“Customer Service Starts at the Top”

Nearly all managers will agree with the expression “customer service starts at the top.” They understand that culture change takes leadership and that front line employees learn from example. It is not what you direct and order people to do, but it is how you inspire and show the way by your actions. But how do you as a manager put that into practice?

rondownloadHere are six concrete actions that you can do as a manager to show that customer service starts at the top.

1. Observe the first impressions as you approach and enter the facility. Make rounds in the facility. Observe the staff. Do they greet you, greet other guests in the facility, and interact with residents? Share your observations with managers. Review the standards for customer service and for hospitality. Remind them about the importance of the standards being posted and visible.

2. Ask for names of families and residents with customer service issues. Refer to the grievance log or generate a list of customers at a meeting with department heads. Discuss with the management team the service issues with these customers. Observe the attitude and language used by the management team. A positive indicator: the team is focused on future solutions and satisfaction? They exhibit a can-do attitude. A negative indicator: the team is focused on the past and offer excuses. They have an attitude about the customer and use negative labels. They say “Nothing will work”? This is an opportunity to coach the team on how to respond.

3. Meet with some of these customers. This is your chance to get the customer perspective. Thank the customer for sharing the concern, express empathy, listen, and explain what you will do. Retain the list in your notes. On your next visit to the facility, review and update the list. Meet with or call any customer that you sensed continued dissatisfaction.

4. Talk with front line staff. Are they aware of the standards? How often are they discussed? Consider conducting a couple of small focus groups or listening sessions. Gather 6-8 employees around a table ask them to rate their satisfaction on a 1-10 scale. Ask them to rate how well everyone works as a team on a 1-10 scale. For any rating less than a 9-10, ask for suggestions on how to improve.

5. Review the last customer satisfaction report. Meet with department managers and ask if they are aware of the report. Are they aware of at least the overall satisfaction score, benchmark, and goal? What is the plan to address issues in the report? Is the plan reasonable and realistic? If not, offer suggestions.

6. Finally, ask managers who are some of the customer service champions in that building. Write a short thank you note to them and personally deliver and thank those people.

Your leadership by doing 1-2 of these tasks on each visit will show that customer service truly starts at the top.

Would You Like to Tour?

These are perhaps the five worst words a potential family member should hear.Yet, not only is it promoted throughout healthcare; it is often followed by punishment for those who do not ask callers to tour. For years, in my sales training, I have recommended that the admissions teams eliminate the word “tour” from their vocabulary. Hospital Liaisons and Business Development reps should avoid it at all cost.

To understand the two most compelling reasons why, let’s walk in the shoes of a family member or a potential rehab patient.

Barbara has been told that her father is not doing well and the plans for him to return home have been dashed. She is devastated and now must deal with her Mother, as well. She begins to call the list of centers provided by the hospital social worker. She never dreamed she would have to “tour” a nursing home this morning.

Next, Frank is 74 and planning hip replacement surgery. Not only does he not want to “tour” a rehab center; he doesn’t want to go there at all.

In both cases, being asked to tour your center will result in either a direct “No”, a begrudged visit or a no-show. Why? Think about how you would feel if there was no compelling reason for you to do something you really dreaded.

So, then, how do we get a potential client into our buildings?

First, it is not about the tour. It is about how visiting your center will help Barbara feel better about her dilemma and how meeting the team in your center will help Frank to understand that he will recover more quickly.

Second, it is all about not selling. The initial call is not a time to sell, not you, your staff or your center. It is about careful questioning, expert listening and well-placed recommendations.

Lastly, it might sound something like this:

“Mrs. Chandler, thank you for sharing the challenges you’re facing. I understand this is a difficult time. You told me that your Mother is fearful that your Father will not return home and that you are also concerned about his non-compliance; is that right?”

“Yes, this is all so unexpected.”

“I understand. Mrs. Chandler, May I recommend that you stop in and meet our Director of Therapy? Our therapy team is second to none; together they have almost 25 years of experience. If you have some time tomorrow or Wednesday, we could also meet with our Director of Nursing; she can explain some of the methods that have worked to motivate our guests. How does that sound?”

The person handling the inquiry call must first listen for the caller’s greatest needs, show concern and empathy. Only then can one provide the real benefit of a visit to your center. It is always the reason they will want to “tour”. Mrs. Chandler will come in to meet the people who might get her father home and Frank (who doesn’t want to tour) may agree to stop by to meet the Director and ask those personal questions that are bothering him.

In closing, that inquiry call is a result of all your marketing, sales, events and collateral; it should be treated like gold. Don’t talk, just listen. Don’t sound rushed; slow down. Don’t ask them to tour; tell them why a visit will benefit them


Customer Service is a Subset of Sales

When asked, 95% of sales managers indicate that customer service is an integral part of sales. Most say that selling is ineffective without excellent customer service.

In sales, the goal is always the sale. Failure is when the customer doesn’t purchase the product or service.

It’s rather like a dance slowly moving through the sales process toward a decision. The skilled sales person ensures that the customer is with him at each step and that they are both in agreement before the dance moves to a new step.

In customer service, the goal is always a satisfied customer. Failure is when the customer is unhappy.

It is more like a comforter where the customer explains what they need to feel warm and the sales person attempts to provide the comfort.

While they have many similarities, they are vastly different in both goals and process. Still, they are both critically essential for success in continued revenue growth.

So, how then do we merge the two into an effective sales process? Which one, if either is more important? Can a skilled sales person succeed if customer service is poor? How does an ineffective sales person succeed if customer service is exceptional?heirarchy

Sales is a subset of marketing; competitive analysis and demographic data collection is the starting point. Once a talented sales person understands the market dynamics, he can begin to prioritize his customers. Identifying where the business exists, where it is currently going and why those choices are being made is the investigate step. Customer service enters here. How are we doing? What programs are working? What does the market think of us? Customer input is essential to determine how to become or remain competitive.

Once in front of the right customer, the sales person must be able to follow a linked process which takes him effectively through a questioning phase, deliver a compelling message that meets the uncovered needs and conclude with a positive decision by the customer. This is the sale.

The merging of the two skills done correctly results is a happy, satisfied customer who has purchased the product or service.

One can conclude that like DNA, they are sculpted together to create a successful customer experience which results in revenue growth.

Holiday Schmaladay

Unlike in my personal life, the holiday season in healthcare sales is just plain dreadful. Well, here it is again! It is quite understandable that holiday marketing is pushed to the back burner. Everyone has their hands full with family, friends, gifts and parties. Is it any wonder that the planning is glossed over to just “Get it done”? We are all just trying to make it through the endless Christmas parties to the New Years Eve bash!

But Holiday Gift Giving for your customers is important; it is costly and it is so often an exercise in a waste of money. Let’s look at a few problem areas and few solutions.

The When Problem: It is December 1st and we must decide about holiday gifts. It is too late!

The Who Problem: Gifting is focused on attending physicians and discharge planners. Wrong

The What Problem: Cookie trays, Bakery Muffins, Calendars and Mugs filled with Hershey Kisses. Really?

The Why Problem: Because everyone else does! Wrong again!

The solutions are simple but not easy. They require time and focus. Firstly, the process should begin just after the past holiday. How were the gifts received? Did we choose the right people? Did we give the gifts for the right reasons? Will they be remembered throughout the year?

If we start with the end in mind, the focus becomes about the customer. Who should we present with gifts and why? Is it a thank you for business during the year? Is it in hopes of new or continued business? Is it name recognition? Do we have a new service to tie into the gifting? This makes our task of creating the list a bit more focused.

When we understand the why and the who, the what becomes more clear. This is not because everyone else does it so we should not give what everyone else does. Be innovative and creative. Give something memorable!