Here are three ways hospitals can avoid providing customer service in the healthcare industry.
1. Ignore the fact that expectations of speed have changed--that "patients" are not as patient as they used to be.
... Or, if you want to improve your customer service, consider the following:
Patients live in a world where Droids and iPhones, laptops and iPads can connect them--instantly--to vetted advice from the Mayo Clinic. And Amazon.com can get them a book of expert advice instantly in electronic form or within eleven hours in hardcover. So, to think you can get back to patients with information at the same sluggish pace you always have doesn't cut it. Patients don't want you to shoot from the hip, but they need to be kept informed--frequently and speedily. And, by the way, they don't expect labs to take four days. Nothing takes four days anymore, outside of the healthcare industry.
2. Whatever you do, don't ever apologize.
... Or, if you want to build customer loyalty, work on the following:
It is time to get rid of the defensiveness (or, at best, apathy) that tends to mar the healthcare industry when confronted by a patient upset with what she perceives to be a service gaffe. Resolving patient issues means knowing how to apologize for service lapses pointed out by a patient. Take your patient's side in these situations, immediately and with empathy, regardless of what you think the "rational" allocation of "blame" should be. And spread this approach throughout your staff through role-playing and other training devices, so it will serve you fully every time a patient hits the fan.
3. Don't say hello properly--and don't bother to say goodbye.
... Or, for a dramatic improvement in how patients experience their stay with you, consider the following:
Psychological research, most notably by memory researcher Elizabeth Loftus, has proven that the first and last items in any list are by far the most easily remembered. In customer service, the same principle holds true: The first and last moments of a customer interaction are what a customer is likely to hold in memory as the permanent "snapshot" that encompasses the whole event. So, it is very hard to recover the goodwill of a patient whose first impression is:
* A front-desk staff member's irritation at being "interrupted"--even for that telltale half-second.
* Spending a long, tense time finding a parking space (and when she does, it's a six-minute walk to the front door--and she's on crutches).
* Signage in the building that is confusing (once she finally does manage to hobble the six minutes to the front door).
As far as goodbyes, your send-off needs to be better than just a chilly invoice sent through the mail by your billing service. (Why do veterinarians universally follow-up to see how Rex is doing but physicians rather rarely do the same? It could make all the difference.)
Micah Solomon is a top speaker and adviser to corporations and professional firms on improving customer service and the customer experience.