About 30 years ago, I was the director of human resources for the Euclid Clinic Foundation. For those old enough to remember, Euclid Clinic was one of the top destinations in Northeast Ohio for primary care doctors and specialists. The clinic boasted more than 100 physicians and 1,000 employees that included medical professionals and support staff who were second to none. During my nearly eight years there, I was part of an organization that grew from one location at Lakeshore Boulevard and East 185th Street to four locations, including Mentor, Beachwood and Bedford. We had a great family-oriented workplace culture that made it a pleasure to go to work each day.
Though it has been a long time since I worked there, the customer service lessons I learned from that experience benefited me throughout my career. Like other health care institutions, our patients were nervous, anxious and possibly in pain. Imagine the challenges of having customers who were in a bad mood even before they walked through your doors! That presented some unique challenges for our team, and I remember us working relentlessly to figure out new and better ways to enhance their interactions with our staff.
Here are the key customer service takeaways from my days at Euclid Clinic that still apply today to any business:
Minimize wait times — Ironically, the traditional doctor’s office reception area was termed a waiting room. Named appropriately, the waiting room was a poor start to our patients’ experience. In this era of instant gratification and the need for speed, minimizing customer wait times is essential for your business.
Follow-up — Whether it was lab or test results, many of our patients relied on physicians or their offices following up with them in a timely manner. Follow-up remains important today, and it is so much easier to accomplish with all of the touchpoints afforded through technology. What we also learned was that there was absolutely no good reason for poor follow-up. Customers do not want to hear excuses for poor follow-up; they would just appreciate an apology and the job done right next time.
Smile — It was appreciated 30 years ago, and it is appreciated today — a warm greeting with a smile and good eye contact. It makes a huge difference when customers experience a pleasant greeting on the phone or in person.
Listen and be empathetic — We knew that patients wanted their doctors and medical staff to listen empathetically to their medical concerns. Not surprisingly, the doctors who had good bedside manners were typically our highest rated physicians. That lesson translates well in today’s fast-paced business environment, where the premium seems to be on being faster versus being better.
If you find that your organization could enhance its service to customers, here are a couple of basic concepts that might be food for thought for the upcoming year:
- Customer service training makes sense for employees interested in making improvements and who care about their jobs, your company and, of course, the customer. Try to avoid providing customer service training to employees who dislike their jobs. If you do, you are only giving them some paid time away from the work they dislike.
- Great customer service happens when employees love what they’re doing, believe in what they’re doing and know what they’re doing. Focus your efforts around developing good jobs for top-performing people, and terrific customer service happens naturally.
- Great customer service begins at the top of the organization. Management needs to lead by example by providing good service and support to employees and customers.
- Ensure that all employees understand that great customer service is the expectation and not the exception. Again, these expectations are welcomed by top-performing people. Poor performers couldn’t care less.
- Publicly recognize employees who provide extraordinary customer service. These can be cash or non-cash awards. In either case, those providing the great service are acknowledged for a job well done, which reinforces performance expectations with other employees.
- Ask your staff for creative ideas on providing great customer service. Your top performers have fabulous ideas on how to impress customers. Tap into their thoughts. Not only is it cheaper than hiring a high-priced consultant, the advice will probably be better.
This is pretty basic stuff, but it may be useful in helping your company differentiate itself in a competitive marketplace. News travels fast these days, and positive word-of-mouth is the best form of advertising you can never buy.
Pat Perry is host of the national Success Wave podcast, business book author, keynote speaker, former ERC president, columnist, NEO Business Hall of Fame member and was named to the 2022 Cleveland 500.