Courtesy and smiles project good image

Effective telephone etiquette necessary

People who choose home health care as their profession are caring, people-oriented professionals, but home health managers should not assume that being caring and friendly always results in the best customer service, say experts.

The patient’s perception of the quality of care begins with the first telephone contact, points out Karen Marshall Thompson, RN, MS, administrator of Southern Ohio Medical Center Home Health Services in Portsmouth. "We train all of our employees on telephone customer service and we teach everyone to answer the phone with a smile," she says. Even though the caller cannot see the smile, there is a difference in the tone of your "hello" when you are smiling, she points out.

"We do provide some scripts for employees to follow when answering questions and we teach key words to use in telephone conversations that show the caller that we are listening to them and we want to help them," says Thompson. The most effective thing staff members learn in telephone etiquette training is to close every call by asking, "Is there anything else I can help you with today?" she says.

"Patients are often surprised by this question because it shows that we are not trying to rush them so we can move on to something else and that we are willing to spend time with them to handle their question," Thompson points out. "It is a great way to end a telephone call because the patient feels good when the call ends," she adds.

When employees do receive complaints, it is important that they know how to handle them, points out Maureen Hayes, RN, professional service manager of Mercy Homecare in Cadillac, MI. "We teach everyone that a concern or complaint from a patient is an opportunity for us to improve, not a reason for us to become defensive," she says. "It is important that every patient concern or complaint be reported to a supervisor or manager so that we can identify trends and find ways to address complaints," she says.

Employees need to feel comfortable reporting complaints and that means they have to know that there are no repercussions for reports, says Hayes. Even if a complaint appears to be directed at an employee, such as a nurse arriving late for a visit, there may be factors beyond the nurse’s control, such as traffic at that time of day, which can be addressed by a revision of the schedule, she points out.

"We remind nurses that many of our patients are anxiously awaiting the visit as a social experience, as well as a health care visit," points out Thompson. "Our nurses call the evening before the visit to confirm a time so that the patient knows when we plan to be at their home," she says. "If a nurse does have a visit run longer than normal or if the nurse is running ahead of schedule, he or she will call patients to let them know of the change in schedule," she says.

The telephone calls demonstrate that nurses do respect their patients’ time, says Thompson. "If the nurse is late and the patient has heard nothing, the patient assumes that his or her visit has been forgotten," she says. "Once a nurse realizes that he or she is going to be late, it just takes a few minutes to call patients to reassure them that they are not forgotten."