; in the long run efficiency can be thrown out the window and a business may be forced to close its doors. Believe it or not, the reality is the consumer is in the driver's seat, not the healthcare organization as in days past.

In business, the client is the most valuable asset, and the best way to demonstrate this is to listen, validate understanding of their concerns, offer solutions that will benefit the client (over-deliver) and see them as a person, or even better as a family member. From a leadership perspective, I encourage leaders to step back, take a fresh new look at your service excellence model or program, educate and observe the customer service being provided against a top performer goal. Drop in on calls, monitor operations and measure service outcomes. Listen to customers and set expectations for your team. Sometimes, the lense through which we view service gets cloudy over time, and we need a new fresh lense to really see the opportunities; an outside perspective in the form of a secret shopper or consultant can be extremely beneficial to improving service, quality and the bottom line. There are times when I arrive at an organization and just sit in the lobby or cafeteria and observe service; you can quickly start to form a gap analysis.

It is critical to provide education on how to deliver service excellence, demonstrate expectations, and evaluate performance. Most importantly, team members need to understand and embrace the value impact on the organization, and ultimately "what's in it for them". If your team members can be part of designing your service excellence program, then you will start to connect the dots between heart to purpose, and create owners not renters in customer service.

Lastly, I fully understand most organizations are dealing with access related issues right now, as I am often consulted in this area. However, poor customer service will have a significant negative impact on long term quality of care, budget and reputation. Organizations do not have to trade service for efficiency; they can exceed expectations in both.

For my particular encounter, I will share my feedback with the organization leadership and offer a free 8 hour consultation to help them improve their customer service while maintaining and enhancing efficiency. I will have to cancel my husbands appointment at their office, because I quickly connected with another office that provided me with exceptional service, an appointment within 24 hours, and allowed me to enter his demographics and insurance online, which I completed in less than 5 minutes.

Please send me your thoughts around service excellence and let me know if Match Healthcare Design & Innovation can support you in your healthcare quality and patient safety needs through consultation, secret shopper services or educational services.

Thank you.

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