by Steve Adubato, PhD

Several years ago, Baptist Hospital in Pensacola, Florida was ranked near the bottom in national surveys of patient satisfaction. The hospital had a reputation not only of employing rude physicians, but of promoting an environment that was downright unfriendly to customers.

Their well-deserved reputation for poor communication was seriously affecting the bottom line and Baptist was losing patients to other area hospitals.

Today, Baptist Hospital is considered one of the best in the nation in the areas of patient satisfaction and customer service. These people are compassionate and empathetic communicators. They really listen. Baptist's market share has increased dramatically. Its revenues are up while its costs are down. The hospital has also won several national awards for quality and customer service. How did all this happen? First off, it's about communication between those in a healthcare environment and the patients and customers they serve. It's about teams of employees at Baptist that got together in 1996 and developed a series of "small improvements" in patient relations that wound up having a huge impact on the bottom line.

While Baptist's success took place in a hospital, the lessons there are applicable in any professional environment. According to former Baptist President Quint Studer, "We had to create the type of environment where people drive by two other hospitals to get here." Consider some of the improvements made at Baptist Hospital that you might incorporate into your organization …

Visitors arriving at Baptist are greeted by huge signs telling them where they can find "FREE VALET PARKING." What new services can you offer your customers? Easy to read signs are a good place to start and they show that you care.
All staff members, from doctors and nurses, to janitors, are trained in how best to interact and communicate with patients and their families and they are coached on their listening skills.
Every employee at the hospital is encouraged to greet others by name and smile in the process. Can you imagine the impact this has on patients? If you are going to be sick, you might as well be in a more pleasant environment. These principles would also work in an insurance company or an auto repair shop - anywhere that customers aren't dying to visit.
Janitors are also involved in patient relations. After cleaning the room, janitors are trained to say things like, "Is there anything else I can do? I have some time to help you." Patients often ask janitors to close windows, shut doors, or adjust the television. Many of these things used to be done by nurses who are now freed up to do other things. Cashiers and clerks can learn from this. The way people are greeted says a lot about a company.
These are just some of the improvements made by the patient relations teams at Baptist Hospital. All of this had a positive impact on the bottom line. Malpractice claims filed against the hospital have fallen dramatically over the past several years. The hospital's insurance premium is lower than other hospitals in the area, while its bond rating has been raised. Employee morale is a lot better, and a lot fewer people leave the hospital, thereby cutting the costs of training new employees. Sure, this is a case involving hospitals and healthcare, but it's really about treating customers with respect and dignity. It's about treating people the way you would want to be treated.
Write to me about improvements you've made in the area of customer service and the impact it has had on your organization as well as on productivity and the bottom line.