The (Consultant-Approved) Customer Service Diet

[Originally published in Forbes.com. The author, Micah Solomon, is an author, consultant, influencer, keynote speaker, and trainer in customer service, customer experience, customer service culture, and hospitality. (Here are three ways to reach Micah: email, chat, web).

Instead of pointing out what to do to improve your customer service (my usual mode of operations as a customer service consultant), today I’m going to point out the actions and mindsets that, if removed from your repertoire, will go a long way toward creating customer service excellence.

In other words, I’m going to prescribe a customer service improvement diet: ten things to stop doing that will improve your customer service through their absence.

1. Do away with unnecessary scripts. Customers today are looking for a genuine style of customer service and are allergic to anything that feels insincere or saccharine. (Read more on genuine customer service here.) So, wherever practical, ditch the scripts and let employees speak in their own language. Or, I should say, let them speak their own language within reason. For more on this, see point #2.

2. Declare war on inappropriate language: Although I’m not a fan of scripting, I do believe that every company should have (and follow) its own language lexicon: a small book of discouraged words and phrases and preferred alternatives that work better when speaking with customers. In fact, a language lexicon usually one of the first things I set up when consulting with a client. Here are a few of the phrases I encourage you to discourage:

“You need to”

“Like I said”

“To be honest with you”

“I’m not going to argue with you”

“No problem”

There’s also a whole category of defensive language that tends to rear its prickly head when an employee is facing an upset customer. Such language, including the following phrases, needs to be excised from your company vocabulary:

“That’s not what happened”

“I didn’t/we didn’t”

“Not our responsibility”

“We would never”

and so forth.

3. Stop building processes based on the worst behavior of your worst customers: Refusing to take checks because one customer, in 2003, once wrote you a bad one; asking for ID unnecessarily–when there’s no safety or security concern involved, etc.

4. Stop griping to employees about the times when customers let you down. Any of us who have worked with customers for years have some negative stories to tell. But I’d suggest keeping them to yourself, because when you continually gripe to employees or co-workers about the worst of customer behavior, you set a terrible example–an example unlikely to lead to superior customer service moving forward.

5. Stop frowning–in person and on the phone. This is advice is self-evident when applied to face-to-face interactions, but it’s amazing the difference that facial expressions make on the phone as well. When you smile, your voice has more treble and other cues that help you start off on the right foot with a customer and stay there. (Only exception: If a customer is upset or telling you something bad, please, please don’t smile. In a situation like this you want to mirror the customer mood, not stay artificially apart from it.)

6. Stop tolerating auditory and olfactory irritants: smoke retained on employee clothing and breath after cigarette breaks, floral arrangements whose water should have been changed two days ago, loud intra-staff chatting, vacuuming when there are customers nearby, dragging chairs instead of lifting them from location to location…

8. Stop looking at your cell phone. Yes, you. I’m talking to you. (I’m talking to me, too.)

9. Stop thinking of customers as an interruption.Even the best-intentioned service professionals can get in the rut of thinking, as they go through the day trying to get their long-term tasks and projects completed, that customers seem to be always “interrupting.” (And customers will be able to read this attitude; even a tell-tale half-second brow-furrow before you respond to a customer question will give you away.)

10. Stop disempowering your employees. We frequently talk about the importance of empowering employees (here’s an article of mine on this subject), but one of the keys to this is to stop disempowering—to stop sending managerial messages that an employee had better not mess up and go too far out on a limb–that if they try to do something special for a customer and it doesn’t work out (it ends up costing more than you expected, or something else goes wrong), the company definitely doesn’t have their back.

Micah Solomon is an author, consultant, influencer, thought leader, keynote speaker, trainer, and subject matter expert (SME) in customer service, customer experience, customer service culture, hospitality, innovation. (email, chat, web).

10 Customer Service Transformations That Can Overhaul Your Customer Experience

[Originally published in Forbes.com. The author, Micah Solomon, is an author, consultant, influencer, keynote speaker, and trainer in customer service, customer experience, customer service culture, and hospitality. (Here are three ways to reach Micah: email, chat, web).

Last week, I suggested quick wins that could improve your customer service and customer experience. Today, I’m going to challenge you to go deeper. Here are 10 truly transformational steps that I often suggest to my clients (as a customer service consultant), that can make deep and lasting change for your company or organization.

1. Overhaul your employee onboarding. It’s essential that your onboarding (orientation) process stress the purpose of employees’ work in the organization, rather than getting bogged down in warnings and paperwork. Is your current process aligned with your company purpose, and does it make that purpose clear to your newly-hired employees? Mark Hoplamazian, CEO of Hyatt, was shocked to discover that his company’s orientation wasn’t, but rather was compliance-driven and came off to employees like “A Hundred Ways You Can Get Fired By Hyatt.” (Here’s the story of how Hoplamazian overhauled Hyatt’s onboarding approach, once he made his discovery.)

2. Overhaul your practices for hiring, or “selection,” as I prefer to call it. Superior customer service depends on superior customer-facing employees; here’s an article of mine on how to get them.

3. Even if you don’t proceed with a complete overhaul of your hiring (selection) practices, at the least stop aiming to hire “pre-trained” employees. I know that hiring previously trained employees feels like a worthwhile shortcut, but in nontechnical fields it can backfire. As Patrick O’Connell, the storied proprietor of the double five star Inn At Little Washington, says in my new book, The Heart of Hospitality: Great Hotel and Restaurant Leaders Share Their Secrets[free chapter link], “Bad habits are not given up easily. If a great deal of ‘unlearning’ has to take place, we find it more arduous than dealing with a clean slate.”

4. Upgrade your technology. Even the most customer-focused employees can be hobbled with the wrong technology; conversely, their greatness can be multiplied through technology effectively deployed.

5. Upgrade your standards and your processes. Every company has systems and processes, and every great company has great systems and processes. Just as poor technology can hobble great human employees (and human intentions), so can out-of-date, poorly designed, or non-existent processes and standards. (More on this here.)

6. Commit to slashing your service- or product-delivery times. The old concept that speed and quality are opposing forces (as in the saying, “Price, speed, quality–pick two”) is no longer always true and, as importantly, is no longer believed to be true by customers. Customers don’t think “slow” equates with quality (with a few rarefied exceptions; for example, you don’t want your entrée at a Michelin-starred restaurant to come out to quickly), and, generally, it doesn’t; it more commonly co-exists with sloppiness. So, if there’s no positive to being slow, look at the negatives: It turns off your customers and it deters prospective customers from choosing you.

7. Find models outside your industry–and take the lessons they have to offer to heart. If you’re in a service industry, look to the defect-reduction experts in manufacturing. If you’re in manufacturing, look to the hospitality experts in, well, hospitality. The changes you make based on what you’ll learn will likely be transformational.

8. Study how Lean (formerly known as “Lean Manufacturing” and before that known as the Toyota Production System) can improve your customer experience–but do this cautiously. More on this here.

9. Put in a program for continuous improvement (whether or not you fully “go lean”). Consider, specifically, Mr. Biv, thesimple system of continuous improvement developed by the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company.

10. Write employee empowerment into your “charter,” and start living it.

Micah Solomon is an author, consultant, influencer, thought leader, keynote speaker, trainer, and subject matter expert (SME) in customer service, customer experience, customer service culture, hospitality, innovation. (email, chat, web).

Purpose-Driven Leadership For Superior Customer Service

[Originally published in Forbes.com. The author, Micah Solomon, is an author, consultant, influencer, keynote speaker, and trainer in customer service, customer experience, customer service culture, and hospitality. (Here are three ways to reach Micah: email, chat, web).

The standard level of customer service at most modern companies is reactive. Reactive service isn’t the worst thing in the world (it’s a lot better than negative service), but it’s not an effective way to create loyal customers. Reactive customer service leaves your business in that dangerous commodity zone, where you’re interchangeable with the competition in the minds of customers. To use your service level as a competitive weapon, as something that can get on the fast track to customer loyalty, your company needs something better: what I call anticipatory customer service.

The magic happens when you, your systems, and the employees throughout the ranks of your business anticipate the needs of your customers, learning to recognize and respond to the needs of your customers before they are expressed—sometimes before your customers even realize they have a need. That is the difference between providing ho-hum service by merely reacting to customer requests and building loyalty through true anticipatory service.

Let me share an example adapted from one of my bestselling books on the subject. [There are two free chapters for you at that link.] This example, from my first book, co-authored with Leonardo Inghilleri, has been used in the customer service training at certain legendary organizations, and I hope it speaks to you as well.

Image that you’re a manager at a hotel. In the lobby, a maintenance engineer is replacing a light bulb. Out of the corner of his eye he notices a woman and her two sons coming from the pool, wrapped in towels but still dripping wet. The woman has her hands full with bags, and she fumbles with the door that leads into the lobby, looking exasperated. Your employee on the ladder becomes alert to her predicament, puts down his tools, climbs down, crosses the lobby, smiles, and opens the door for her.

‘‘Welcome back to the hotel, ma’am,’’ he says. ‘‘Let me help you with your bags. How was the pool? Did your two little guys have a good time? What floor are you going to?’’ He presses the button, exits the elevator, and heads back toward his ladder to get back to his previously assigned tasks.

The engineer on the ladder

When we spin this story out for executives and managers in our seminars, the most common first reaction is envy: ‘‘I’d be delighted to have my rank and file achieve this level of customer service,’’ runs a typical response. ‘‘The customer expressed a need, and ‘my’ employee responded energetically,’’ says a manager. ‘‘He got off the ladder rather than saying ‘That’s not my job.’ So what’s not to like?’’

It’s true: We’ve all seen worse. But there’s still plenty to dislike. As upbeat as this encounter was, it was reactive:The customer had to fumble with the door, thereby making her frustration known so the engineer would react.

Function Versus Purpose

Picture this instead: What if the moment the employee on the ladder sees the overburdened mom returning from the pool, he thinks to himself, “My routine daily function is to change light bulbs, paint ceilings, and fix pipes, but the reason I’m here, my purpose, is to help create a memorable

experience for guests’’? Understanding this, he immediately climbs down and opens the door for her—before she has to fumble with the door handle or knock to get attention.

The maintenance engineer—inspired by your leadership—has now provided genuine service that anticipates the customer’s needs. The timing of the engineer’s intervention is the only measurable change, but what a difference that tiny change makes! Suddenly this employee has anticipated a customer’s need, a need she has not yet expressed. In doing so, he has honored her idiosyncratic life circumstances—her individual humanity.

This extraordinary level of service is a highly reliable path to winning customer loyalty–and if that’s your goal, it’s essential that it become the rule, rather than the exception, at all levels of your company. And the way to get there is through purpose-driven, customer focused leadership.

Micah Solomon is an author, consultant, influencer, thought leader, keynote speaker, trainer, and subject matter expert (SME) in customer service, customer experience, customer service culture, hospitality, innovation. (email, chat, web).

Five Low-Cost Ways To Improve Your Customer Service And Customer Experience

[Originally published in Forbes.com. The author, Micah Solomon, is an author, consultant, influencer, keynote speaker, and trainer in customer service, customer experience, customer service culture, and hospitality. (Here are three ways to reach Micah: email, chat, web).

In honor of National Small Business Week ( #SmallBusinessWeek ), here are five highly effective, low- or no-cost ways to amp up the quality of your customer service experience.

1. Train your employees to handle unhappy customers–and to win them back when things go wrong. When things go wrong, it’s uncomfortable for employee and customer alike. But if employees anticipate and train for the fact that things will go wrong, they’ll be ready when they do. Put a system in place that addresses these scenarios (what I call “customer service recovery”) and train your employees until they’re fluent in using it. There are various systems out there for customer service recovery; if you don’t already have an alternative system in place, feel free to make use of my AWARE approach–Acknowledge, Widen, Agree, Resolve, Evaluate–which you can read about in detail here.

When you become good at customer service recovery, your company will experience a wonderful bonus in terms of customer engagement and loyalty. When a customer encounters a problem and then experiences how splendidly you address and resolve it, they’re likely to develop a closer bond with your business than if everything had gone smoothly in the first place–and the customer therefore never got to see you demonstrate your service-recovery prowess.

2. Develop a company language lexicon. Even the most enthusiastic and well-meaning employees can sometimes turn off customers simply by using the wrong language. The solution to this is to undertake what I call “language engineering”: thinking about the specific phrases that employees should avoid using, and about the better alternatives that you prefer. Memorialize these word choices in a phrasebook or “language lexicon” that everyone in your company can refer to and make use of for customer service phone calls, chats, messaging, and email.

Here are four examples:

a) Discouraged: ‘‘You owe . . .’’

Preferred: ‘‘Our records show a balance of . ..

b) Discouraged: ‘‘You need to . . .’’

Preferred: ‘‘We find it works best when . . .’’

c) Discouraged: ‘‘Please hold.’’

Preferred: ‘‘May I briefly place you on hold?’’ (And then actually listen to the caller’s answer.)

d) Discouraged: “No Problem” (in response to a customer thanking you).

Preferred: Almost anything is better than “no problem”: (“You’re welcome,” “You’re very welcome,” “My pleasure,” “Thank you.” )

3. Make the beginning and ending of the customer experience perfect.The human memory is far from egalitarian. It undemocratically selects “snapshots” to store based on whatever your brain considers to be important. One of these mental shortcuts is the brain’s assumption that the beginning and the ending of an experience are particularly worth remembering. Because of this quirk of memory, it’s important to get these two moments right. As follow:

First impressions: Walk up to, and into, your establishment and see things as best you can through the eye of a customer. Is it inviting? Is there anything to trip on? Are the handicapped parking spaces clearly marked and free of impediments? Are customers promptly and appropriately greeted? Do the same survey as well of a customer’s likely first impression when it occurs via the phone, chat, the web, or mobile.
Last impressions: It’s human nature that once you’ve pretty much finished up an interaction with or project for one customer, to rush on to the next one with the next customer. Doing so, without taking an extra moment to ensure everything feels truly complete for that first customer, can erase all the goodwill you created up to this point. So zero in on whether you’re truly giving your customers a fond farewell; if not, what could you do to improve
4. Commit to getting back to customersimmediately. When a customer leaves a message by email or telephone or text, they’re hoping to hear back from you right away. My professional opinion is that it’s essential to respond to all such communications from customers within the same half day (even sooner, if it’s nearly closing time, so you don’t leave anyone hanging until tomorrow). This is essential to do, even if you don’t yet have a complete answer to the customer’s inquiry; if you don’t have all the needed information yet, communicate this to the customer right away, and let them know a realistic time frame for when you will get back to them with a complete answer.)

It’s essential to understand that customer time frames have tightened up dramatically from what they were even a few years ago. Perhaps in 2005 it was okay to take 24 hours to respond to a customer email. Not today. I’d argue that 24 hours feel like 48 years in Internet time.

5. Enable customers to find what they’re looking for themselves. Customers only want to be in touch with you when they choose to do so, notwhen you force them to do so because of bad process design and lazy systems implementation. They don’t want to have to call you just to find out that their order has shipped; they want an automated confirmation. They don’t want to be forced to call your receptionist to have them read out your GPS-friendly address because your site only lists your PO Box.

The solution is to do a complete review of your self-service options and publicly- available information. Are your FAQ’s reasonably complete and readily searchable? Are your hours of business clearly stated (and accurate)? And so forth. (Ultimately you should elevate this exercise of eliminating useless contact to the level of high art. Amazon, clearly, is a leader here; think of how they pioneered the auto-response so you know your order has been received; how easy they make it to return product­–without having to call for an RA#–do you remember those bad old days?, and so forth. Another interesting company to emulate is Adobe, with its “curate before we create” approach to self-service customer support. You can read more about the Adobe approach here.

Micah Solomon is an author, consultant, influencer, thought leader, keynote speaker, trainer, and subject matter expert (SME) in customer service, customer experience, customer service culture, hospitality, innovation. (email, chat, web).

Are Your Customer Service and Customer Experience Falling Apart on the Handoffs?

I know we’ve never met. But I have a pretty good idea of where you’re dropping the ball in your customer service delivery.I’ve seen companies like yours (probably) in my work as a customer experience consultant, keynote speaker, and customer service author.

And, odds are, you’re dropping the customer service ball on your handoffs.

It’s easy for your employee to promise something to a customer– and then send the customer elsewhere within your organization for actual results.

Fair enough: but did the details of the customer’s needs actually get fully conveyed to the person who was handed the ball?

And, did the handoffee follow through on these instructions?  Or did she hand off the responsibility again?  And, if so, was the customer support fumbled on that handoff?

Follow-through and follow up are keys to a successful customer experience.  And often best accomplished by the person who first took the request.

****

Here are my four steps to customer service recovery. And note how follow-up is baked into the sequence.

Pet-Friendly Hospitality And Human-Friendly Customer Service

A dog walks into a hotel lobby

I can be a little hard to impress. Which is probably a good trait for keeping me sharp in my work as a hospitality and customer experience consultant, keynote speaker, and author.

But this story blew my mind. 

© Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com – Dog with expectant stare

A dog walks into a hotel lobby – © Micah Solomon – micah@micahsolomon.com

It’s a story of a small but intentional act of heroic service.And it’s nifty that it comes from a modest, extended-stay property: the Hyatt House in Herndon, Virginia.

Put yourself in this scene. You’re walking by the front desk at the Hyatt House (an economically priced, extended-stay hotel brand that Hyatt carved out recently from its AmeriSuites acquisition).

Out of nowhere, a dog bounds up to the hotel’s front desk, wagging his tail. You watch the desk agent lean over and toss a rolled newspaper into the dog’s mouth. The dog then walks away down the hall and the desk agent goes back to work processing paperwork for the next guest in front of him.

A colleague and a collie

Let’s let Sara Kearney, Hyatt’s Senior Vice President for Brands tell us what in the world was going on. “Turns out, Mrs. So and so [the dog’s owner] had just sold her house after 40 years and–like many of our guests at Hyatt House–is in a sort of limbo before moving into her first empty-nester. So my colleague at the front desk [at this point in the interview I had to confirm that she said “colleague,” not “collie”] was trying to help her maintain her routine.

The dog jogs on over from her hotel room to the front desk, gets the newspaper just like he did when he lived in the house and takes it to her every morning. Vladimir, the front desk agent in question, always saves that paper for the dog before handing out the rest of the papers to the other guests. ”

****
An extended-stay brand like Hyatt House is especially important in terms of the power of positive service. Why? Because somebody who is in an extended-stay situation is likely to be a bit out of sorts. The recently divorced. People on long job assignments away from their families. People whose houses have sold and their new home isn’t ready yet. This is a situation where the psychological realities of a customer’s life can be weighing heavily on their perception of the goods and services you are providing.  And where service—hospitality– like this can shine.

Micah Solomon is a customer experience consultant, customer service consultant, keynote speaker, trainer, and bestselling author.

The customer is at the center of the customer’s universe.

The customer is at the center of the customer’s universe.

© Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com - If you want my business, spell my name right

© Micah Solomon – micah@micahsolomon.com – “Nice swirl, but they spelled my name wrong again.”

It’s hard, but necessary, to drill this reality into your staff–not just once, but as often as every day–and to keep it in mind, in good times and bad, yourself.

Here’s what “the customer is at the center of the customer’s universe” means in day-to-day language:

• Your hangover doesn’t matter to a customer, even though it’s making you ache behind your eyeballs.

• The traffic jam you suffered through on the way to work doesn’t matter to your customer, even though it’s still rattling around in your head.

• Your frustration with the new technology in the office doesn’t matter to the customer. Even your fascination with nifty new features in the technology doesn’t matter to the customer.

Who should be responsible for the customer experience at your company?

Here’s my answer to the very important question: “Who should be responsible for the customer experience at your company?”

Make everyone responsible for the customer experience.  Responsible for handling complaints. For suggesting improvements in your processes. For maintaining the customer-friendly processes you already have. If you don’t,  you’ll find the actual responsibility for the customer experience at your company devolves quickly “no one.”

This answer isn’t as pie-in-the-sky as it sounds. “Everyone” here is shorthand for “everyone, to the extent of their abilities, to the extent of their trainability and to the extent they interact with customers.”

The picture of customer service we need to get out of our heads — and out of our businesses — is the old, compartmentalized version: an isolated clerk on an upper floor of a venerable department store, where customers have to schlep their returns to get an adjustment.

Instead, teach Joan in Sales and Jeff in Shipping how they themselves can initiate a service recovery. Jeff may not be the right person ultimately to fix the problem, but if he encounters an unsatisfied customer, he needs to know how to do more than say ‘‘I can’t help you, I just send boxes.’’ Even Dale, who cleans the toilets, should be empowered beyond helpless reactions like ‘‘Um, you’d need to ask a manager about that.’’ Customers hate to hear ‘‘You need to ask a manager.’’

Dale will feel better about himself and your company, his customer will feel better about herself and your company, and service problems will tend to turn out better if Dale has been trained to express confident enthusiasm: ‘‘Certainly, I am so sorry. I will help you with that,’’ followed by finding the right person to solve the problem (even if that does happen to be, in fact, a manager).

Micah Solomon is a customer experience consultant, customer service speaker, trainer, and bestselling author.

Even Though The Customer Isn’t Always, Right, They Might As Well Be

Here’s my definitive answer to the inevitable question, “Is the customer always right?”

No. The customer isn’t always right. But you want to make her feel like she is.
“Right” and “wrong,” even in situations much more crucial than a mere customer service misunderstanding, are hard to sort out. Think of the sworn – but completely misremembered – eyewitness testimony that has convicted so many innocent men and women.

So in working with customers, your goal needs to be the polar opposite of trying to play Sherlock Holmes, by and large*.  It’s not your goal to make it clear to the customer how inaccurate their position is.  Instead, focus on putting yourself in your customer’s shoes, their eyes in your sockets, until you understand why they feel, and in fact “are,” “right.”  And make them feel good about it.

They’re your customer, after all.

___________________________

*Are there exceptions? Absolutely.  Including safety and health-related scenarios, where sorting out the facts matters more than anything else. And expensive, ongoing B2B situations where there are disagreements on details of contracts that truly need to be resolved in a factual manner.  Though even in such situations, there likely are gracious ways to demonstrate your factual correctness without proving the other party baldly “wrong.”

Micah Solomon is a customer service consultant and a customer experience speaker, trainer, seminar leader, and bestselling author.

The Patient Experience and Patient Satisfaction–Quick and Quick-ish Wins

Let me to share some quick (ish) ways to win with healthcare customer service and patient satisfaction, drawn from my work as a consultant and speaker on customer service, patient satisfaction, and (perhaps most important here), corporate culture. These suggestions will, I have every hope, help uplift your institution in the eyes of your patients and their loved ones: in other words, your customers.

The stakes are high, going far beyond low HCAHPS scores, when patients and their loved ones are mistreated. High for the patients, and high for the institutions involved: Lawsuits can be triggered as easily by simple unkindness as by bona fide medical mistakes; institutions have a hard time growing when they are unable to command patient (or employee) loyalty.

Patients don’t stop being consumers – customers – when they put on a hospital gown.

The biggest obstacle to improving customer service in healthcare is the industry’s insular nature and the way this makes its problems self-reinforcing. In other words, healthcare providers and institutions compare themselves to each other – to the hospital in the next town, the surgeon in the next O.R. – and benchmark their customer service accordingly. And to do so is to set the bar too low.

It’s not as if patients stop being consumers – customers – when they put on a hospital gown. And it’s not as if their loved ones surrender their identities as businesspeople, twitterers, [entity display=”Facebook” type=”section” active=”true” key=”/facebook-ipo” natural_id=”channel_3section_122″]Facebook[/entity] users, either, when they enter your institution. So, it’s time to benchmark healthcare customer service against the best in service-intensive industries, because that’s what your patients and their loved ones will do.

Every patient’s interaction with healthcare is judged based on expectations set by the best players in hospitality industry, the financial services industry, and other areas where expert players have made a science of customer service.

First things first: Fix your hellos and your goodbyes

Psychological research, most notably by memory researcher Elizabeth Loftus, has proven that the first and last items in any list are by far the most easily remembered. In customer service, the same principle holds true: The first and last moments of a customer interaction are what a customer is likely to hold in memory as the permanent “snapshot” that encompasses the whole event. It is very hard to recover the goodwill of a patient whose first impression is:

• A front-desk staff member’s irritation at being “interrupted”–even for that telltale half-second.

• Spending a long, tense time finding a parking space (and when she does, the space she finds is a six minute walk to the front door—and she’s on crutches).

• Signage in the building that is confusing (once she finally does manage to hobble the six minutes to the front door).

As far as goodbyes: Your goodbye needs to be better than just a chilly invoice sent through the mail by your billing service. (Why do veterinarians universally follow up to see how Rover is doing but physicians rather rarely do the same? It could make all the difference.)

Realize that expectations of speed have changed: Your patients are not as patient as they used to be

Patients live in a world where Droids and iPhones, laptops and iPads, can connect them – instantly! – to vetted advice from the [entity display=”Mayo Clinic” type=”organization” subtype=”company” active=”true” key=”mayo-clinic” natural_id=”fred/company/91337″]Mayo Clinic[/entity].  Where [entity display=”Amazon.com” type=”organization” subtype=”company” active=”true” key=”amazon” ticker=”AMZN” exchange=”NASDAQ” natural_id=”fred/company/196″]Amazon.com[/entity] can get them a book of expert advice instantly in electronic form, or within eleven hours in hardcover. So to think you can get back to patients with information at the same sluggish pace you always have doesn’t cut it. Patients don’t want you to shoot from the hip, but they need to be kept informed. Frequently and speedily. And, by the way, they don’t expect lab results to take three days. Nothing takes three days anymore, outside of the healthcare industry.

Everyone on your team needs to know how to apologize

Resolving patient issues means knowing how to apologize for service lapses pointed out by a patient. It means getting rid of the defensiveness (or, at best: apathy) that tends to mar the healthcare industry when confronted by a patient upset with what she perceives to be a service gaffe. Instead, take your patient’s side in these situations, immediately and with empathy, regardless of what you think the “rational” allocation of “blame” should be. And spread this approach throughout your staff through role-playing and other training devices, so it will serve you fully every time a patient hits the fan.

The key to a great healthcare team is getting across the difference between each employee’s purpose in the organization—as opposed to one’s mere job function.

A particularly crucial aspect of great patient service is ensuring that every employee—from orientation onward –understands her particular underlying purpose in your organization and appreciates its importance. An employee has both a function—his day-to-day job responsibilities—and a purpose—the reason why the job exists. (For example, ‘‘To create successful medical outcomes and hospitable human experiences for our patients” is a purpose.   “To change linens” is a function. A properly trained and managed employee will know to—and will be empowered to—stop changing linens if creating successful medical outcomes or being hospitable require a different action at the moment. And afterward, she will be celebrated for doing so, not scolded for being a few short in the number of linens changed.

Or: Have you ever been to a hospital and stared, obviously bewildered, at a confusing sign—while a security guard idly stands there ‘‘protecting’’ you, all of two feet away? Did the security guard proactively help you out with an ‘‘Anything I can help you find?’’ If he worked in an excellent health care facility, he would. At orientation, you would have started him off understanding his higher purpose: ‘‘To create successful medical outcomes and hospitable human experiences for our patients.” Sure, that could include deterring and apprehending bad guys, but it also includes attending to patients and their families who have that unmistakable lost look on their faces.

Micah Solomon is a customer service and patient experience consultant, patient experience speaker, customer service consultant and bestselling author.