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Practice What You Preach
It Will Pay Off

By Rick Gurba
Spring 2016
Retail experts and a number of customer service surveys have identified the benefits of good, and consequences of bad, customer service. Bad customer service experiences are repeated as many as sixteen times depending on the type of industry. Whereas good experiences are usually conveyed two to three times to others. Negative experiences cost you money and may limit your ability to gain new business in an area. This is especially true where repeat and word of mouth business are key to your success. This article will focus on customer service as it relates to the medical transportation industry.

Today's medical transport crews have a number of job responsibilities that go beyond direct patient care. They range from obtaining signatures and billing information, documenting the care administered, cleaning vehicles and many other duties as assigned. The crews have many things on their minds. And on any given day, you see crew members wearing sunglasses that hide their eyes, have buds in their ears listening to music, focus more on the electronic patient care report than the patient and have machines to check vital signs. Distractions created by cell phones, tablets, phones, pagers and medical monitoring equipment occupy their eyes, ears and hands.  With all of those distractions, something is missing. But what is it?

"Your smile is your logo, your personality is your business card, how you leave others after an experience with you is your trademark." These words by author Jay Danzie are important to consider by each of us as we go about our day. But all too often we get caught up in the busy-ness or business of the day and forget the little things that matter the most to our customers -  a smile, a simple hello, a thank you, holding a patient's hand, engaging them in conversation or simply holding the door open for the person behind you. These actions can, and do, have a lasting impact on the people with whom we interact.

So who are our customers? In the medical transportation world, the usual answer is the patients we encounter. But other customers may not be as obvious to us. Family members, care givers and other loved ones of a patient are included. The nursing home staff, your dispatchers, the vehicle maintenance personnel and those that support your organization are customers too. Law enforcement, fire department and hospital personnel are customers as well. But most importantly, and all too often forgotten - our fellow EMS providers.

Customer service is not something turned on just when dealing with patients. Our interactions with all other customers are just as important. And you never know where you will encounter a person that has influence on your organization. The interpersonal or soft skills your staff has can make a manager's life easy or difficult.  Their verbal and non-verbal actions should be observed with immediate feedback given for improvement.

It Starts at the Top
Nothing is more frustrating to staff than seeing a lead person's inability to execute the same customer service or soft skills expected of staff. Staff members will look to leadership and emulate the actions of leaders, managers and supervisors. Good supervisors and leaders will likely breed good staff members. Take a look at your own organization. You can easily identify the supervisors, managers and leaders in your organization who practice good (and bad) customer service. And while it's more focused on business relationships - such as respecting others time, scheduling meetings rather than barging in, walking the walk instead of just talking about doing things, talking to staff rather and engaging them in conversation and actually producing something of value rather than simply coordinating the work done by others - it's all part of an effective organization.

Set Clear Expectations
It is important for an organization to clearly set expectations of customer interaction through a process suitable to the organization and exercised by all staff - from the top to the bottom of the organization chart.  A large portion of complaints I have dealt with in my career largely dealt with lack of communication or miscommunication. And in most cases, the complaints could be easily resolved by communicating more effectively. Lack of communication in many circumstances is out of laziness or apathy. Whereas miscommunication is created by the sender of the message not being clear on the message being sent to the receiver. Non-verbal communication actions should be observed and evaluated as well.

Early on in my career, one of the most significant impressions made on me was the that of a customer service class presented at the hospital where I worked. The lessons learned from that instructional team have stayed with me all of these years and served me well in a number of different business operations. And all of the principles have the same, if not more, meaning today as they did 25 years ago.

The training session involved experiencing just some of what an elderly person deals with in their activities of daily living. I put on reading glasses that made my vision blurry to mimic cataracts and was asked to read multiple prescription bottles. I wore winter gloves to mimic arthritis. I then tried to write a letter, open a jar or attempt anything requiring fine motor function. To say the least, it was difficult and frustrating. I wore earplugs and attempted to carry on a normal conversation. And the most painful was walking in a shoe with a stone inside under my foot. My mind was opened further and changed how I dealt with patients. And I understood it was just one important part of my job.

Multi-billionaire business owner Marcus Lemonis from the television show "The Profit" dscribes the three essential elements - people, product and process - as critical indicators to small business success. In the medical transportation industry, people = drivers and medical personnel; product = the medical transport service; and the process = operations. Any one of those three items not up to par can have a negative impact of success. Moreover, if these elements are not handled well, the business will perform at a less than a desirable rate. Initial and ongoing training is an essential element to any business.

Measure Results
There are a number of ways to receive information about your services. One passive way to stimulate feedback is to send out "get well" cards after your transport. For non-emergency and paratransit operations, consider sending out a birthday card or non-traditional holiday card. The practicality of obtaining immediate feedback on an emergency call is limited. For those transports, we would recommend a mailing or email afterward. For non-emergency transports, consider obtaining the information right away from someone depending on their capabilities.

Was your driver polite?
  • Did the driver/crew talk to you?
  • Was the temperature... too cold, too warm, just right?
  • Were your treated with respect?

The best feedback is received when a crew member asks the above questions and gets a direct response from your customer. Any answer that is not satisfactory should be addressed by the crew until the answer is acceptable.

Provide Feedback to Staff
The measured results should be compiled and provided back to the staff, management and leadership in a manner that is productive. Post positive comments back to staff members for others to see. Make the positive feedback part of their personnel file. Award those at the top ten percent of the spectrum. Schedule customer service training needed based on the feedback. Individuals at the lower ten percent of the spectrum should be counseled and possibly receive training outside the scope of the regular staff training. Leadership and management should look at the results as an indicator of the culture of the organization and plan accordingly based on those results.

Leadership and management must set the standard by "walking the walk" by treating staff the same as they expect staff to treat others during their job. Training is essential. The soft skills of today's generation are different from 20 years ago. Understand your employees need continual training to keep their soft skills honed. Evaluate your staff's performance by direct observation and feedback from customers. Communicate the results to the staff in a variety of ways. Modify your training program accordingly.