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Turn a rude caller into a gracious customer
Your actions can turn things around
An irate customer called the access center at Virtua in Marlton, NJ, complaining that she could not take her child on a maternity tour because of the new visitor restrictions enforced due to the H1N1 outbreak. "She was so upset when she first called that she threatened not to have her new baby at Virtua," says Ninfa Saunders, RN, MSN, MBA, PhD, executive vice president for health services.
First, the staff person listened to the caller's frustrations without interrupting. Next, she proceeded to use a system called H.E.A.T., which stands for:
H: Hear the customer.
E: Empathize with the situation.
A: Apologize for what the customer has experienced.
T: Take action and turn the situation around.
The access employee empathized, apologized, and explained the reason for the new policy to the customer. Then, she was able to provide three suggestions for the caller:
First, the caller could do the tour online in the comfort of her own home. The navigator explained that by using this option, her son could enjoy the same experience with her.
Second, the navigator referred the caller to Virtuababy.org, an online resource for pregnant parents, to see information about the hospital and what to expect. Finally, the navigator then gave a third option of attending maternity classes, and made sure the customer was pre-registered at the hospital.
"Because of the H.E.A.T. system, the navigator's tone, and the navigator's ability to provide alternative options, the customer was very satisfied and even apologized for her rudeness," says Saunders.
The H.E.A.T. training is part of Virtua's "Access Navigation" program created to help its patients access health care services. "This program makes it easy to schedule procedures and services, find a physician, and answer health and wellness questions by calling one telephone number," says Saunders. "Our access 'navigators' are true connectors and facilitators of care."
A key part of the Navigation program's training covers crucial conversations. "At the core of this concept is the intent to create a meaningful dialogue," says Saunders. Here are the key points:
Make a commitment to reach an acceptable outcome and reasonable result.
Teach the navigators to hold their own personal emotions in check in deference to the need of the patient.
Understand that the intent is always to deliver an outstanding patient experience.
In one instance, a navigator had a patient who needed to see a cardiologist because of a family history of heart problems. "The patient was frightened and didn't want to make this appointment, nor did she want to even talk about it," says Saunders.
The navigator assured the patient that this was just a routine appointment. She shared a story from her own experience with the patient.
"The navigator took a persuasive approach toward the patient and convinced her that this was the right thing to do for her health," says Saunders. "Finally, the patient agreed and even stayed on the line while the navigator made the appointment."
Focus on the patient
Many of the scenarios used in training come from actual situations that patients and staff have experienced. "While many of the situations are positive ones, we do experience challenging ones as well," says Saunders. "Some of the most difficult ones involve patients who are afraid, distraught, and frustrated, to whom a sense of urgency and panic are palpable."
Equally difficult are situations when patients' expectations far exceed what is realistic. In one case, a patient wanted a navigator to schedule all of his appointments to coordinate with the public transportation bus schedule.
"Although it was an unusual request, the navigator did accomplish this task for the patient," says Saunders. "The navigator scheduled him for podiatry and gastroenterology appointments near his bus route. This call took longer to accomplish, but it resulted in a very happy patient."
To prevent a situation from escalating, access staff are asked to always remember that their focus is meeting the needs of the patient. They are trained to do these things:
1. Anticipate all ranges of conversations and emotions.
2. Give the patient "small wins" by immediately delivering on what is doable.
For example, staff have the ability to talk to a patient and schedule his or her appointments while the patient is still in the office. Also, staff can help patients make other appointments for labs or radiology, even if patients are capitated to another provider. "This results in a higher probability that the patient will use our services again in the future," says Saunders.
3. Ask to get back to the patient on all other needs that cannot be delivered at first conversation.
If a call looks like it is going to take a long time, navigators always offer to complete all of the transactions and call back the patient when these are completed. "Our navigators also follow up with patients to ensure they are aware of what is required for their specialists, such as test results and past history, prior to their scheduled visit," says Saunders. "Second conversations with patients are common, depending upon the patient's needs."
Navigators also are encouraged to consider asking for the help of other staff who may have more experience with the matter at hand. 'Excellent service is top of mind. Should we disappoint, service recovery is paramount," says Saunders.
Recently, a man called the access center very upset because he could not find an orthopedic physician that accepted his insurance. "He felt no one could help him," says Saunders.
After listening to the customer's problem, the employee apologized. She explained how the access center and physician referral services work and what she could do for him. The navigator was able to find the caller two options for physicians who accepted his insurance. She then offered to make the appointment for the physician that the caller chose.
The man gave her his information and asked for the navigator to call him back when the appointment was made. After scheduling the appointment, she called the man back with his appointment date, time, and directions to the office. "At the end of the call, this frustrated caller turned into a very gracious one," says Saunders.
[For more information, contact:
Ninfa Saunders, RN, MSN, MBA, PhD, Executive Vice President for Health Services, Virtua, 401 Route 73 North, 50 Lake Center, Marlton, NJ 08053. Phone: (856) 355-0010. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.]