Promote Accountability in Your Customer-Service Team

The first step toward achievingexceptional standards is to assemble a first-class team ofcustomer-service-oriented managers and staff.

April 26, 2001
Gulf Breeze Hospital is an acute-care facility with 60 licensed beds. Itopened in June 1985, following five years of research, planning, andconstruction.

Name:Gulf BreezeHospital
Location:GulfBreeze, Florida
Type of business:Hospital
Numberof Employees:280

    Longtime administrator Dick Fulford says that the first step toward achievingexceptional standards was to assemble a first-class team ofcustomer-service-oriented managers and staff. It's what he refers to as hisDream Team.

    Members of the staff were trained early on to make three major pledges toensure better customer service. It all begins with a positive attitude, he says.

  • Never say, "It's not my job."
  • Reduce and eliminate hassles.
  • Provide personalized professional care.

    Fulford says that every person working at the hospital has the opportunity tomake a customer's interaction exceptional. Applicants are immediately told thatif they can't make this commitment, they will probably not fit in with GulfBreeze Hospital culture.

    Once hired, team participants are encouraged to submit "brightideas," a training mechanism to foster creative customer-service thinkingon the teams. Various forms of recognition are utilized to keep the staffthinking and challenging existing procedures and policies. Rewards such as mealtickets, mentions in the hospital newsletter, written acknowledgment, andnotation in performance evaluations reinforce the hospital's customer-servicegoals.

    Ideas that require fine-tuning often are turned over to the Gulf BreezeHospital Satisfaction Team, Fulford says. Hospital staff members representingvarious departments have volunteered to serve on this specialized team toaddress patient, physician, and employee satisfaction issues. To reinforce theideas that emerge, a subgroup produces a newsletter called "BreezeWay." In this way, employees also are trained to market their successes.

    Every month, the publication features the Baptist Health Care Standards ofPerformance. The standards, says Fulford, are specific behaviors that employeesare required to practice while on duty, such as a positive attitude, goodappearance and communication, and commitment to coworkers.

    Scripts are provided to employees. Gulf Breeze Hospital employees receivebooklets that describe the hospital's code of conduct. For example, they areadvised to say, "May I help you? I have the time."

    "This last part is very important to say. There's so much rush, rush inthe health-care industry," Fulford says.

    Employees are empowered to please their customers in many ways. Any employeecan open the hospital gift shop and spend up to $250 to replace a patient's lostbelongings or to buy flowers for a patient with a complaint. Nurses carrywireless phones so doctors can contact them without paging over a noisyintercom.

    In the area of customer-service accountability, Gulf Breeze took a major stepin January 1996. It joined the ranks of facilities surveyed by Press, GaneyAssociates, Inc., of South Bend, Indiana. By submitting to the rigor ofcompetition, the hospital has trained its employees to measure its performanceby industry standards, Fulford says. Press, Ganey Associates processes more than4 million surveys annually for more than 1,400 clients. The firm provides morethan 20 different measurement instruments and reports and conducts surveys forhealth-care clients in 47 states. Its Web site reports that it has been selectedby 74 major health-care systems as their satisfaction measurement provider.

    During the first quarter of each year, clients submit theirquality-improvement experiences for its Success Story Contest. The top sixfacilities from each year are invited to present their stories at the firm'sannual client conference.

    The first Press, Ganey Associates report was received in late May 1996, andGulf Breeze Hospital earned an overall score of 95.7. Gulf Breeze ranked tops inpatient satisfaction compared to more than 600 other hospitals nationwide.

    Only a year before, the hospital had been ranked close to the bottom innational surveys. Its turnaround is a national customer-service model. Lastyear, the hospital ranked among the top 2 percent in customer-service surveys.Its market share reportedly jumped by 4 percentage points, and it generated $4.5million in additional revenue in 1999 while reducing costs by $3.5 million.

    "Doctors love to come to Gulf Breeze," Fulford says. "Theperception is that the patient is going to be satisfied."

Workforce, May 2001, p. 86-- Subscribe Now!