W. Edwards Deming is recognized as one of the driving forces that led Japan to become a world-class manufacturing nation in the 1950s. Through the implementation of his principles, the Japanese became leaders in the manufacturing of automobiles and electronics.
One of his cardinal principles was that a company must delight its customers. It is not enough for a company that wishes to excel to meet the needs of its customers on a timely basis; it must consistently exceed customer expectations.
Deming is not alone in recognizing that focusing on the customer is key to becoming successful. Recently, the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) found that “better performing medical practices” focused on the following four processes:
- Profitability and cost management
- Productivity, capacity and staffing
- Accounts receivables and collections
- Patient satisfaction
So how can businesses or healthcare providers find out what their clients want? How can they meet their clients’ needs? One way is through the engagement of their employees.
Wendy Lea, the CEO of Get Satisfaction, a tech company that helps businesses achieve success, says that engaging the employees of your company “just like you would your top clients” increases customer satisfaction.
Why is this important? Because in most businesses, it is the employees who are face to face with clients most of the time. This is true even at ambulatory healthcare sites.
Although the most important engagement of the patient is through the physician, the patient also encounters nurses, receptionists and other staff. These encounters are significant. Employees, through their client engagement, can find out the needs of patients and meet these needs through superior service.
When it comes to employee-customer engagement, healthcare can learn a lot from other business sectors. Let me demonstrate this with a short story.
My son, in his first management job, was the manager of a gasoline station. One of the first things he did was hold a team meeting with his staff in which he set forth the need to improve customer satisfaction and asked for suggestions on how to do so. He and his staff discussed the ideas that they came up with and decided to implement the best ones.
Not only did he engage the employees to come up with ideas on how to improve the quality of service that was provided, he gave an immediate raise to his key full time staff that had seniority to keep them from moving to another job.
The results were fantastic. His inside sales went up over 50 percent. His theft due to employees became almost nonexistent. His regular customers started showing up more often.
What are some of the key points one can see in this story?
1. The success was driven by leadership’s willingness to communicate with employees and reward them for their efforts. (This is another of Deming’s key points to success.)
2. The staff met regularly with my son to discuss various concerns about customer service. Many of the ideas were implemented and the results were generally effective. The employees came up with their ideas from engaging with customers.
3. My son measured the success with a variety of metrics, including improved sales and losses due to employee theft.
Employee engagement is one key way to delight the client or customer and to gauge satisfaction, but there are other avenues. In its article listing the four key elements of better performing medical practices, the MGMA stated that almost 60% of successful practices used surveys to gauge patient satisfaction. Focus groups of patients and online research into best practices were also listed.
These approaches to customer satisfaction, though—employee engagement, surveys, focus groups and research—will only take a business or healthcare provider so far. To achieve superior results some risk must be taken.
New services, such as the use of social media to improve customer interaction, will take some investment of time from staff and may or may not pay off initially, requiring a bit of experimentation. But undertaking such projects may take your business to the next level of achievement as a superior provider, so that experimentation could pay off.
Which path will you take as a business or healthcare provider? Are you willing to transform into an organization that engages its staff and relinquishes top-down decision making? Will you focus on the customer as your primary goal? Or are you simply interested in short-term profits?
If you’re seeking sustainable, long-term results, focus on measuring and patient satisfaction through a variety of approaches and commit to working daily to improve it.
How do you engage with the staff at your office?
Donald Bryant is a healthcare consultant who helps healthcare providers meet their challenges. Visit Bryant’s Healthcare Solutions website to get a free article: 7 Challenges in Healthcare and How to Solve Them. You may also contact Mr. Bryant directly at 616-826-1699.
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