Aides critical link in patient satisfaction chain

Incentives used to improve customer service

Almost any re-engineering project requires lower-level staff to handle more direct patient care duties. But many health care providers, including subacute facilities, find that patient-focused care efforts are stymied by high turnover among health care aides and extra stresses on other employees.

King’s Daughters’ Medical Center in Ashland, KY, has discovered a way to turn health care aides and other staff into customer service stars with an integrated system of hiring, development, rewards, and recognition. The 340-bed facility won first place in the 1996 Client Success Story Contest for Press, Ganey Associates, a health care satisfaction measurement firm in South Bend, IN.

Susan Graham, director of customer relations, relates the steps that propelled the facility’s patient satisfaction scores to the top in nearly every category:

Develop employee skills in areas most important to customers.

As part of the transformation to customer service culture, King’s Daughters’ used results from Press, Ganey’s patient satisfaction monitor to design an education program for all 1,600 employees that ran one hour a week for eight weeks.

"The classes helped the employees understand that customers are the only reason the organization exists," Graham says.

The training addressed topics such as:

— the differences between care and caring;

— the customer’s point of view;

— problem resolution;

— teamwork;

— telephone skills;

— rewards and recognition;

— understanding and using satisfaction data.

"Most employees even leave the classroom understanding the meaning of a correlation co-efficient," Graham notes.

Reinforce through rewards and recognition.

After hiring and developing employees dedicated to customer service, you must reward them, stresses Lisa French, senior consultant for Talent+, an international management and consulting firm based in Lincoln, NE.

"Those that don’t get ongoing recognition will be the first to leave," French warns.

Graham adds that public recognition by peers helps employees feel more valued and creates a positive environment for change.

Hence, the 5-Star Care Reward and Recognition Plan, which is open to all employees, physicians, and volunteers, encourages employees to earn points (and subsequent public praising) for such behaviors as:

— serving on a total quality management team;

— volunteering for a community event;

— collecting data for a process improvement project;

— receiving written comment from a customer. (See copy of 5-Star plan, above.)

Employees track their own progress in a manila envelop that contains the criteria for the award and documentation that the points were earned. One such document is a 5-Star letter — a short thank-you note written when a person is "‘caught’ doing something right," French explains. "The more personal and immediate, the more effective it is."

She cites examples of 5-Star letters certified nursing assistants have received: "Ruth was the perfect aide. So kind and understanding. . . . Mary has been super nice to my wife in every way. She does a great job and appears to enjoy her work.’"

After accumulating the number of points required for each level, the employee presents the folder to the customer service manager who verifies the employee’s credits.

The rewards may be as small as getting their name published in the employee newsletter or as lavish as a seven-day cruise package or resort vacation. For example, in the home health department alone, six CNAs have received a range of awards.

What’s the most coveted recognition and reward package? It’s not the gift certificates, dinners, or weekend travel packages. "What they really want is the gold lapel pin that comes with 300 points — and a lunch with the CEO," Graham says. "Employees tell us, ‘Skip the lunch; just give us the pin.’"