Achieve Gold Standard Customer Service for your UCC

Customer SErviceLast month, The Ambulatory M&A Advisor took an in-depth look at the importance of the first impression of a UCC.  However, professionals in both the medical and customer service fields say that not only is a first impression important, but consistent, quality customer service is a must when it comes to maintaining the happiness of patients visiting an urgent care center (UCC).

Jill Guindon-Nasir, PHD, Senior Corporate Director, Global Learning Solutions and Organizational Development at the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center says that their business offers a program to the healthcare field called Excellence in the Patient Experience.

“It’s for different healthcare organizations to come and benchmark the world class service excellence best practices of the Ritz-Carlton that are of course, transferrable to any industry,” Guindon-Nasir says.

According to the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center’s website, some important highlights the program focuses on in the medical field are the development of a patient-centric culture, establishment of a successful operational system to reduce mistakes, focus on patient engagement, and the improvement of employee engagement.

The program also focuses on the Ritz-Carlton three steps of service. According to the company web site, the steps are as follows: Use a warm and sincere greeting, using the guest’s name; anticipate and fulfill each guest’s needs; give a fond farewell and use the guest’s name when they leave your place of business.

Guindon-Nasir refers to the transformation of a business using the Ritz-Carlton method as a “culture transformation.”

“The culture transformation means that they have a culture,” Guindon-Nasir says.  “They have missions, visions, values. Everyone has them already created when they started their organization. Culture transformation is about how we can take it to the next level. It’s a change. It’s really change management, but looking at the culture…they really want to go to that world class level so they can be a benchmark in their own industry.”

Guindon-Nasir adds that going through the process of change means there is a risk of a failed change initiative if the process is not properly implemented.

“It’s very important that there is lots of education and benchmarking the best practices,” Guindon-Nasir says.

Peter Lamelas, MD, owner and operator of MD Now Urgent Care Centers says that in his offices, he uses the Ritz-Carlton as a starting point for his own personal training strategies. Lamelas says the core of Ritz-Carlton method that he utilizes is their motto: ‘We are Ladies and Gentlemen, serving Ladies and Gentlemen.’

“Showing politeness, tone of voice, facial expressions, recognizing people when they come into a facility… Those small, little things add up. It adds up to a great patient experience,” Lamelas says.

Lamelas says he constantly works with his staff to modify training methods, in order to provide a consistent, quality, experience for MD Now’s patients.

“We tell our staff, people need to have a memorable experience coming here. A little kid goes to the circus, they get a big, red balloon. They get a stuffed doll. They go home and they remember they were at the circus. They have something tangible that they can hold and feel, smell and look at,” Lamelas says. “We need to let our patients leave with at least one memorable experience…a positive memorable experience when they present here; at least one.”

Lamelas says that the focus of what a center gives a patient is important.

“What are we giving our patients? What is their memorable experience?,” Lamelas expresses. “Are we giving them a pat on the shoulder, a handshake, a look in the eye; acknowledging their pain, their experience, their concern?”

According to Lamelas, when dealing with patient complaints, a blameless apology is a successful route.

Lamelas says that when using a blameless apology, he does not admit guilt but sincerely apologizes using scripted phrases. Some phrases that Lamelas refers to are,  ‘I’m sorry for your loss, I’m sorry for your concern, I’m sorry for your experience, I’m sorry that you didn’t think we treated you as well. What could we do to help make this better?’

“We may or may not accept blame depending on the situation, but we are giving an apology which is what people want to hear. Three words, ‘I am sorry’,” Lamelas says.

Lamelas stresses that constantly toning up customer service methods is not easy, but is important for the success of a modern UCC.

“It’s almost like planting a garden. You plant the garden, and you’ve got to pick out the weeds. As you water the garden, the weeds are going to grow, so you’ve got to pick them out. As you hire people, you pick out the bad ones. You train people and where there are issues that they can learn, you address that issue and you continue to train,” Lamelas says.

Lamelas adds that when someone visits a UCC, they are looking for service that will give them empathy, try to cure their ailment, ease their pain and take care of their immediate needs.

“That’s the ‘care’ part of the healthcare. That’s what is lacking sometimes,” Lamelas says.  “In what we do right now, there is a big psychological component. That’s why I think a lot of UCCs that embrace that, and try to train that…that’s why they are successful.”

Lamelas says that physicians practicing medicine with the ”I’m the doctor, you’re the patient. I’m right and you’re wrong” mentalitly will have issues with success.

“They are not going to do well, or they are going to get sued, or there is going to be a variety of different complaints that they have to address. Patients tend not to sue doctors and facilities that they like,” Lamelas says.

Karen Hickman, certified etiquette and protocol consultant, owner, operator of Professional Courtesy LLC, says she can point out several issues in healthcare that require attention.

Hickman says the biggest current etiquette issue in healthcare is a lack of appropriate training in professional courtesy skills. Hickman says that the problem stems from not training staff initially and not letting the staff know expectations for their behavior.

Hickman says some of the specific issues include improper body language, phone usage.

“I’m hearing complaints from patients that doctors are taking calls in exam rooms in front of the patients. I think those are things that should not be happening,” Hickman says.

Hickman has worked on customer service training with hospitals, medical offices both nationally, and locally in Indiana, where her company is based.

“I am a nurse by education, so it’s been an easy segway for me to go on into the healthcare field,” Hickman says of her experiences.

Hickman says that in order to maintain a high quality in customer service, a center should make their business a patient-centric practice.

“Often the practices have been about the physician and it really should be about the patients,” she says.

Some skills that Hickman considers to be the top skills of customer service include: Eye contact, smiling, acknowledgment of the patient, and finding an appropriate time for introductions and shake hands with the patient. All of these are suggestions that she stresses are very important.

Hickman believes that in pointing out the deficits in healthcare customer service, that a sense of awareness will arise.

“Pointing some of those things out really, I think helps healthcare workers be more attentive to how important the small things are,” Hickman says.

Jackie Amster, Vice President of Marketing with Your Neighborhood Urgent Care likewise understands the importance of the details involved with customer service in healthcare. She also displays the knowledge that a patient’s attitude starts with their experience at the front desk.

“With the front desk we go through a lot of training, we review case studies. We help them understand patients more and what our patient would need when they arrive,” Amster says.  “We work on their phone skills. (We make sure) they are detail oriented when it comes to all the paperwork that needs to be filled out; then being able to recognize larger issues where we might need to have the doctor be more involved or the back office more involved.”

Like Lamelas, Amster understands that constant training and evolution is important to realizing an understanding of what a patient needs to feel better.

“Things are always changing within the industry and with patients. We are always adapting to our environment; wherever the next clinic is, or any new policies and procedures within our company,” Amster says.  “Any type of training is going to help your staff interact with patients better, as well as insurance groups, employers.”







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