Early Careerist Newsletter
October 2005
Are You Listening to Your Customers?

In This Issue:

  1. Are You Listening to Your Customers?
  2. Enrich Your Career at the Orlando Cluster
  3. Early Careerist Profile
  4. Additional Sources
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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?

A: One 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 is essential:

  • 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 professionalism.
  • 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 touch.”

Q: Who should healthcare executives focus on as their key customers? Does knowing who your customer is improve or alter management strategies?

A: The most important concept in healthcare customer relations is maintaining a fervent belief that virtually everyone in your community is a customer. That includes:

  • 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?

A: The 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 care?
  • What is the most important lesson we learned today regarding patient care and customer service?
  • 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?

A: Customers 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. 

2. Enrich your Career at ACHE’s Orlando Cluster

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 of

3. Early Careerist Profile

Shawn A. Sheets
Executive Officer
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 issue.

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.

4. Additional Sources

Leadership for Great Customer Service: Satisfied Patients, Satisfied Employees
By Thom A. Mayer, M.D., FACEP, FAAP; and Robert J. Cates, M.D.
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 Administration Press.

Driving Change at Alaska Health System - A Case Study
By Vince Frazier and Geri Forbes
This article describes how Alaska Providence Health System implemented six sigma quality measures to improve the patient experience, care quality and ensure the financial future of the organization.

The health plan of tomorrow
By Jeffrey H. Margolis
Originally printed in Health Management Technology, this article brings to light how consumerism affects healthcare today. The article suggests which areas will be most affected by this phenomenon and lists examples of healthcare organizations who adjusted their technology to meet consumer needs.

Hotel Breathes Life into Hospital's Customer Service
By Charlene Marmer Solomon
This article from showcases how the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center partnered with a premier hotel to increase customer-satisfaction.