1. Are You Listening
to Your Customers?
Early careerists often have a unique opportunity
to directly impact their organizations by
leveraging communications to improve customer
service. By creating a culture of service,
healthcare organizations can improve the level
of care, enhance internal and external relationships,
as well as positively impact the bottom line.
Donald N. Lombardi, Ph.D.,
faculty for ACHE programs and author of nine
books, including Handbook
for the New Healthcare Manager, offers
his insight on this topic. Lombardi also is
the principal partner of CHR/InterVista, a
healthcare management and consulting firm
based in Manalapan , New Jersey.
Q: W hy is
it important to listen
to your customers in a healthcare setting?
of the most important convictions that an
early careerist in healthcare can adopt is
the reality that the customer drives the healthcare
organization, not vice versa. In the current
era of competition and change, any discerning
healthcare professional knows that choice
of provider is a recognized and often exercised
right of today’s
healthcare customer. Accordingly, there are
four reasons why listening to your customers
- Customers are inherently stressed when
they enter a healthcare facility; communication
conveys compassion, astute and active listening
demonstrates care, and asking the right
questions at the right time exhibits true
- Customers who are ignored rapidly become
customers of your competitors! Healthcare
consumers are acutely aware of the cost
of insurance and the ever-escalating cost
of healthcare, and are thus more demanding
for information. A customer who is not treated
with the highest respect will soon seek
other options for care.
- Customers often can provide an insight
or idea that can improve your operation
directly and quickly. The mark of a premier
healthcare organization is one in which
all employees make a concerted effort to
collect as much feedback and input as possible
at all times.
- Most people believe
that the healthcare organization will
take good care of the patient in a medical
sense. Therefore, they base their opinion
of the organization on the manner in which
the facility provides the “human
Q: Who should healthcare
executives focus on as their key customers?
Does knowing who your customer is improve
or alter management strategies?
most important concept in healthcare customer
relations is maintaining a fervent belief
everyone in your community is a customer.
- Patients, and their friends and family.
They are not only concerned about clinical
care, but also with clean restrooms, decent
food, and direct answers to questions (ranging
from directions to care-related details).
These often are the criteria for rating
the healthcare organization favorably.
- Decision makers in the healthcare selection
process. The pregnant Mom, the daughter-in-law
of a senior citizen who needs assisted living,
and the parent of a drug-abusing teenager
are examples of key decision makers for
a pediatric clinic, an assisted-living facility,
and a rehabilitation hospital, respectively.
- Those who work in
other departments that use your department’s
services and require your expertise.
As maximum attention to customer relations
becomes the top priority, early careerists
will notice improvements in management effectiveness.
When information is provided promptly and
dilemmas in the care cycle are resolved effectively
and in a timely manner, the level of trust
between managers and their staff increases.
Q: What are
some methods that early careerists can implement
to ensure that customer
concerns or ideas are communicated?
weekly or monthly staff meeting is one of
the most overlooked communication opportunities.
To avoid potentially stagnant meetings, ask
questions that will trigger customer feedback
and engage staff members, such as:
- What rumors do you hear from customer/patients
regarding our care and services?
- Who has an idea, that we can implement
in the next month or so, to improve customer/patient
- What is the most important lesson we
learned today regarding patient care and
- Does anyone have a practical solution
to a specific problem that we have been
having with customer service?
Using these questions—especially when
trying to progress from general intent to
specific resolution—can ensure that
each employee has the opportunity to contribute
to optimal customer/patient service quality.
Q: Any other
comments or suggestions about this topic?
and patients perceive the entire staff as
personifications of the particular healthcare
organization. Executives who use customer-oriented
language in their discussions with staff reinforce
the notion that the customer/patient is at
the top of the organizational chart. Furthermore,
making certain that employees have up-to-date
information about the organization’s
services, new initiatives, and major strategic
plans ensures that they have the opportunity
to be true ambassadors of the organization
in the eyes of the customer/patient.
your Career at ACHE’s Orlando
Gain an edge on the competition
by improving negotiation, leadership, and
interpersonal skills at the ACHE Orlando
Cluster. From December 12-16, you can select
from 11, two-day seminars in sunny Orlando.
Seminar topics include hospital/physician
relations, crisis decision making, healthcare
facility design, negotiating techniques,
emerging trends, and more! Also, take advantage
of the rich selection of self-assessments
offered at the cluster, such as emotional
intelligence and career anchors. Plan your
schedule now because this is the Cluster that
early careerists don’t want to miss!
For more information or to register, visit
the Education area
3. Early Careerist
Shawn A. Sheets
2LT, MS, USAR
U.S. Army Reserve
Health Care Team (MinCare Unit)
What is your current job title?
Briefly describe your responsibilities.
My current job title is executive officer
(XO) of the 363rd Minimal Care Detachment
Unit. I am the assistant to the company commander
and I help to plan, coordinate, direct, and
supervise the company in both garrison and
tactical environments. I ensure the operations
NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer) comply with
the needs of the command group (CO and 1SG)
and make certain that all policies, standard
operating procedures, and other standards
are easily accessible and up-to-date. I make
sure that duties are clearly communicated
and being completed in a timely manner. Finally,
I assume the responsibilities of the company
when the commander is absent.
What are some ways that you practice
effective customer management in your day-to-day
duties? And are there different approaches
in military vs. civilian settings?
The unit deals strictly
with soldiers who are wounded. When dealing
with soldiers, you have more flexibility
in treating them than you do with civilians.
With civilians, you may be concerned about
insurance coverage and the patient’s
resources. In the military this is not an
One way that I practice
effective customer management is by being
a “people person.” If
you are a direct manager, it is likely that
employees and customers will come to you with
any problems or suggestions before going to
higher headquarters. It is always better to
handle concerns at company level; the employees
and customers appreciate that you take the
time and effort to get things done. This type
of management produces more effective employees,
which translates to improved quality of care
and happier customers.
for Great Customer Service: Satisfied
Patients, Satisfied Employees
A. Mayer, M.D., FACEP, FAAP; and Robert J. Cates,
Written by practicing physicians, this
book offers insight into implementing a successful
customer service plan. The authors provide
practical strategies to engage staff at all
levels, an essential tool to gaining organization-wide
customer support. Available online from Health
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