Customer Service: The Priority in Person-Centered Care
eSolutions: November 2013
Feature article: Customer Service: The Priority in Person-Centered Care
Grantee Feature: Where customer Feedback is First: Cherokee Health Systems
Quick Tips: The Five Senses of Customer Service Assessment
Featured resource: Customer Service Action Plan
by David Lloyd, Founder, MTM Services
Do you provide great customer service to the people you serve? Do you create an experience for your current and future clients that keep them coming back? It is more important than ever to evaluate your processes and refocus your efforts on the customer.
Demand for behavioral health services may increase dramatically in the coming years due to implementation of the Wellstone-Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addictions Equity Act and anticipated growth in both Medicaid and insurance coverage. That means more people could call your agency, come through your door, interact with your staff, and engage in treatment — or go to your competitor down the street who offers better service and access.
In customer service, Nordstrom is king. Their business model puts the customer at the very center. They believe that by relentlessly focusing on the customer experience, they will create positive stories that will encourage returning customers and referrals to their friends. In healthcare, we tend to lose sight of the customer because of competing demands, long wait lists for service, and limited clinician availability.
As I’ve seen all too often in my work, here’s how primary care and behavioral health centers fundamentally differ from Nordstrom:
Primary Care and Behavioral Health Centers
The customer comes first.
The payer comes first.
The customer defines excellence.
The deliver system defines service.
What's best for the customer is best for the organization.
What's best for the clinician's schedule is best for the organization.
Staff performance is measured by level of customer service offered.
Staff lack key performance indicators related to customer service.
The customer experience is built to meet a full range of needs.
The customer experience is built on internal service silos.
On a recent webinar on customer service, 63% of behavioral health organizations said they have no staff key performance indicators for customer service and that 51% never measure referral source customer satisfaction.
The demands of a changing healthcare environment serve as a wakeup call. Yet, even when we all agree that integrated primary and behavioral health services need to focus on the customer, it can be overwhelming to consider what to do next. If you can achieve the following priorities, your organization will achieve a higher level of service and bring customers back. These key customer priorities are:
- A high quality service level
- A satisfactory experience
- Friendly care
You cannot improve customer service unless you know what you need to improve on. Three areas your organization must consider are:
- Data Collection — How much redundant information is asked of your clients? Often, it is as simple as evaluating how many times a client is asked the same question by each staff member. Use those copiers, or, better yet, make sure your electronic health record forms transfer forward duplicate information automatically.
- Same Day Access — Customer-focused care requires open access and fast treatment. To achieve great customer service, you should focus on doing an initial intake the same day a person calls or walks in, and then provide that person with a second face-to-face service with their clinician no more than 3 to 5 days later. This is key for differentiating yourself from your competitors.
- Feedback — Have you ever done satisfaction surveys? They can tell you a lot. Here’s a sample referral source satisfaction survey for you to adapt and give out to your community partners and referral sources. I also recommend mystery shoppers that call and walk in to evaluate everything from wait times, overall look, and even the smell of the facility.
The best way to learn about your customer service is to ask your clients. Fred Riechhield’s book, The Ultimate Question, states that customer satisfaction is assessed through the response to one question, "Would you recommend this business to a friend?"
That is the question which drives Cherokee Health Systems, in Knoxville, TN, who makes it a priority to provide excellent customer service to all its clients.
To assess patient loyalty, at the completion of each visit clients are asked how likely they would be to refer a friend (ranked from 1-10, with 10 being most likely to refer). The goal is for every customer to report a 10 in this patient satisfaction survey. In addition, all clients are asked what it would take for Cherokee to get a ranking of 10. The survey has both a quantitative and qualitative component that can be tracked over time.
Everyone at Cherokee can access this feedback in real-time to see how their services rank compared with other departments, and to be able to respond/react to the specific customer suggestions for improvement. Most often, these suggestions are items with relatively simple fixes –issues like access, provider engagement, appointments, etc.
Cherokee makes the provision of this feedback easy for clients and simple for employees to collect and process. All feedback is collected through iPads onsite, at the conclusion of a client’s service. That allows for the feedback to automatically update and go back to the center, so all staff can see their satisfaction ‘score.’ Prior to the iPads, Cherokee collected customer feedback through telephone outreach, which was much costlier and led to less comprehensive feedback. This system also helps Cherokee collect responses to follow-up questions required as a patient-centered medical home.
Cherokee incentivizes all of its employees to take personal ownership of this customer service approach by tying these feedback scores to its employee bonus program. Departments who show improvements or keep up high customer satisfaction scores for patient satisfaction, quality and efficiency get a $300 bonus each quarter for each employee.
Regular testimonials from the people they serve show that their focus on improving the customer satisfaction experience works. Real testimonials from some of their clients include: “Cherokee Health Systems has been a life-saver for me. Everyone just bends over backwards to help me.” and “They are there whenever I need them.”
When a customer visits your organization, their experience is shaped by reactions to all five of their senses. Take a quick check through your organization from the lens of a customer, using the following questions as a guide.
- Sight: Is the parking lot clean and manicured? Is the front door spotless and easily opened? Are there adequate signs/information to direct the customer to the appropriate places? Does your space look beautiful and welcoming; engaging and fun?
- Smell: Are there unpleasant odors? Do the restrooms smell clean? Are there musky smells in the offices? Outside, can you smell cigarette smoke or fresh roses blooming?
- Touch: Is the furniture sticky or dirty? Is the pen provided to fill out form(s) clean? Are the magazines in the waiting area fresh and crisp? Are restroom fixtures washed and shiny?
- Sound: Are there noises associated with crisis (loud, sudden noises; running footsteps, etc.)? Do customers ever hear yelling or shouting? Is there soothing background music in the lobby? Is there music and information when customers are placed on hold? Do treatment rooms have fountains or sound machines?
- Taste: Are adequate healthy refreshments and snacks available? Is the coffee and/or water offered to the customer fresh and in a clean cup?
Take a look at all the ways your clients interact with you, factor in potential concerns, and create solutions with the Customer Service Action Plan template.
Check out CIHS’ new Ten Minutes at a Time HIT Library. The library offers 20 concise, voice-narrated PowerPoint presentations packed with information about Stage 1 Meaningful Use and project management. The presentations are useful for any behavioral health provider interested in the integration of primary and behavioral health care, project management, Stage 1 Meaningful Use, and electronic health records for behavioral health.
SAMHSA’s report, Behavioral Health, United States, 2012, provides unique, comprehensive national-level statistical information on trends in private- and public-sector behavioral health services, costs, and clients.
The University of Kentucky is launching a study, Improving Community Health through Successful Partnerships, to "identify, compare, and contrast exceptional models of collaborative partnerships involving public health departments, hospitals, and other stakeholders committed to improving community health and determine the key lessons learned from their experience." Nominate collaborative models that demonstrate the characteristics of successful partnerships as outlined in the study overview.
Three new SAMHSA publications provide guidelines for prevention, screening, treatment, and coordination of services. These include:
- Managing Chronic Pain in Adults With or in Recovery From Substance Use Disorders and Addressing Viral Hepatitis in People With Substance Use Disorders, offer information for clinicians working with adults with a history of substance abuse.
- Diabetes Care for Clients in Behavioral Health Treatment reviews diabetes and its link to mental illness, stress, and addictions.
To ensure we’re giving you the information you need, we want to hear from you on what you want from CIHS. Take our webinar survey on the top three topics you’d like to explore with integration experts in 2014, and feel free to write in your own suggestions.
Take a look at our past webinars for inspiration. Popular webinars in 2013 covered trauma-informed care, embedding behavioral health into primary care, and addictions treatment innovations. Check out all past webinars here.