Daily doses for success: Reminders for managers

The following is a list of suggestions for improving customer service from Crozer-Keystone Health System in Upland, PA:

1. Write thank-you’s for impressive customer service. Write appreciation notes to three staff members who exemplify impressive customer service. Follow this model to make it easy:

Behavior: Describe the service behavior that you appreciated, e.g., "I noticed or I heard that you . . . ."

Impact: Describe the consequences for the customer, e.g., "This had the effect of . . . ."

Pinch of empathy: Show an understanding that the employee had to undergo effort, or difficulties, or go out of their way to do what they did, e.g., "I realize it’s not easy to . . . ."

Thanks: Explicitly express your appreciation or thanks, e.g., "Thank you. I really appreciate it, and I know your customers do too."

2. Keep a "great service" notebook on your desk. Label a notebook "Impressive Customer Service" and keep it by your phone. As you deal with other departments, vendors, and the competition, jot down any customer service idea you think is excellent. For example, maybe a customer service rep says to you: "I’m sorry, but it will be at least a 10-minute wait before I can give your problem my full attention. Would it be all right if I took your number and called you back?" That’s a whole lot better than being put on hold for 15 minutes. And you’d probably want to jot this idea down to see if it would work in your department.

3. Call employees and customers by their names. "Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language." — Dale Carnegie

4. When your employees are swamped, pitch in. Don’t forget the saying, "If we don’t hang together, we’ll hang separately." Show that you value internal customer service, with you in the provider role and members of your team and colleagues in the "customer" role.

5. Tell your staff! Through research, experts have identified the top five phrases that almost always evoke hostility and miscommunication. Avoid them when communicating with employees and co-workers: "You never . . . ." "You always . . . ." "Why did/didn’t you . . . ?" "How could you . . . ?" "It’s not my job to . . . ."

6. Take advantage of meetings. Start staff meetings in ways that help staff recognize their positive service contributions and those of their peers. Ask one warm-up question per meeting and invite everyone to answer it. For instance: "Since we last met, what good example of great service have you seen someone here provide?"

Thank someone publicly for helping you out in a tough situation. Brag about one example of great service provided since the last meeting. Commend the group on a service strength you noticed in the last week.

7. Don’t use short staffing as an excuse. Talk with staff about the importance of not saying, "Sorry, we’re short-staffed." Even though the staff member perceives this to be an honest explanation to a customer, the impact of it is that the patient or other customer loses confidence in the team and the organization. Talk with staff about better and still honest approaches, such as, "I’m so sorry you had to wait. I was helping another patient and it took a lot of time. Now I’m here and want to give you the help you need."

8. Study slow transactions. Any time a customer transaction takes longer than it should, ask your staff members to break down the transaction with you. Why did it take so long? Was it a one-time problem or a glitch in the system? What can be done to make sure it doesn’t happen again? By learning from your mistakes, you will drastically improve customer service.

9. Four ways to improve customer service: No. 1. Stock your customer service areas. Make sure all the supplies your staff need to give to customers (forms, instructions, specimen cups, etc.) are quickly available. There’s no reason a transaction should ever be held up because a staff member doesn’t have what he or she needs immediately.

10. Four ways to improve customer service: No. 2. Often staff are at the mercy of employees in other departments when trying to solve customer problems. Make sure all of your employees understand the importance of customer service, and that when staff in other departments call looking for answers, your staff know to give that call top priority.

11. Four ways to improve customer service: No. 3. This week, talk with two staff members whose role in customer service you would like to strengthen. Ask them outright how they see their role in customer service in their particular jobs. Help them pinpoint who their customers are, what’s important to their customers, and how they can provide this in their roles.

12. Four ways to improve customer service: No. 4. Ask staff to bring in cartoons that illustrate the importance of service behaviors. Display these on a bulletin board or in a public area. They raise awareness. Offer a candy bar to each person who brings in a relevant cartoon.

13. Respect people’s differences. Organize an international luncheon and ask employees to bring in their favorite ethnic dish. Not only will you have a delicious meal, you will spark some interesting conversation as everyone introduces his or her entree.

Try putting together a calendar marking important events in international history. Acknowledge accomplishments made in different cultures. Let your employees take pride in their own backgrounds while educating others.

14. Think positively. Griping, bad-mouthing, and complaining rarely accomplish anything. All they do is drag people down. Be conscious of what you are doing and saying. Just for today, instead of talking about your complaints, write them down on a to-do list. Turn these aggravations into action.

15. Good starts. Do morning rounds just to say good morning to all of your staff. Don’t mix in any business issues, just smile, make eye contact and say hello. Express a few words of interest in the person such as, "How was your weekend?" or "How are the kids?" Even comments about the weather, like, "Isn’t it a beautiful day?" or "Did you get caught in all that rain?" serve as good ice breakers.

16. Invest in community service. Hospitals and health care institutions are not only important to their patients, they are members of a local community. Encourage your department employees to invest their time and attention in the neighborhoods surrounding your facility. Sponsor a clothing drive for a local shelter, collect toys for young children during the holidays, or make crafts for a nearby nursing home.

17. The 10-10-10 principle. Remember, it takes $10,000 to get a customer, 10 seconds to lose one, and 10 years to make the problem go away. Simple mathematics tell us that it is more efficient and cost-effective to keep the customers we have.

18. Speak up. Starting today, don’t walk past a problem, error, or example of shoddy service without commitment or action. Take responsibility. Instead of letting poor quality happen, every person needs to step in and do what he or she can do to improve things.

19. Become a quality advocate. Dare to go public with your commitment to quality performance and impressive customer service. Be a positive and inspiring influence to improve quality. Because change — even change for the better — can be tiring, it takes commitment. If you’re committed to quality improvement, then express your commitment by being willing to say, "It’s about time" and "I’m glad this is happening here" and "I’m going to believe it will work until it’s proven otherwise."

20. Pursue continuous improvement in yourself. Learn, read, and expand your skills so that you can be ever more effective in making quality happen. To improve your contributions to quality, you can take steps to strengthen your job skills through reading, attending educational programs and training sessions offered in your organization, asking questions, and learning from co-workers. If you’re open to self-development, you can find ways to become more effective in your job and an ever more valuable contributor to your organization’s quality track record.

21. Expect the best. The best leaders believe that no matter what their role, people can achieve the high standards they set. It’s called the Pygmalion effect, a belief so strong that even if others don’t believe in themselves initially, the leader’s belief gives rise to self-confidence, to a belief that "Yes, I can do it." Like it or not, our beliefs about people are broadcast in unconscious ways. When leaders expect people to achieve, they do. When they label people underachievers, this message comes across, and performance suffers.

22. Tell a story. Storytelling is one of the oldest ways to convey values and ideas. Good stories move us, touch us, teach us, and cause us to remember. The story provides a behavioral map. While the live example is the most powerful way to publicize what people do to exemplify values, newsletters, annual reports, ads, even voice mail and e-mail can teach positive stories about what people do to exemplify our values.

23. Celebrate together. Many of us are reluctant to recognize people in public, perhaps fearing that it might cause jealousy or resentment. But if you are genuine, this doesn’t happen. Most of us want others to know about our achievements, and the public ceremony does that. It also lifts people’s spirits and brings people together.

24. Hang a "Poster of the Month." Ask staff to contribute ideas for posters and be responsible for hanging a different poster each month to reinforce the behavior in focus. Consider having a poster contest as one way to generate great posters. Invite someone with graphic design skills to create a banner and hang it in a very public area.