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CUSTOMER SERVICE

What Your Customer Really Wants (It's Not What You Think)

Before you blame your employees for a strategy gone awry or spend a lot of money on a new one, read this.

If you or a loved one ever had to spend time in a hospital or medical office, I bet you'd agree that--in addition to being sick or badly injured enough to require treatment--the customer experience leaves something to be desired.  

Imagine being a hospital executive or a doctor and facing the realization that no one wants to be your customer. That's a pretty tough challenge. Add to that the fact that the government is now paying you less if your patients are not completely satisfied. For the first time, the health care industry is mandated to become "customer focused." Hospital officials are realizing that delivering a positive clinical result is not enough; they also have to deliver a positive "patient experience." That's good news for health care consumers.  

As health care leaders actively address the customer service needs of patients, I recently heard two stories that are great lessons for all business owners.  

As the CEO of a health care services company, I meet a lot of hospital executives. The other day, I met with a senior executive for a large teaching hospital system in New York City. That system has five campuses, one of which is in a low-income neighborhood uptown. He told me that the hospital recently reviewed its patient satisfaction surveys for all campuses, particularly on the topic of food services. Turns out that four out of five hospitals had very low scores. But that one farthest uptown had superhigh scores. How could that be? Same food. Same chefs. Same everything. 

Well, not everything. 

The one and only identified difference was that in the four low-scoring hospitals, an attending nurse grabbed a tray and left it for the patient in the room. At the uptown hospital, a nurse brought up a cart to the floor and parked it outside each patient's room. Then, someone from the food service staff plated the meal in front of the patient and didn't leave the room before saying, "Enjoy your meal." That's it. So rather than hire a famous chef or consider a "room service" option, the hospital system's answer turned out to be just about service. 

In another situation, I encountered a small medical practice suffering from bad patient satisfaction scores, primarily because of the long wait time to see a doctor. Sound familiar?  

The founding doctors brought the team together and considered hiring more doctors or buying a scheduling software program to increase efficiency. But they decided to try something else first. Now, when the patient came in, the receptionist immediately told him the estimated wait time (which didn't decrease). Later, when the patient was brought back to the physician's office, the nurse and physician both apologized for the wait and thanked him for his patience. On his way out, the receptionist thanked the patient again and offered to make the next appointment. 

The wait time didn't change. But patient satisfaction scores went up. It was all about setting expectations and communicating. Problem solved.

The next time your customer satisfaction is low, and you look at your product, plan expensive solutions, or blame your people, realize that the answer might be just as simple (and cheap!) as showing your customer acts of kindness and communication.

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IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Aug 7, 2012

PAUL SPIEGELMAN | Columnist | CEO of BerylHealth

Paul Spiegelman is the chief culture officer at Stericycle and founder and former CEO of BerylHealth. He also co-founded the Small Giants Community with Inc. editor-at-large Bo Burlingham. You can read more at PaulSpiegelman.com.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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