All About Gratitude

When you think of service, what memories does that word conjure up? Does your mind quickly go to a time when you had a bad experience? For many of us it does. Our minds are wired to remember the negative more than the positive.
If you have ever worked in customer service, you know that it can be a thankless job. These front line people are disrespected and yelled at more often than not. Unfortunately so are their leaders in middle management. That type of treatment compels me to ask one question: “Has society forgotten the Golden Rule?”
      I’ve worked for organizations before  whose front line employees were treated like a means to an end by those in corporate’s ivory tower and whose middle management was blamed for the sins of senior leadership’s poor decisions. But does that kind of a culture really drive the service and sustainability we need in business and help to foster the long-term relationships we need with both our team and our clients? The answer is a resounding, “No.” In fact, it does exactly the opposite. 

To better understand why, let’s take a deeper look into the nature of human behavior. Put simply, the human brain is wired to react. When placed in a high-pressure, high-emotion situation, the fight-or-flight mechanism kicks in. This means, when people are treated poorly, their natural tendency is to fight back or run rather than to react positively. Subsequently, quality, productivity and performance drop significantly and we are caught in a vortex that is difficult to escape from.
We as a society and as leaders cannot afford this reaction, however, the blame for our team’s behaviors lie squarely on our shoulders and not on theirs. Why? Because as the saying goes from one of my favorite movies, “attitude reflects leadership.”
So, what is the answer or secret sauce to motivating, compelling and inspiring our teams? It’s simple: kindness, support, love, and gratitude for the hard work our teams put in day in and day out to serve the customers we care about. It’s all about gratitude. Gratitude for our teams first and foremost, and gratitude for our customers who give us the honor and opportunity to serve them.
This Thanksgiving as we think about how we can better position ourselves to enter a more successful 2020, I would challenge every single senior leader to first support your team and thank them. A kind word goes a long way; a hateful discourse sends an employee (and ultimately a client) away.

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Turning Whiners into Winners

We’ve all had to deal with them – the customers whose chronic complaints can cloud a sunny day. Our natural inclination is to avoid them in the halls, skip meetings to which they’re invited, and not call them back because we simply dread interacting with them. I know I’ve been sucked in and pulled down by them on more than one occasion; it’s hard not to.

Over the course of the past year I’ve worked in a new department where I interact with 1 or 2 of these people every few days. As a result, I’ve grown accustomed to it and have been forced to change my outlook and my strategy for dealing with them in order to survive.

One customer in particular is a physician who works in the Cath Lab I lead. Every little action by my employees is heavily scrutinized and he constantly complains to me about my team and their actions every chance he gets.

So how have I dealt with it? I’ve changed my outlook. You see, generally every complaint that comes our way is founded either in reality or perception; reality means it is valid, perception means it isn’t always valid or entirely accurate but still must be addressed. With that mindset, I’ve operationalized the complaint process in the following way:
1) Take note of the complaint
2) Investigate it
3) Look for a way to get ahead of it to prevent it from reoccurring (include
your team in this process too)
4) Follow-up with the person who registered it and explain the steps taken
5) Keep an eye on things in the background to ensure the new process both
delivers the expected results and stays consistent

I’ve come to the conclusion that the best way to deal with hypercritical, whiny customers is to view their complaints as suggestions and feedback for improvement. Not all of the suggestions (complaints) can be resolved, but all of them can be reviewed. Often times, reviewing the root cause and then following up with the person who registered the complaint is just as powerful to the customer as implementing a resolution.

Rather than viewing complaints from chronic hypercritical whiners as personal jabs at you and your team’s ability, viewing them as feedback can create an opportunity to help you deal more positively with their negativity, allow you to build credibility in your relationship with them, and give you ideas for improvement in your operations.

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A Different View

I tend to see the world from a different perspective than most people I meet. It’s can be exasperating, exhausting and exhilarating. When the department I lead is not hitting its numbers, I’m okay with being held accountable, however, not publicly. The hospital I work for, however, uses a process where, if we’re over budget on expenses or under target on volumes, we get to go before a firing squad comprised of senior leaders, accountants and our peers. It’s intimidating and humiliating, and, though the majority of my peers respond well to this method, that tactic is not always the most effective with me. I respond better to one-on-one brainstorming sessions with my boss and, I am tougher on myself than any accountability firing squad committee ever could be. This descrhibes the situation I find myself in presently.

Why am I sharing this and how does it apply to customer service? It’s a prime example of what I call individual relational preference. Every individual has a different preference of how they are approached; one size does not fit all. True leaders are adaptive in nature and can lead all their subordinates differently according to each of their individual preferences. So too are service personnel able to develop a sixth sense and intuitively discern how each of their clients prefer to be approached, served and communicated with. Those who are the best at service practice adaptive client interaction, and can relate to their different customers in ways that suit them individually. By tailoring your interactions to suit each customer’s individual preferences, you will gain better loyalty, improved engagement and subsequently increased business.

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The Russian Way

One of the best friends I ever had was a Russian named Dima. He also happened to be my uncle. He and my aunt had married after she met him on an evangelistic crusade in Moscow. Dima’s influence left an indelible mark on me. As I lead my team, I often find myself reflecting back on the lessons he taught me through his example and his stories. Dima was a former KGB agent after having served in the Spetsnatz division of the Russian Armed Forces – the equivalent of America’s Special Forces. Through his experiences, he learned how to lead and how to succeed in the toughest of circumstances and took those lessons with him to form a few successful businesses.

Trust but Verify: This is an old saying President Reagan first coined when working with Mikhail Gorbachev. As I watched Dima run his business, I saw that he listened to his customers and genuinely cared about what they had to say. That didn’t stop him from following up and conducting due diligence to corroborate their claims when something went awry. Although he trusted what they had to say, he verified the details.

CYA Cause You’ll Need it Someday: This wasn’t neccesarily Dima’s favorite part of the job, however, early on as a soldier, and later as a business owner, he realized the value of covering himself and his business should he encounter any shady characters or unwarranted opposition.

Knowledge is the Best Weapon: When faced with a question or a difficult request, he consistently  came through and always seemed to have an answer. If he didn’t know the answer, he always knew where to find it. He constantly was learning about his customers and their habits, preferences, and experiences so he could continuously improve his business and its services.

Turn on the Charm Before You Break an Arm: The movies depict Russian KGB agents as gruff, uncaring, forceful and harsh. As I became acquainted with Dima and his former colleagues and listened to their stories, I learned that quite the opposite was true. They were shrewd and cunning, but their charm and charisma drew people to them. I actually discovered that, although they were highly-trained to elicit insurmountable levels of destructive force (in other words they could kill you with their bare hands) in fact, they preferred to rely on their influence and interpersonal relationships to accomplish things. Put simply, after resolving issues, their very effective approach to service recovery in business was to use charm and self-effacing humor to overcome service blunders.

Being the Best Means Forgoing Rest: Though Dima led a balanced life personally and professionally, if a customer needed something, his philosophy was “work before play.” He didn’t rest until the job was done. 

I still keep in touch with Dima. After my aunt passed away, our lives got busy and we went in separate directions. Despite not keeping in touch as often as we’d like, the lessons I learned from him as a teenager have stuck with me and contributed to my success.

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10 Questions for Healthcare Leaders to Ask about their Patient Experience Program

When it comes to assessing the Patient Experience program at various hospitals throughout the country, according to recent publications such as HealthLeaders, and Modern Healthcare, executives are looking to establish an administrative infrastructure to drive the changes necessary to improve patient satisfaction. To address these issues, the first step is to assess the current state-of-the-union in the hospital you operate. The following 10 questions can aid in driving that assessment:

  • Do patients and family members have the phone number to the Patient Experience department? – Whether it is to call and report a compliment or complaint, before, during or after service, providing patients with this number allows for transparency, tracking, service recovery and employee recognition.
  • Are comments reports used for service recovery or recognition?- The comments reports from monthly Press Ganey surveys often mention names of physicians, nurses and other caregivers who offered exemplary service. Since specific recognition goes further than general recognition, this is an opportunity to recognize employees and physicians. If issues are mentioned, this is also an opportunity for proactive service recovery.
  • Do units trend their monthly scores by question and create and follow-through on action plans related to primary and secondary opportunities?- Trending the monthly scores over a rolling 12-month period by question and using these monthly trends to drive action plans related to the worst (primary opportunity) and 2nd worst (secondary opportunity) trending scores provides a basis for root-cause analysis that can zero in on problem areas in order to drive necessary corrections.
  • Do staff practice an on-stage/off-stage protocol?- When walking through the hospital in plain sight of patients, families and visitors, is there a “no on-stage cellphone use” policy to help employees appear more engaged and available for questions and to aid in driving more personal acknowledgement of people in order to create a warm, friendly environment?
  • Is the hospital intentional about training staff on “right words?”- During certain situations there are phrases and words that can best alleviate or ease tension amongst patients, families and visitors. It’s important to raise awareness of these phrases and words to better equip the staff for facing these given circumstances.
  • Does the hospital record random interactions between staff and patients and use them for educational purposes?- There is nothing like the “real thing” to help train staff on how to handle certain types of interactions for optimal service outcomes. The recorded interactions can be used as a basis for role plays and other training tools.
  • Does the hospital use high-performing team members to train its staff on service rather than educators?- While educators are an excellent resources, certain organizational cultures respond more openly to being educated by members of their own team. If high-performing members are approached and asked, many of them are happy to coach and train their teammates. Usually these high-performers are also “influencers” on their teams; people whose street credibility, so to speak, wields a lot of impact. This technique both effectively trains teams, while simultaneously recognizing high-performers with growth opportunities.
  • Is Administration engaged in removing barriers to staffing (recruitment and retention), so staff are enabled and empowered to provide more personal care? – If front-line employees are asked about impediments to excellent service, many will respond that time constraints and overwhelming workloads are the cause for lags in service levels. If that issue is researched further, a direct link to recruitment delays and retention problems is often uncovered. If bureaucratic, elongated recruitment processes are found, it could directly affect patient care. By streamlining the recruitment process, costs can be saved, retention can be increased for existing employees, and, most importantly, patient satisfaction can be improved.
  • Are physicians included in training sessions, seminars, symposiums, and conferences?- Many times, during the course of rolling out new patient satisfaction initiatives, physicians are overlooked even though they are one of the most impactful groups in the process.
  • Are data analytics and reporting infrastructures used and built to drive awareness and create more effect approaches?- The data is out there whether it means trending low ratings by diagnoses or procedure, or other perspectives, a new view might shed some light on an old problem and help engineer proactive approaches to patient service.
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Patients Come Second

In his book, Patients Come Second, author Paul Spiegelman argues that, “In order to care for and retain patients, leaders must first create exceptional teams and find ways to engage nurses, administrative staff, physicians, supervisors and even housekeeping staff and switchboard operators.” Essentially, Spiegelman’s premise is that if front-line employees are not treated well, in turn, they will not treat the patients well. Southwest Airlines employs the same philosophy and has won countless awards for service excellence in years past.

I began my career on the front-lines, working as a Collector in the Patient Financial Services department. Only through hard work, determination, and producing great results was I able to climb the ladder to where I am now. Because of that experience, having worked my way up from the front-lines, I have never forgotten where I came from and have a unique perspective on how to work with my colleagues on the front-lines to improve the patient experience in our organization. During the course of my tenure, I’ve developed the following list of things I must do consistently in order to both win and keep the trust of those front-line associates on my team:

  • Acknowledge: In my new role as a Service Line Administrator I held one-on-ones with every member of my team. In those meetings, I asked the teammates, “What are your expectations of me as a leader.” Nearly all of them replied that they wanted me to acknowledge them. They wanted me to say hello and goodbye, and to talk to them like the adults they are instead of projecting or communicating a condescending demeanor. “If I’m walking down the hall,” one of them said, “Say hi to me rather than ignoring me or looking the other way.”
  • Respect: People at all levels of the organization want to be part of the solution. They want their opinions to be heard. Whenever I’m faced with a new goal or initiative, or whenever there is a current indicator my department is falling short on (which doesn’t happen often), I engage the team and ask for ideas and solicit their input. I respect their feedback. I appreciate their ideas. I believe in them enough to include them as part of the plan.
  • Exemplify: Whether you realize it or not, as a leader, you are on stage all the time. People are watching you; they look to you as an example of how to behave. This afternoon as I was walking out of our Cath Lab Recovery Room, one of the patients waved to me. We didn’t know each other, but, he felt the urge to be friendly. Realizing that he had recovered from his anesthesia and now had the presence of mind to converse, I stopped and engaged him in conversation. After we were through talking, I passed another patient’s spouse who had wrapped herself in a blanket. “Are you warm enough with that blanket or can I get you another one?” I asked. She replied that she was fine and then I asked if I could get her a cup of coffee to help her warm up. “That sounds great, she said,” so I went over and poured her a cup. As I left the department, I overheard one of my teammates say to the other, “That was cool!” He actually talks to our patients! My hope is that my leading by example will compel my team to have the same personal touch.
  • Serve: I tell my teammates (including physicians), “My main priority as your leader is to do three things: Empower, Resource, and Support.” My job is to empower my team to offer world class treatment and care; ensure they have the resources necessary to do their jobs, and support them in their work.
  • Be Approachable, Available & Present: I practice an open-door policy. On any given day, my door will only be shut for one of three reasons: I’m on the phone, I’m in a meeting, or I’m engrossed in an intense project (preparing budget for example). Other than that, anyone on the team is welcome to just walk right in. You are free to come see me because I’m approachable, available, and present (I won’t act distracted; you’ll have my full attention).
  • Round: I make it part of my daily routine to round on my team. Rather than just performing a “fly-by” I actually stop and engage them in conversation, find out what their day looks like (or has been like), ask if there is anything they need, and ensure that there aren’t any barriers hindering their work.
  • Recognize: Offer specific praise for a job well done. I comb through comments on Patient Satisfaction Surveys, listen to patient feedback during conversations, and observe my teammates in action in order to uncover opportunities to offer specific recognition and praise for great work.
  • Care: It’s okay to tell your team you care about them. In fact, it is necessary. People need to know their leaders care about them personally in order to thrive in the workplace and feel fulfilled in their work.

All of these components are the basics, but they provide a solid foundation upon which to build a great team and drive a high-performing organization that offers exemplary service.

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Down On the Corner

 Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me (Matthew 25:40)

 He was young, but the circles around his eyes and his rugged face would have suggested otherwise. His shirt hung loose around his emaciated frame and the misery of his demeanor added to his unkempt, unhealthy appearance. Sitting beside him on the bench were two small children and a lady – all of whom shared his worn-out, weary and beaten look. As people drove past, it didn’t take but a mere second to size up and figure out the situation – this family was homeless.

As my friend Vern drove by that day, little did I know the front-row seat I had to a miracle. I wish I could say that it was my idea to stop, but it wasn’t. So many times before I’d passed situations like this without even a second thought. Yet Vern had a tender and generous heart because he knew exactly what it was like to be in their shoes. Vern had built his empire of businesses from the ground up and was a multi-millionaire. Fifteen years ago, however, Vern had been on that bench himself – homeless, lost, vagabond, and without a foreseeable future.

Knowing Vern’s history, I wondered what he was thinking as we sat in silence and passed their bench. It didn’t take long before his thoughts were revealed to me by his actions. He suddenly whipped the car around and drove up next to the bench. Instead of the impersonal rolling down of the window, Vern hopped out of his truck and approached the father. I listened, and what I heard spoke to my heart in a way few events in my life ever have.

“I’m Vern. It’s nice to meet you. Are you waiting for the bus?”

“No sir. My family and I live on this bench.”

“Not a whole lot of shelter and no running water. Where do you sleep and eat?”

“We have no home.” Came the short reply.

“How long?”

“Too long,” the father responded.

“Is there anything I can do for you?” Vern tenderly inquired.

“My children and wife are hungry,” that’s all.

“Have you looked for work?”

“I can’t find any.”

With that, Vern continued to ask short questions and get short responses, but I had no idea where he was leading. Most people would simply have handed the gentleman some money and been on their way. Vern had been where they sat. He knew they needed more than just something to eat. Their spirits and their hearts were just as hungry as their stomachs – their desperation was evident in their eyes.

The conversation continued and after a few more questions, Vern found himself a new night watchman for the car washes he owned. This homeless man, who probably thought himself to be unemployable due to his bad luck, was hired on the spot and given a bonus. Not a bonus of money, but a bonus of shelter. His family would get to live with him in the office of the car wash he guarded until he had saved enough money to get back on his feet and get them a place to call home. What else? The furniture from a self-storage unit Vern owned and had recently foreclosed on became theirs for whatever new home they would find. It included a table and chairs, two-full sized beds, a sofa and a dresser – everything they would need to start out.

Their lives were changed in an instant by the compassion and kind-hearted actions of someone who, without a second thought, dared to share his success and good fortune with those who needed it most.

That day, this event got me wondering how many people I’d passed by before who needed some help? Whether it was someone who was homeless or someone who felt hopeless, how many desperate situations had I seen before but failed to recognize because I was desensitized to the despair around me?

God reminded me of an important lesson that day: true fulfillment and joy is found in serving and meeting the needs of others.

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Always Yes

It seems like many of my service excellence epiphanies come from cruises. This one is no different. My family and I took yet another cruise a few weeks ago. During our time on the ship, we experienced many memorable service interactions, however, none were as great as an Italian waiter we had. His name was Floriano; we called him Floro for short. Floro was tasked to wait on a table with three small children; a monumental responsibility, no doubt. After looking at the Children’s Menu the first night, my son decided he wanted macaroni and cheese. Now, most of the time, this staple of American Culinary Culture is available on all children’s menus. This time it was not. “Have no fear,” Floro exclaimed, I will find it. I responded, “Floro, if it is too hard, don’t worry about it,” to which he shot back, “My motto is ‘Always Yes.'” The next evening, my mother-in-law asked for Diet Sprite. Once again, Floro came through and found her exactly what she was asking for. “Always yes,” he proclaimed as he delivered her the drink.

As I watched him run around the dining room and connect with his customers, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would look like if a hospital operated with the same philosophy, within reason, of course. I could picture a patient saying, “My husband is hungry but he doesn’t have any cash for the vending machines. Do you have anything he can eat?” Instead of the usual and customary, “I’m sorry, the café is closed,” our response could be, “Let me walk down to Food & Nutritional Services to see what they can give us. They’re closed, but I’m sure someone is down there washing dishes and prepping for tomorrow.” Maybe it’s a patient requesting that two family members be allowed to sit beside her bed in the ER as she awaits treatment even though the quarters are cramped. Typical responses are, “Hospital policy is that only one family member is allowed at a time.” As I’ve stated in prior blogs, there’s an exception to every rule; service superstars know how to be that exception. Instead the response should include an Always Yes flair and be something like, “Absolutely. I totally understand. There is only one chair because the quarters are slightly cramped, but let me go find you a second one.”

Sure, there are some circumstances where no is no, but, for the most part, if you really analyze it, I think you’ll find that those instances are actually few and far between.

Always Yes. What a novel idea and a brilliant philosophy!

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The Light Bulb Philosophy

Recently I experienced a situation in which I was faced with a battle at work. Ultimately, the outcome wasn’t what I felt was best. In responding to my concern, someone close to me quipped, “Well, you lost that battle.” I thought about that for a while and was reminded of a time in history that best summed up my perspective. It was said that Thomas Edison failed over one thousand times in his attempt to successfully invent the light bulb before landing upon the correct formula. When asked about it, he said, “I didn’t fail; I just discovered one thousand ways of how not to make a light bulb.”

When confronted with a service failure, this same philosophy applies. Don’t view a service issue as a failure, but instead as a discovery of how not to please the customer. If, like Edison, you learn from every “discovery”, you’ll eventually get it right.

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Don’t Get Blasted on Social Media

Recently a vendor I was working with was causing issues that disrupted the productivity of the business office I lead. I called the account representative and asked her to escalate the issues. A few days later, I had heard nothing from her and the issues were growing. Seeing that this was about the 100th time this same issue had arisen, I was done with going through the traditional channels. I needed to raise a little cane so I could get some results.

I hopped on Twitter, and tweeted a stern remark to the company asking that they get it together and help me with the issue. Within 5 minutes I heard from their Director of Social Media who then worked with me all day to quarterback resolutions to the issues I was having. By the end of the day, I had what I needed.

I chose to delete the Tweet later on that day because I had received an acceptable response to it and the issues were resolved. Had I not received a response, I would have probably added more tweets.

Point is, Social Media is a very strong medium to reach companies who otherwise aren’t giving you the service you need. If you are a large organization who prides itself on managing its online reputation, Social Media also can be very damaging.

How then can you keep from getting blasted on Social Media?

1) Be responsive- When customers need things done, get them a response.

2) Be timely- Make sure resolutions and responses are timely

3) Be communicative- If it is going to take longer than expected to get something done,  keep the customer in the loop. When customers feel forgotten, they will go to great lengths to be heard.

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