Customer Service Transforms After A CEO’s Personal Experience

A recent article* about a hospital CEO elevates him to hero status, and his willingness to share his experience deserves attention. The point is he was willing to share a very personal experience about the customer service during his mother’s hospital stay, and how it transformed his own hospital.

Upon spending time with his mother in another hospital the CEO noted that it took a long time for someone to answer her call light. He was not pleased with the environment as her room was not very attractive and it was not clean. In addition, he observed that his mother’s pain was not well managed, that it was not assessed or treated in a timely manner.

Why do we not treat every patient like our own mother? Why did it take this experience for him and others to notice that services were subpar? When are we going to realize that we are in the people business and those people consist of many mothers, fathers, wives and husbands, and treat them as we would our own?

Now, I am not asking for much and neither was he – he simply raised the awareness of his managers and staff of the personal, people-side of the business. He implemented “standards of behavior” which I call expectations for performance. Communicating these standards and expectations is critical to the training and education process. Employees generally want to please an organization, but if not told what the expectations are they will simply do their own thing – or follow the lead of colleagues.

Changing a culture requires changing a collective group of individual beliefs and mindsets, which will lead to changes in their actions and behaviors. It takes time and a commitment by the leader, the CEO and leadership team. Maintaining it will require an ongoing, never-ending mechanism for communicating expectations, reminding employees, keeping the awareness of the expectations alive and monitoring for assurance.

Once the foundation is laid and the employees believe it is real and lasting, the time commitment declines, as everyone understands the expectations for performance and rationale. This new way of operating, defining success, should become a requirement for hiring new people – and when the culture is service-oriented employees tend to stay. And as this CEO noted, employees, even physicians, will travel a great distance to work with an organization like this. In addition, his effort led to enhanced satisfaction and staff retention – becoming one of the “top places to work” and recipients of multiple awards.

My experience in organizations is that some people don’t want things to change; they have been there a long time and are comfortable with the status quo. Some employees regardless of tenure will not change, and simply must leave. His experience was the same – employees who could not comply with the new culture chose to leave or were let go.

Also important to note, the CEO talks about mission over margins. Understandably, margins are the focus for most organizations. However, can we not have both? Would people not go to a hospital where, as he defined it, success was defined as “positive outcomes, feelings of being loved and cared for by a great group of people?”

With consumers seeking user-friendly health care systems and 30% of Medicare payments into alternative value based models by end of 2016 – 50% by end of 2018 – it seems this direction is the right one and the time is now for such a transformation. Competition is fierce and every hospital is focused on good care and outcomes – how about some humanity to set you apart from the others?

* Wagner, K. “Putting Patients at the Center of Care,” Healthcare Executive, ACHE.  July/August, 2015.

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